Sanders Fans Should Be (Quietly) Celebrating Coronavirus
If the cure is worse than the disease, it’s because we were already sick
But first, let’s emphasize, repeatedly, this is NOT a call to spread the virus.
No revolution happens without suffering. Revolutions occur because there is suffering, but they cause it as well.
The hardest part about a revolution is the fact that nobody escapes. Many who may have been suffering a little over a long period of time will suffer a lot over a short period of time before it’s over. The revolutionary promises that things will be much better once it’s all over, but they cannot promise the cure will be painless.
For a long time, Bernie Sanders has been preaching a revolution. Among those who are alarmed by his sermon is the sense that Sanders wants to burn the whole thing down and start again. And among those people are others who fear what Sanders wants to build over the ruins is some kind of Communistic society modeled after the old Soviet Union.
Regardless of those fears, what appeals to Sanders’ supporters is the message that the existing system — which many of them, being young, will inherit — is fundamentally flawed. Seen from one angle, it’s a system that is built upon ancient prejudice and corrupt, self-serving institutions that benefit a few at the expense of the rest. From this standpoint, the existing system is itself so deeply wrong that there’s no choice but to start anew.
Historically, this is not exactly Sanders’ message. He’s been a politician within the American system of government his entire life. His blueprint for change is not Stalin, it’s Scandinavia.
From another angle, Sanders (and Warren) preach a different message. The Foundation of the System — that is to say Democratic Capitalism, The American Republic, our existing structures, and so on — is not itself unsound, merely not functioning as it should. It’s not wrong; it’s broken. That’s a huge difference.
Some Revolutionaries really do just want to burn the whole thing down. But after a revolution, it’s the best prepared who take power, and those aren’t usually the actual revolutionaries. This is why, after a revolution, strongmen and dictators and fascists take control, especially if most of the existing authority from before the revolution is gone. Revolutionaries burn down the existing system, but they have little power or plan to rebuild. Often enough, after the revolution the survivors turn on the revolutionaries, with good reason.
The great energy of a revolution may be inspiring, but the real work begins after. The hard work. It’s in the rebuilding that we find promise, not the initial fire.
Covid-19 is a revolution, but the revolutionaries are nowhere to be seen. Nor should they be. Let’s emphasize, again, this is NOT a call to spread the virus. Nobody wants to be the face of the revolution here. Nobody wants to be the fire.
It’s easy to feel that Covid-19 is burning the whole thing down. The market is collapsing. Jobs are vanishing. People are dying. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Streets are empty.
But there is still an economy. Still a country. Nothing physically is gone (except toilet paper). The country in all its various forms and structures still exists. Nothing has burned down.
But more importantly, some things ARE working. People are helping each other. They are working together. Elections continue and business sputter along. Food and utilities continue to flow, if less smoothly than before. People are hunkered down in place, but they have food. At the moment, jobs are temporarily gone, but they will return.
The flaws in the system are being revealed. Where capitalism fails to provide is glaringly obvious now. Where jobs are insufficient for a good life is clear. Where profit harms is clear.
What the Covid-19 revolution reveals is precisely what Progressives have been arguing: The system is broken, not unsound. It’s unhealthy, not dead; flawed not false.
How much of the wave now overwhelming our hospitals is directly related to the virus and how much is related to a host of other semi-related factors? For-profit hospitals run at near 100% efficiency. They lack extra supplies because, like so many of our current businesses, they operate entirely on short-term profit. There’s no money to be had in stockpiling supplies, so why bother? There’s no profit in maintaining ICU units that aren’t occupied, so why bother? There’s no profit in keeping and maintaining ventilators, so why bother?
How much of the panic, but also panic-induced hoarding, is a result of Covid-19 and how much is related to a broken information delivery system? How much is our media responsible for exaggerating emotion and ignoring the less dramatic yet far more impactful event? Our government did not respond despite many voices sounding the alarm. Covid-19 didn’t do that, a lack of trust in institutions did.
Structural inequities that are a result of the profit nature of industry are now glaringly obvious. The rich get tested, the poor do not. A lack of reusable supplies showcases businesses more interested in selling more product than maintaining a clean environment.
Over-caution and inflexibility among calcified government institutions no longer clearly interested in the public interest is clear. The current leadership was elected almost entirely on that lack of faith, and then set about proving precisely why it existed.
The primary goal of a business is profit. Some might argue profit is the ONLY goal, and a business that does not turn a profit quickly ceases to exist. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this goal, but it certainly isn’t the only goal or purpose of society or humanity. This is one of the arguments Sanders and other Progressives have been making for decades, that profit over humanity is dangerous.
If the cure is worse than the disease, it’s because of pre-existing conditions that are themselves a disease. We just didn’t know we were that sick.
Now we do.
And isn’t this what Sanders has been shouting all along?
This is the revolution a lot of people have wanted. But there’s no revolutionary out there lighting the fires. There’s no single person or system to blame or hang. The whole system has been tested and parts have failed the test. Many of those parts are exactly what Progressives have been shouting about for years.
This is the Progressive’s opportunity to address the immediate effects of this virus on individual Americans and their communities. We need to guarantee food and services, which means relaxing, restricting, limiting, or eliminating the impact of those peripheral forces that would deny Americans safety and security. Current quarantine conditions predict a return to semi-normalcy in 4 to 6 weeks, but it’ll likely be longer. A lot of people and businesses will be irrevocably damaged before then.
This is where Progressives have a clear mandate and some hard questions. Do we prevent a business from denying or abandoning its people because it loses profit or capital? If so, do we actually keep the businesses afloat as they lose profit and capital or do we give people money directly that they then pass on to landlords and utilities? Do we prevent landlords from evicting people who can’t pay rent? Do we give money to the business that might go under because nobody is paying for their services? Who are we obligated to as a society?
Corporations are going to go under. Do we allow it? People are going to suffer. Do we allow it?
And very soon we are going to have to begin the hard work of restructuring our systems for down the road, which is actually as soon as the next wave occurs. Two systems failed catastrophically with Covid-19. The first is the political apparatus, not only the CDC and its testing but an administration and President deeply mistrustful of our experts and institutions. The second is the business world’s ability to both survive this kind of event and actually meet the demands of it. The second part cannot be overstated. The hospitals and businesses are failing because of the profit motive. The insurance industry, the finance sector, the shareholder model, the loan system, the banking model, have zero in place to withstand an event that cannot be turned to profit. And it may well be that there is nothing, foundationally, that capitalism can do about these kinds of events. We need to figure that out.
Let’s emphasize, repeatedly, this is NOT a call to spread the virus.
The Revolution has arrived. Are we ready?