Tag Archives: Coronavirus

It’s A Political Divide, Not A Class Conflict

You’ve got to give Republicans credit–they’ve been really good at framing disputes among the various Democratic Party factions in ways that are most likely to create negative stereotypes appealing to independent voters.

The term “identity politics,” for example, is a not-very-veiled negative reference to activists emphasizing the interests/concerns of their (usually marginalized) groups–African-Americans, women, LGBTQ folks.

Working class activists are frequently accused of waging “class warfare.”

For some reason, Evangelicals aren’t pursuing “identity politics,” and crony capitalists aren’t waging class warfare; they are usually referred to more politely–if at all– as “interest groups.” But I digress.

In a recent column for the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg pointed out that the multiple columns arguing that lockdowns pit an affluent professional class that can mostly work from home against a working class that must risk its health in order to put food on the table are badly mischaracterizing the situation.

Writing in The Post, Fareed Zakaria tried to make sense of the partisan split over coronavirus restrictions, describing a “class divide” with pro-lockdown experts on one side and those who work with their hands on the other. On Fox News, Steve Hilton decried a “37 percent work from home elite” punishing “real people” trying to earn a living. In a column titled “Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown,” The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan wrote: “Here’s a generalization based on a lifetime of experience and observation. The working-class people who are pushing back have had harder lives than those now determining their fate.”

The data says this is horse manure.

One recent survey found that, overall, 74 percent of Americans agreed  that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed, 79% agreed.

Other research has determined that economic status isn’t what drives American disagreement over Coronavirus policies. It is “identity politics,” true, but the identity involved is  political.

Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump’s base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.

 As Goldberg notes, what seems like attractive “liberation” to many comfortable people chafing at confinement is experienced as compulsion by those returning to riskier jobs. In a number of states, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that re-opening (usually in defiance of advice from public health officials) is prompted by the governor’s desire to avoid emptying out the state’s unemployment reserves.  (If an employer reopens but a worker doesn’t feel safe returning and quits, the employee can no longer collect unemployment benefits).

Goldberg argues that it is actually the financial elites that are eager for everyone else to resume powering the economy.

“‘People Will Die. People Do Die.’ Wall Street Has Had Enough of the Lockdown,” was the headline on a recent Vanity Fair article. It cited a banker calling for “broad legal indemnification for employers against claims related to the virus” so that employees can’t sue if their workplace exposes them to illness. Here we see the real coronavirus class divide.

Bolstering Goldberg’s version of reality are reports that the presumably “working class” protestors clamoring (often with guns and Confederate flags) for an end to the lockdowns are actually far-right operatives, many not even from the states in which they are protesting, and that nearly half of the twitter accounts urging reopening are bots.

We still have “identity poliitics.” But in the age of Trump, our identities have become almost entirely political.


A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words…

Sometimes, visuals convey more information than text. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

As our mentally-ill President pretends he knows what he’s talking about and brags about what a “great” job his administration has done, and as too many states are fudging the numbers of dead and dying so that they can open much too quickly, a reality check is in order.

These pictures are from EndCoronavirus.com.They show the progress of various countries in combatting the pandemic. Spoiler alert: America is far–far--from being number one.

These countries do best:


A second, nearly equal number of countries, was shown at the link as “almost there.”

The third set was “Countries that need to take action”–i.e., countries doing the worst:

Picture this the next time Trump declares that we’re doing more testing than any other country–we aren’t, not even close–or that we’re ready to “re-open.” Better still, if you happen to come across Trump’s tweet about his proposed new motto–“Transition to Greatness”–click on this URL of the same name for the real story.

If his perverse refusal to listen to experts or learn only threatened the morons who insist that their “liberty” entitles them to ignore your safety, I might be inclined to say “let them go for it!” Unfortunately, they are endangering the rest of us.

As a friend pointed out recently, their “liberty” doesn’t allow them to drive 100 miles per hour on city streets, or to dispense with wearing clothing in public, either. Until they understand the legitimate limits of individual liberty, the “land of the free” won’t be free of the Coronavirus.

We Interrupt This Blog To Kvetch…

If you don’t know what “kvetch” means, google it.

I am about to complain about things my sons call–accurately–“first world problems.” First world problems, for those who may not have heard the phrase, are problems people would be grateful to have in other parts of the world–or for that matter, less fortunate precincts of the United States. I should be ashamed to complain about them while others are facing job losses, illness or death–and especially when people on the “front lines” are risking their health and possibly their lives stocking grocery shelves, delivering much-needed goods, and caring for the sick.

So please know that I am ashamed to kvetch. But I’m going to do it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

It isn’t just my hair, which has taken on a life of its own. (I’m considering cutting it myself; the only thing that keeps my hands from the scissors is picturing Haley–she who actually knows how to cut hair and who usually cuts mine every three weeks–looking horrified and disapproving when salons reopen.)

It isn’t just the fact that the skin on my hands is raw from constant washing.

It isn’t just that the only person other than my husband that I’ve actually talked to face-to-face was the plumber who came (in mask and gloves) to fix a VERY inconvenient and VERY expensive leak that caused part of the basement ceiling to collapse.

It isn’t just the jeans and old sweatshirts that I wear every single day. Actually, there’s something comforting about not wearing out my nicer clothes (or putting them on and noticing that they’ve become considerably tighter…).

It isn’t just that I can’t hug my grandchildren–but that is a really, really big part of it. Three of our four perfect grandchildren live close by; the two youngest (16 and 18) are only four blocks away and are used to coming over frequently–to raid the pantry, to play pool in Grandpa’s “man cave,” or to do homework away from annoying parents…Now, when the weather is nice, they may walk over (usually accompanied by those same annoying parents), but they stand ten or twelve yards away and wave…no hugs. No kisses.

Drives me nuts.

Before the order to stay in our homes, I’d given notice that I planned to retire. IU has something called “phased retirement,” and I planned–and still plan–to work half-time for the next two years, then say “sayonara.” I’d been regaling my husband with all the things I’d do then–clean all the closets, dust and rearrange all the books in the library, clean out all the kitchen cabinets…. I was going to have an immaculate home environment. When I retired.

I was also going to read for pleasure, not just to keep up academically .

Um…I’ve done all that during this enforced “staycation.” I’ve cleaned everything that doesn’t move. I’ve read at least ten forgettable books. I’ve even finished lingering research projects.

I don’t know what I’ll do when I retire…..

I miss human contact. I miss hugging my children and grandchildren. I miss meeting friends for brunch or drinks. I miss talking to my students face-to-face rather than online. I even miss grocery shopping.

Maybe I’m projecting, but I’ve noticed that the comments to my daily blogs are getting longer. I think you guys are bored too…..

I’ll quit kvetching about what I know is an important and necessary measure to flatten the curve and keep us safe–or at least safer. And I will count my “first world” blessings–a home in which to quarantine, a job that continues to pay me, a supportive spouse who ignores my hair-that-devoured-Cleveland and obediently tells me that, yes, that closet I just cleaned  looks great….and blog readers who (mostly) make me feel valued.

Tomorrow, I’ll stop kvetching and return this blog to its proper focus: America’s abysmal federal governance.

Sorry for the detour, but I feel better now……

The Problem With Ideologues

It isn’t that ideologues are stupid. Most are really very bright–if we define “bright” to mean that they have high IQs. They just can’t deal with ambiguity, and we live in an ambiguous world.

Politicians aren’t all ideologues: although many members of Congress–both Democratic and Republican (albeit more Republicans these days)–doggedly adhere to relatively simple “black versus white, wrong versus right” world-views, many others do not. The current administration is far, far from ideological. (True, Trumpers play to their fanatic base of True Believers, but from cynicism, not agreement.) Con artists are the antithesis of ideologues, and as I’ve previously noted, we have an administration composed of none-too-bright Keystone Kops and people who would be right at home in the Mafia.

We should also distinguish between “True Believers” and ideologues. True Believers tend to be people who uncritically adopt world-views generated by others. They find those “ready made” explanations (white nationalism comes to mind) appealing because they provide answers/excuses: why is it that my life isn’t going the way I wanted/expected? Whose fault is it? Who can I blame?

Ideologues, on the other hand, tend to be high IQ people who have worked out a coherent, orderly explanatory model that they proceed to apply to a world that is anything but coherent and orderly.

And that brings me to Richard Epstein.

I met Epstein briefly some twenty-five years ago, when he was teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. (You don’t teach at U.C. unless you are really, really smart–of course, “smart” and “wise” aren’t the same thing–not even close.) He made a speech which I have since forgotten, and had just written a book which I read and which is still buried somewhere in my library.

I would describe Epstein as a radical libertarian, and what I remember most about that just-written book was one chapter’s insistence that we don’t need a government agency to award or monitor air lanes–that once two planes had collided midair, and the airlines had been held liable for the immense damages (he does believe in legal liability, evidently–it’s been a long time since I read the book), the airlines would be motivated to get together and agree on the distribution of air lanes, because it would be in their financial interests to avoid such collisions in the future.

Cold comfort to those on one of the first planes…

At any rate, Epstein is now, apparently, affiliated with both NYU Law School and the Hoover Institution, and according to the New Yorker,  his approach to the way the world should work significantly influenced early White House pandemic policy.

According to the Washington Post, “Conservatives close to Trump and numerous administration officials have been circulating an article by Richard A. Epstein of the Hoover Institution, titled ‘Coronavirus Perspective,’ which plays down the extent of the spread and the threat.

Epstein, a professor at New York University School of Law, published the article on the Web site of the Hoover Institution, on March 16th. In it, he questioned the World Health Organization’s decision to declare the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, said that “public officials have gone overboard,” and suggested that about five hundred people would die from COVID-19 in the U.S. Epstein later updated his estimate to five thousand, saying that the previous number had been an error. So far, there have been more than two thousand coronavirus-related fatalities in America; epidemiologists’ projections of the total deaths range widely, depending on the success of social distancing and the availability of medical resources, but they tend to be much higher than Epstein’s.

According to the article, Epstein is known for his “libertarian-minded reading of the Constitution.”  He continues to advocate for what he calls a “restrained” federal government, and last year published an article on Hoover’s web site arguing that “The professional skeptics are right: there is today no compelling evidence of an impending climate emergency.”

Well, when pesky evidence threatens your carefully-constructed worldview, the evidence must be wrong.(What are you going to believe? Your lying eyes, or your elegant theoretical model?)

The linked New Yorker article has a verbatim interview. If you want a glimpse of just how far afield a rigid ideology can take even a really smart person, click through.


We Need Reassurance And This Isn’t It….

A number of media outlets have recently reported that Jared Kushner has been “tasked” with oversight of the administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

That’s evidently in addition to his “task” of bringing peace to the Middle East, and Vice President Mike Pence’s “task” of heading up the dysfunctional White House pandemic Task Force. Two recent columns have addressed this latest assignment handed to Wonder Boy, both by New York Times columnists.

I usually find Maureen Dowd too self-consciously cute for my tastes, but her column on Trump, Kushner and the pandemic is dead-on. She spent the bulk of her column inches on Trump’s incompetence, but it was her description of Kushner that resonated with me.

At the Thursday briefing, the president brought out another wealthy, uninformed man-child who loves to play boss: Jared Kushner. Where’s our Mideast peace deal, dude? Surely Trump did not think giving Kushner a lead role would inspire confidence. This is the very same adviser who told his father-in-law early on that the virus was being overplayed by the press and also urged him to tout a Google website guiding people to testing sites that turned out to be, um, still under construction.

Now he is leading a group, mocked within the government as “the Slim Suit crowd,” that is providing one more layer of confusion — and inane consultant argot — to the laggardly, disorganized response.

From the lectern, Kushner drilled down on his role as the annoying, spoiled kid in every teen movie ever made. “And the notion of the federal stockpile was, it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

There has been a predictable uproar over Kushner’s description of “our stockpile,” but it was precisely the sort of arrogant ignorance that we’ve come to expect from someone  perfectly described as the “annoying spoiled kid in every teen movie ever made.”

Michelle Goldberg’s column was a more serious analysis of the insanity of Jared’s most recent “tasking.” Here’s her lede:

Reporting on the White House’s herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror.

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

As Goldberg notes, Jared Kushner has had exactly three”successes” thus far in his life: being born to rich parents, marrying well, and influencing his father-in-law.  Other endeavors —” his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.”

(No wonder he gets along so well with Trump–they have similar trajectories…and similar delusions of competence. But I digress.)

“Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday. This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The author of a book about the Kushner family described Jared thusly: “he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Like his father-in-law. (In the quotable words of Rick Wilson, “Everything he touches dies.”)

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books — have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support. Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Now, in our hour of existential horror, Kushner is making life-or-death decisions for all Americans, showing all the wisdom we’ve come to expect from him.

I have repeatedly described Trump’s White House as a cross between the Keystone Kops and the Mafia. To which I should add that all of them are walking, talking illustrations of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Gee–I wonder why I’m not reassured….?