Sunday, May 17, 2020

What Have We Learned So Far

                                                                                                  written 10 May 2020
                                                                                              published 17 May 2020

            Crisis is a breakdown of the "normal" order, but provides opportunity to learn about weaknesses of that order.  COVID-19 is rich with learning opportunities, which some people embrace and others stubbornly ignore.
            We have learned that a highly contagious disease that infects humans anywhere is a threat to the rest of the world due to globalized transportation.  There are indications that the virus was already spreading undetected in the US in early January.  What happens anywhere doesn't stay there.  Reality is profoundly interconnected.
            We have learned that trying to hide a fact about reality is a short-term solution which guarantees a bigger mess later.  The first outbreak in Wuhan, China, was kept quiet by local officials afraid that reporting poor performance would look bad to their superiors, hurting them politically and economically.  Eventually the case load and body count rose to unavoidable national attention, and the rest of the world was alerted, but the virus had already spread.
            This lesson about facts still escapes the Trump administration.  He denied the severity of the problem for weeks, ignoring increasingly dire reports. His eventual moves were tentative and inadequate, allowing conditions to worsen.  He has fired people who told him inconvenient truths, replacing them with sycophants soothing to his fragile ego.  
            While blaming China for lack of timely transparency, he repeats the mistakes.  He hides bad news, canceled the virus task force, forbids public CDC updates, allows corporations to keep testing results secret, and prohibits medical testimony before Congress, as if nobody will notice the rising death toll.  Such magical thinking by a "leader" is lethal.  America has the largest outbreak in the world, 33% of global cases, 28% of global deaths, with only 4% of the global population, and Trump's son-in-law calls that a wonderful accomplishment. 
            We have learned that corporate America is willing to risk killing their employees for profit.  This lethal parasitic economic model, enabled by Republican policies, is on stark display in the meat processing facilities within the heartland.  People are forced to return to work, despite the plants making no provisions to reduce the risk of infection, because Trump refused to force any safety changes and granted the companies legal immunity.  The "job killing" workplace health and safety regulations Republicans have been trying to remove for decades are really regulations against "jobs that kill" for greater profit.
            We have learned that Republicans are more concerned with packing the court system with conservative judges with questionable experience than addressing the economic crisis.  Because Republicans have loudly claimed for decades that "government is the problem", they have no respect for public service and willingly choose incompetent and/or corrupt individuals who see public service as an opportunity for political gain or personal enrichment at tax payer expense. 
            We have learned the human cost of uncoordinated, incompetent national leadership during an emergency.  Months into this, there are still inadequate levels of reliable timely testing, made more acute by the drive to "reopen the economy" to aid Trump's hope for re-election.
            We have learned that access to adequate, affordable health care, not insurance, is critical in the middle of a health crisis, helping control the spread of the virus.  Yet the government under Trump is still trying to eliminate health insurance plans created by Obama, just as tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and probably their health insurance.  
            We have learned that a robust public health system is as important to national security as a robust military.  Both must be maintained at high levels of readiness, even when there is apparently no immediate need, yet we support the Pentagon with taxes and privatize the health care industry for profit.
            We have learned that the extreme economic inequity in our country amplifies the misery of this pandemic.  The economic harm to our society is prolonged without swift financial support to all individuals.  Our economic model for supplying food lacks resilience, as farmers go bankrupt and destroy food, while millions go hungry.  
            If we don't recognize these lessons, and transform our society and economy in response, we will waste an opportunity, and be less prepared next time.  Life is relentlessly patient.  If we don't learn the first time, the problems just keep coming back until we do.