An impatient capitalist god demands human sacrifice. Now.

See update for April 17, 2020 at end of post


Everywhere I go around Pittsburgh, I see signs of the sort businesses often put in front, that say, “We will get through this.” They reflect determination and aspiration, more that mandatory optimism that Thomas Frank attributed to authoritarian populists,[1] than a reality in which even people who thought they were “untouchable” are being laid off[2] and in which a lot of people whose subsistence-level incomes have left them without resources even to recover from the last recession, let alone to keep paying bills and rent in this one,[3] let alone to catch up arrears accrued while laid off during this one.

I finally got to a vegan restaurant where I buy coffee. (They have amazing biscuits and gravy, by the way.) The father of the family that runs the business is, I am guessing, I charitably hope, in the anger phase of those stages of grief I keep hearing about.

The truth is, Donald Trump let him down by focusing on the stock market rather than the then-potential and now real COVID-19 pandemic.[4] This father wants to know how every other country in the world has this under control (this isn’t quite true) and we don’t.[5] The problem isn’t really politicians he said, before going on a rant about Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, whom he called “a dictator right now. He’s got to go. We gotta get him out of there.” (Wolf has progressively extended a shutdown order from a few counties for a few weeks to the entire state indefinitely[6] and has only a vague idea how he will allow the state to reopen.[7])

His anger is not alone. I picked up a man the other day who was convinced that the new 5G cellular technology was behind the pandemic. His evidence? A very weak correlation—at least one new influenza strain hits every year—between the flu and each of these advances in technology. It is not a conspiracy theory, he roared.

I point out to other folks that the capitalist god demands human sacrifice.[8] Some laugh; some just shake their heads. We all, even, I think, the father in that vegan restaurant, know the economy has to stay shut,[9] but there’s just no upside here. None of us know how we’re getting through this.

And what that means is that this entire neoliberal house of cards, in which the rich have gotten richer by subjecting workers to low wages and usurous debt slavery, is set to fall. Unless we sate that capitalist god’s appetite.


Update, April 17, 2020: Governor Tom Wolf has reiterated the vagueness of his plans for re-opening Pennsylvania, stating he has no specific timeline and blaming an absence of widespread testing,[10] which is indeed problematic for determining what portion of the population remains to be infected (assuming immunity for this virus even exists), and therefore the potential for overwhelming hospitals,[11] such as happened in New York City[12] and Wolf has said he means to avoid happening here.[13] I have updated the citation.

In this post, I note the anger of the father in a Jewish family that runs a vegan restaurant about the restrictions. I can now notice that his rhetoric in important respects echoed that of far-right, authoritarian populist and paleoconservative, protesters, some of whom espouse a conspiracy theory blaming Jews for the coronavirus (that causes COVID-19) and have attacked Jews.[14] This is getting really perverse.

  1. [1]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  2. [2]Eric Morath, Harriet Torry, and Gwynn Guilford, “A Second Round of Coronavirus Layoffs Has Begun. Few Are Safe,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-second-round-of-coronavirus-layoffs-has-begun-no-one-is-safe-11586872387
  3. [3]David Harrison, “Lack of Savings Worsens the Pain of Coronavirus Downturn,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/lack-ofsavingsworsens-the-pain-of-coronavirus-downturn-11586943001
  4. [4]Aaron Blake, “The timeline of Trump’s coronavirus response is increasingly damning,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/07/timeline-trumps-coronavirus-response-is-increasingly-damning/; Shawn Boburg et al., “Inside the coronavirus testing failure: Alarm and dismay among the scientists who sought to help,” Washington Post, April 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2020/04/03/coronavirus-cdc-test-kits-public-health-labs/; Adam Gaffney, “Trump sees the coronavirus as a threat to his self-interest – not to people,” Guardian, March 17, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/17/trump-sees-the-coronavirus-as-a-threat-to-his-self-interest-not-to-people; Susan B. Glasser, “A President Unequal to the Moment,” New Yorker, March 12, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/a-president-unequal-to-the-moment; Dana Milbank, “For Trump, a reckoning has come,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/trump-reckoning-has-come/; Ashley Parker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Lena H. Sun, “Squandered time: How the Trump administration lost control of the coronavirus crisis,” Washington Post, March 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-coronavirus-response-squandered-time/2020/03/07/5c47d3d0-5fcb-11ea-9055-5fa12981bbbf_story.html; David Remnick, “How the Coronavirus Shattered Trump’s Serene Confidence,” New Yorker, March 22, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/30/how-the-coronavirus-shattered-trumps-serene-confidence; David Roth, “The Enduring Delusion of a Chastened Trump,” New Republic, April 3, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/157154/enduring-delusion-chastened-trump; Paul Waldman, “How coronavirus has deeply flummoxed conservative media,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/how-coronavirus-has-deeply-flummuxed-conservative-media/; Kevin D. Williamson, “History Called — and Senator Burr Called His Broker,” National Review, March 20, 2020, https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/03/history-called-and-senator-burr-called-his-broker/
  5. [5]Jennifer Levitz, Mike Cherney, and Daniel Michaels, “U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Passes Italy, Becoming World’s Highest,” Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/health-officials-plead-for-public-to-observe-a-locked-down-easter-11586592822
  6. [6]Paul Guggenheimer, “Butler County added to growing list of areas under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 27, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/butler-county-added-to-growing-list-of-areas-under-gov-tom-wolfs-stay-at-home-order/; Megan Guza, “Gov. Wolf closes Pa. schools and businesses indefinitely, extends stay-at-home order,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 30, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-closes-pa-schools-and-businesses-indefinitely-extends-stay-at-home-order/; Megan Guza, “Gov. Wolf orders all of Pennsylvania to stay at home,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 1, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-orders-all-of-pennsylvania-to-stay-at-home/; Eric Heyl, “Allegheny County Coronavirus Cases Continue To Surge,” Patch, March 27, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h2aqu/allegheny-county-coronavirus-cases-continue-to-surge; Eric Heyl, “Allegheny County Coronavirus Cases: Another Large Increase,” Patch, March 28, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h2bkm/allegheny-county-coronavirus-cases-another-large-increase; Madasyn Lee, “Pennsylvania issues safety guidelines for essential businesses,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 5, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/regional/pennsylvania-issues-safety-guidelines-for-essential-businesses/; Natasha Lindstrom, “Pennsylvania reports 103 new covid-19 cases, large clusters in Allegheny County,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 21, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-reports-103-new-covid-19-cases-large-clusters-in-allegheny-county/; Cassie Miller, “‘We’re going the wrong way,’ Wolf says of state’s COVID-19 curve; Pa. sees fourth death in East Stroudsburg,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, March 22, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/covid-19/were-going-the-wrong-way-wolf-says-of-states-covid-19-curve/; Kara Seymour, “Stay-At-Home Order Expanded As Coronavirus Cases Top 1K In PA,” Patch, March 25, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h27o5/stay-at-home-order-expanded-as-coronavirus-cases-top-1k-in-pa; Kara Seymour, “PA Coronavirus: Stay-At-Home Extended, Schools Shut Indefinitely,” Patch, March 30, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h2eya/pa-stay-at-home-extended-schools-closed-indefinitely; WTAE, “Stay-at-home order to begin tonight for several Pa. counties, including Allegheny,” March 23, 2020, https://www.wtae.com/article/stay-at-home-order-to-begin-tonight-for-several-pa-counties-including-allegheny/31900786
  7. [7]Natasha Lindstrom, “Gov. Wolf: No specific date for ending covid-19 shutdown, getting ‘back to life as we once knew it,’” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 16, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-no-specific-date-for-ending-covid-19-shutdown-getting-back-to-life-as-we-once-knew-it/; Kara Seymour, “Gov. Wolf Lays Out 3-Stage Plan To Fight Coronavirus,” Patch, April 14, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h2z32/gov-wolf-lays-out-3-stage-plan-to-fight-coronavirus
  8. [8]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, March 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/
  9. [9]Adam Cancryn and Nancy Cook, “Health officials want Trump to ‘double down, not lighten up’ restrictions,” Politico, March 23, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/23/coronavirus-economy-trump-restart-145222; Yascha Mounk, “This Is Just the Beginning,” Atlantic, March 25, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/national-shutdown-least-bad-option/608683/; Joe Pinsker, “The Four Possible Timelines for Life Returning to Normal,” Atlantic, March 30, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-social-distancing-over-back-to-normal/608752/
  10. [10]Natasha Lindstrom, “Gov. Wolf: No specific date for ending covid-19 shutdown, getting ‘back to life as we once knew it,’” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 16, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/gov-wolf-no-specific-date-for-ending-covid-19-shutdown-getting-back-to-life-as-we-once-knew-it/
  11. [11]Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Testing coronavirus survivors’ blood could help reopen U.S.,” Washington Post, March 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/31/coronavirus-serology-blood-tests/
  12. [12]Ariana Eunjung Cha et al., “Faced with a crush of patients, besieged NYC hospitals struggle with life-or-death decisions,” Washington Post, March 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/31/new-york-city-hospitals-coronavirus/
  13. [13]Natasha Lindstrom, “Pennsylvania reports 103 new covid-19 cases, large clusters in Allegheny County,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 21, 2020, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-reports-103-new-covid-19-cases-large-clusters-in-allegheny-county/
  14. [14]Eric Cortellessa, “US far-right extremists are now calling social distancing a Nazi policy,” Times of Israel, April 17, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-far-right-extremists-are-now-calling-social-distancing-a-nazi-policy/

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