Imagine a malicious elite

See updates through December 30, 2020, at end of post.


Imagine you have a pandemic. Imagine that lockdowns meant to limit the spread of that pandemic cause millions to lose their jobs. Imagine that these people have lost their health insurance.[1] Imagine that many of these millions of people remain unemployed, face eviction and homelessness.[2] Imagine that many of these people will move in with relatives and friends, increasing housing density, increasing the opportunity for the virus to spread.[3]

Imagine that many other workers, many of whom may have lacked health insurance anyway, and fearing these consequences, continue to work because they can’t afford not to, and might continue to work because they are asymptomatic or because their symptoms are mild enough, because they don’t realize they are infected, spreading the disease.[4] And imagine that they might do so even if they realize they are infected because we often won’t pay them to stay home.[5] Imagine that Congress is at least gridlocked even on paltry economic relief and has done little in the many months that the pandemic has gone on to relieve the immense economic hardship that now leads millions of people to face eviction.[6]

Then imagine you have a political system that is resolutely opposed to Medicare For All even as the pandemic costs hundreds of thousands of lives and overwhelms hospitals.[7] One party even opposes it even as most of its voters support it,[8] even as it has won a presidential election, with a candidate who thinks Medicare For All is an insult to his dead son,[9] promised a veto,[10] and has a record of supporting cuts to Medicare and Social Security.[11] Indeed he served as vice president to a president who, after promising that all voices on health insurance reform would have a seat at the table, took single-payer off the table in what looks very much like a bailout for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.[12]

At what point do you cease to imagine that this is merely asinine, that this is merely incompetence and corruption? At what point do you begin to imagine that this is actually malice, that politicians actually want to kill hundreds of thousands of people? How, indeed, can you even argue that this isn’t such malice?


Update, December 20, 2020: Congressional leaders announced a new stimulus package which is supposed to help relieve economic pain from the pandemic. Stimulus checks will be for up to $600.[13] The eviction moratorium that isn’t an eviction moratorium[14] will be extended through the end of January, though Joe Biden may be able to extend it further.[15] Millions of people, who have been unemployed for months, are an average of over $5,000 behind on rent,[16] and millions have sunk into poverty.[17] So it’s hard to see what good, really, $600 will do.


Update, December 22, 2020: For once, I agree with Donald Trump (actually, this has happened before, but it’s exceedingly rare). He doesn’t like[18] the COVID-19 relief measure agreed by Congress.[19] Not even one little bit. Too much, he says, has nothing to do with the pandemic and the checks are much too small. He wants $2,000.[20] But I’m also taking this as another sign that the craziers are prevailing over the merely crazy,[21] because this threatens to blow up a hard-won agreement that passed with overwhelming margins[22] (easily large enough, by the way, that so-called progressive congress members, you know, the ones who cover the neoliberals’ left flank, could vote against it without even the remotest fear of derailing its passage), at a time when it’s pretty clear that Trump’s stock with his own party is in decline.[23]


Update, December 24, 2020: Political and economic elite disdain for the poor and working class appears in 1) the paucity of and long delays in economic relief packages,[24] 2) a mishandling of the economy and of the pandemic that appears more malicious than incompetent,[25] and 3) the miserable pay offered front-line workers who have too often worked without adequate protection even as retail corporate profits have soared,[26] and while millions of others face homelessness[27] and poverty[28] due to job loss. It was all entirely foreseeable, indeed foreseen, but the capitalist god indeed demands human sacrifice[29] and our elites seem determined to offer it.[30]

In the latest development, the House of Representatives failed to pass by unanimous consent[31] an increase in direct payments to $2,000 that Donald Trump, of all people, demanded,[32] from the $600 that Congress had agreed[33] after months of delay.[34] It is, at the very least, more of the same.[35]


Update, December 27, 2020: The additional unemployment benefits that boosted benefits and also helped the usually unassisted self-employed that were included with an earlier COVID-19 relief bill[36] have now expired,[37] and the finger pointing has begun:

But both parties dithered for months[38] because there are exactly two real goals here:

  1. Uphold neoliberal dogma so as to protect the rich (the “donor” class).[39]
  2. Blame the other party for upholding or for allegedly but not really failing to uphold neoliberal dogma.

Meanwhile, millions face homelessness.[40] Millions have been pushed into poverty.[41]


Update #2, December 27, 2020: Donald Trump reportedly signed the COVID-19 economic relief bill[42] he had earlier criticized,[43] but not before additional unemployment benefits had lapsed.[44] Whether Trump gets the $2,000 direct payment, rather than the $600, remains to be seen.[45]


Update, December 29, 2020: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented an immediate vote on a bill already passed by the House of Representatives to raise the stimulus payments to $2,000.[46]

As the legislative jockeying continued Tuesday, [Donald] Trump escalated his blistering attacks on GOP leaders for their inaction so far.

“WE NEED NEW & ENERGETIC REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP,” he wrote.

He also said there would be consequences for his political party if they didn’t act.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP,” Trump wrote. “$600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!”[47]

Democrats object but it appears McConnell is actually trying to give Trump all of these things:

[Mitch] McConnell’s moves on Tuesday appeared to mirror demands that [Donald] Trump laid out on Sunday. In a statement released after he signed the $900 billion stimulus bill into law, he said the Senate would “start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.” Those are the three provisions McConnell has attempted to package into one piece of legislation despite objections from Democrats.

“Section 230” is a reference to a 1996 federal law that broadly indemnifies tech platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google for the actions of their users. Trump has railed against the tech companies as they have started to crack down on his unfounded postings alleging voter fraud in the November election, as well as much more aggressive actions targeting postings made by his supporters containing threats and disinformation.[48]


Update, December 30, 2020: Mitch McConnell’s attempt to combine an increase in stimulus payments to $2,000 with a Section 230 repeal and election fraud commission has, according to Politico, “no chance of becoming law.” Some, apparently including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, see the effort as a move to kill the increase entirely,[49] as the payment increase cannot be split off from McConnell’s bill and the House of Representatives would have to come back into session—not impossible—to approve any changes.[50]

There is still, evidently, a chance that $2,000 checks will become law. But it is also possible that neoliberals among the Democrats figured they could rely on McConnell to kill it.


Update #2, December 30, 2020: David Wallace-Wells does not approve of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort.[51] Actually, that’d be putting it mildly:

Within hours of receiving WHO guidance on January 13, scientists in Thailand began deploying a COVID-19 test, as the Washington Post recently recounted; it took the CDC 46 days to produce one that worked. By March 1, South Korea was administering 11,000 tests per day, a rapidly growing figure; in the U.S., a country about seven times larger, the number was 183. Early, low-end estimates suggested 500,000 to 700,000 tests each day were necessary to slow the spread of the disease, and high-end estimates ran to 3 million per day; the U.S. didn’t reach 700,000 daily tests until mid-June, and still hasn’t reached that threshold of 3 million per day. As recently as August, lab delays caused by pent-up demand meant it was taking so long to deliver results that the tests themselves were effectively meaningless.

That is just the story of testing, but contact tracing and isolation were bungled just as badly. Early estimates for the number of contact tracers needed ran between 100,000 and 300,000 people working, nationwide, to alert the contacts of positive cases to encourage them to isolate. As of May, the number was under 8,000. Today, it is still just 70,000, and those who are reached by those tracers are overwhelmingly not responding. There has also been hopelessly inadequate support for those hoping to isolate, or quarantine, during periods of risk — not to mention insufficient protections for those who had to miss work to do so.

And now here we are, nearly a year into the pandemic, making precisely the same mistake with the vaccine.[52]

Mitch McConnell has made it clear he does not approve of the Democrats’ bill, passed by the House of Representatives, to raise the economic stimulus payout from $600 to $2,000.[53]

[Mitch] McConnell said he opposed the House-passed measure out of a belief it would greatly inflate the U.S. debt and benefit some families who are not in need of financial assistance. Some of the people who would qualify for the payments belong to households earning up to $300,000, the GOP leader contended, adding that many of them had not been disadvantaged by the pandemic.[54]

McConnell reiterated his intention to bundle it with a Section 230 repeal and the establishment of an election fraud commission. Even as the Democrats characterize these other provisions as ‘poison pills’ meant to kill the increase,[55] I continue to rather strongly suspect that this is precisely what they expected him to do, enabling them to pretend to care about people being pushed into poverty[56] and homelessness,[57] but breathing a sigh of relief as neoliberal dogma is upheld, yet again.

  1. [1]Amy Goldstein, “First, the coronavirus pandemic took their jobs. Then, it wiped out their health insurance,” Washington Post, April 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/first-the-coronavirus-pandemic-took-their-jobs-then-it-wiped-out-their-health-insurance/2020/04/18/1c2cb5bc-7d7c-11ea-8013-1b6da0e4a2b7_story.html
  2. [2]Heather Long, “Millions of Americans are heading into the holidays unemployed and over $5,000 behind on rent,” Washington Post, December 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/07/unemployed-debt-rent-utilities/
  3. [3]Michelle Conlin and Christopher Walljasper, “Time’s up: After a reprieve, a wave of evictions expected across U.S.,” Reuters, October 19, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-housing-eviction-insight/times-up-after-a-reprieve-a-wave-of-evictions-expected-across-u-s-idUKKBN27415U
  4. [4]Anne Applebaum, “The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff,” Atlantic, March 15, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-showed-america-wasnt-task/608023/; Kim Hart, “The coronavirus economy will devastate those who can least afford it,” Axios, March 23, 2020, https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-economy-layoffs-children-families-bad-d588cc93-ff26-4031-8be8-5654cce05a15.html; Funda Ustek-Spilda et al., “The untenable luxury of self-isolation,” New Internationalist, March 18, 2020, https://newint.org/features/2020/03/18/untenable-luxury-self-isolation; David Wallace-Wells, “America Is Broken,” New York, March 12, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-shows-us-america-is-broken.html
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  7. [7]Lenny Bernstein, “With hospitals slammed by covid-19, doctors and nurses plead for action by governors,” Washington Post, December 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/doctors-demand-covid-restrictions/2020/12/03/88c1afc6-34e1-11eb-8d38-6aea1adb3839_story.html; Karen Kaplan, “U.S. deaths are about 300,000 higher than expected since the coronavirus arrived,” Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-10-20/excess-deaths-in-united-states-since-coronavirus-arrived; Hannah Knowles and Jacqueline Dupree, “Full hospitals, talk of rationing care: New wave of coronavirus cases strains resources,” Washington Post, October 25, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/10/25/coronavirus-cases-hospitalizations-surge/
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  28. [28]Abha Bhattarai and Hannah Denham, “Stealing to survive: More Americans are shoplifting food as aid runs out during the pandemic,” Washington Post, December 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/10/pandemic-shoplifting-hunger/; Heather Long, “Nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer,” Washington Post, December 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/16/poverty-rising/; Kyle Swenson, “Ten bucks left, no place to go: How the pandemic and a broken unemployment system are upending people’s lives,” Washington Post, August 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/coronavirus-unemployment-delays-dc/2020/08/01/50016264-c522-11ea-8ffe-372be8d82298_story.html
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  35. [35]David Benfell, “The mysterious expectation that elites give a damn,” Not Housebroken, December 22, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/01/the-mysterious-expectation-that-elites-give-a-damn/
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