Nobody Seems to Grasp How Screwed We Are

A nation on the precipice hears absurd normality from the candidates who are supposed to save us.

Hamilton Nolan

Robyn Beck, Eric Baradat/ AFP via Getty Images

The defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Repub­li­can Par­ty is a con­tempt for human life. Or, stat­ed in a more busi­nesslike way, the view of human life as just anoth­er form of cap­i­tal, and not a par­tic­u­lar­ly valu­able one. This has been the case for gen­er­a­tions; the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has just offered a more obvi­ous and dis­tilled ver­sion of it. 

For­tu­nate­ly, we live in a democ­ra­cy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we live in a bro­ken democ­ra­cy. The oppo­si­tion party’s approach is not, We val­ue human life,” but rather, We cal­cu­late the val­ue of cap­i­tal in a slight­ly more appeal­ing way!” Thus, giv­ing health care to peo­ple, stop­ping cli­mate change and cre­at­ing a just soci­ety are jus­ti­fied as mon­ey-sav­ing ideas, rather than as exis­ten­tial­ly nec­es­sary steps for our com­mon sur­vival. If you are not inspired by two insin­cere peo­ple argu­ing over the inter­pre­ta­tion of a prof­it-and-loss state­ment, you will nev­er be inspired by main­stream Amer­i­can politics. 

Last night, the nation gath­ered anx­ious­ly for the most impor­tant polit­i­cal event of the day: The release of new data from the Fed­er­al Reserve show­ing that the 50 rich­est peo­ple in the coun­try now own as much wealth as the 165 mil­lion least rich peo­ple com­bined, and that the major­i­ty of stock mar­ket wealth is now owned by the top 1% of Amer­i­cans. The rich, believe it or not, are get­ting rich­er this year as usu­al, even as tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans slide into an abyss of pal­try and insuf­fi­cient unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits that you can’t even get because the phone lines are over­whelmed. Inequal­i­ty was the worst prob­lem even before the pan­dem­ic — the prob­lem that is dis­solv­ing the Amer­i­can dream from with­in. The pan­dem­ic is mak­ing it worse. And, because the bliss­ful con­tin­u­a­tion of life as usu­al for the rich insu­lates them from being forced to care about the pandemic’s eco­nom­ic effects, it also makes it far less like­ly that any­thing seri­ous will be done to mit­i­gate the crisis.

My god — the bot­tom half of this coun­try owns less than 2% of the wealth,” mil­lions of Amer­i­cans gasped last night. We came into this cri­sis with­out any eco­nom­ic safe­ty net. The shod­dy safe­ty net that the gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ed has proven to be inad­e­quate and dys­func­tion­al. And now, after crim­i­nal mis­man­age­ment of the pub­lic health response has pro­longed this pan­dem­ic and dev­as­tat­ed our econ­o­my, the Repub­li­cans have the gall, the sheer fuck you-ness, to walk away from pass­ing a relief bill before the elec­tion, a move that will con­sign mil­lions of us to suf­fer hor­ri­bly in pover­ty with no sup­port from our gov­ern­ment. Tru­ly, this is a moment that lays bare the cru­el moral bank­rupt­cy of the Repub­li­can phi­los­o­phy, in which human worth is appor­tioned accord­ing to how much peo­ple are able to donate to Repub­li­can cam­paign cof­fers, and every­one else is wel­come to die.” 

Ha! No, of course instead peo­ple watched the vice pres­i­den­tial debate, in which the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date did not say any of this, but rather spent her time refus­ing to asso­ciate her­self with Medicare for All or the Green New Deal and insist­ing that Joe Biden would not lim­it frack­ing. Incred­i­bly, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is choos­ing to stick with its tra­di­tion­al strat­e­gy of wedg­ing itself between the Repub­li­can Par­ty and the mid­dle,” as defined by the beliefs of a fic­tion­al white sub­ur­ban fam­i­ly that exists only in the mind of Chris Cil­liz­za. The state of the world gets objec­tive­ly worse, but the par­ty that is sup­posed to be respon­si­ble for res­cu­ing us nev­er, ever changes. 

Our polit­i­cal sys­tem is bro­ken for many rea­sons: It rep­re­sents mon­ey rather than peo­ple; its absurd, anti­quat­ed design heaps pow­er onto small rur­al states; its struc­ture effec­tive­ly dis­en­fran­chis­es the peo­ple and places that are, in fact, most rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try. It is all fucked up. But in the largest sense, its flaw is that it fails to move in tan­dem with real­i­ty. The for­mu­la for gain­ing and exer­cis­ing pow­er is to cater to a small, spe­cif­ic core of influ­encers and for­get every­one else. That is what politi­cians do, because it works. If a pan­dem­ic strikes and mil­lions are ren­dered unem­ployed and small busi­ness­es are dev­as­tat­ed and evic­tions grow and schools are closed and kids are hun­gry and fam­i­lies are home­less and the sick are aban­doned, that does not, in a strate­gic sense, mat­ter. The sys­tem will go on cater­ing to bil­lion­aires (and, to a less­er degree, Iowa corn farm­ers and Penn­syl­va­nia coal min­ers) because that is who has the pow­er to deter­mine the ulti­mate out­come of elec­tions in our stu­pid, stu­pid sys­tem. We have not cho­sen this sys­tem so much as we have been sen­tenced to it.

Amer­i­ca is not kind to vision­ar­ies. In the busi­ness world they can get rich, but in the polit­i­cal world we tend to mar­gin­al­ize or assas­si­nate them, depend­ing on how both­er­some they become. So even in a time of cri­sis, when a vision­ary is called for, we are stuck instead with Joe Biden and Kamala Har­ris, a relent­less­ly anti-vision­ary duo of tra­di­tion­al­ists, who promise to get pow­er back from the mad­man in exchange for a col­lec­tive agree­ment not to upset the order of things too much. What is on offer in this elec­tion is not a rev­o­lu­tion but a return to the base­line — a rewind to 2015, when all of the big, exis­ten­tial threats were the same, but the gov­ern­ment offered the promise of com­pe­tent rather than insane oper­a­tion. We are not offered a solu­tion, but rather a sense of nos­tal­gia, like a bunch of peo­ple who decid­ed their bro­ken arm wasn’t so bad after they were threat­ened with bro­ken legs as well. 

There is no path to pull the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty left” through the vot­ing booth this year. In fact, the left is in its clas­sic hope­less posi­tion of back the cen­trist or noth­ing.” The one strength of the left, how­ev­er, is that it sees the world for what it is. There is a world beyond the vot­ing booth, where peo­ple are des­per­ate, relief is not forth­com­ing, and nei­ther side seems very pressed to change it. Real­i­ty, in the form of mil­lions of unem­ployed and angry Amer­i­cans, will intrude on our dys­func­tion­al polit­i­cal sys­tem soon. Polite­ly, or otherwise.

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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