Maybe Having a Science-Denying Ignoramus in the White House Isn’t Good for Business After All…

Lots of consternation in the US today after another breathtaking loss of value in the financial markets. In the last month, the Dow Jones is down from a record high – just shy of 30,000 – in mid-February to below 24,000 this morning, so roughly a 20% drop. For many everyday people, this means anxiety about their savings or their retirement plans, but no doubt some insiders have managed to benefit from the wild market fluctuations in recent weeks, and one imagines that certain of the more unsavory figures in the New York real estate world are licking their chops at the prospect of a virus that’s especially dangerous to (rent-controlled and rent-stabilized) elders.

Still, perhaps a silver lining of all this turmoil will be that it undercuts financial and corporate support for the President, given the disastrous consequences of his Administration’s incompetence and inaction. More to the point, excellent coverage on today’s Democracy Now! of the contribution of wealth/income inequality, terrorizing immigration policies, mass incarceration, and the Administration’s racist public-charge rule to the risk of spread of COVID-19 (hereafter: the disease). Meanwhile, more locally, New York City has moved to make loans available to small business hit by the pandemic – which is also predictably wreaking havoc, but unevenly, for workers in the so-called gig economy – but there are some questions about the coherence of the City’s response to community spread of SARS-CoV-2 (hereafter: the virus), and, as I’ve written previously, I have deep concerns about the prevailing social response to date, which, from many people, seems to amount to a shrug of the shoulders and the conviction that: It shouldn’t affect me much anyway, so who cares about the old people?

A younger friend sagely observed: “Young people won’t take this seriously until someone famous is affected.”

The Head of the Port Authority became, yesterday, the most prominent New Yorker to date to be diagnosed with the disease, but I don’t think he’s quite the sort of celebrity she had in mind. Farther from home, another prominent Republican lawmaker (who only recently mocked the seriousness of the pandemic by showing up on the House floor in a gas mask) has self-quarantined as the impacts of CPAC and AIPAC attendees being diagnosed with the disease continue to mount. The one-time gas mask-wearer had close contact with the President after being exposed, and may actually have been on Air Force One at the time he received the news that he’d shaken hands with an infected individual. For those requiring reminders, all so many that viruses don’t respect class boundaries.

Italy is now subject to nationwide travel restrictions, and South Korea has tested roughly 200,000 people for the virus (to the US’s ~2,000), but as Dr. Alfredo Morabia outlined on Democracy Now! this morning, the most effective measures to stem spread continue to be basic hygiene and social distancing practices (which I outline below in a quote from this great piece by Trevor Bradford on the genomic epidemiology that allowed him to conclude that the virus was circulating in Washington State from mid-January). These practices start with basic actions like handwashing, but can encompass more onerous measures like school closures. To date, New York City public schools remain open, but an increasing number of private schools and universities have closed/gone to all online classes, and the City has made clear that part of its reasoning in keeping schools open is that closing them puts such a heavy burden on many families. This refusal to close schools strikes me as the municipal version of waiting to go to the doctor until you’re so sick you end up in the emergency room, and I fear that failure to take significant measures now will lead to more suffering (and an even heavier burden) later. But this is a polarizing subject, and I continue to hear many well-informed individuals opine, basically: What’s the big deal? Why is everyone overreacting? And, to be fair, if schools were to be closed, but everyone continued otherwise behaving as normal, the impact on slowing the disease’s spread would likely be limited.

I’d like to dig a little more deeply into this though: Why does school closure burden some families so heavily? Often, it’s because many parents can’t afford childcare and can’t afford to take time off of work. And why is that the case? I’d say it has something to do with our form of capitalism. As I’ve written previously, both about the climate crisis, and our present pandemic, a reliance on market-based mechanisms ensures failure, and success is not possible without some degree of confrontation with the logic of capitalism. As Dr. Morabia put it: “I’m not so worried about the scientific aspect of it, of the response of our medical system. Even though it is really stretched thin because of lack of resources, but I think we can handle this. The problem is our social vulnerability.” Our social vulnerability. I’ll leave the ideological debates to others, but on this Little Super Tuesday, I think it’s worth considering which of the candidates for the Democratic nomination has a record, vision, and worldview that aligns with actually confronting, solving, and preventing such crises. Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, but is, in my view, more of a social democrat. Either way, whereas his opponent has a history of political opportunism and hurting the apocryphal little guy in service to corporate interests (and also has a long, long history of lying about his record on Apartheid, Civil Rights, the Iraq War, etc, etc, as outlined by Mehdi Hasan in this short, funny video for The Intercept), Sanders has been doggedly consistent over the years in identifying the root causes of what ails us. In this case, a virus is spreading, but structural factors – social, economic, and political – are, as much as anything, responsible for its spread, and I believe it is the root-cause thinking and leadership of Sanders that is most up to the challenges, including this pandemic, of our present moment.

As promised, I’m concluding by quoting from Bradford’s piece at length on “non-pharmaceutical interventions” as means of prevention:

This [drastic reduction of new cases in Hubei] suggests that this is controllable. We’re at a critical junction right now, but we can still mitigate this substantially.

Some ways to implement non-pharmaceutical interventions include:

  • Practicing social distancing, such as limiting attendance at events with large groups of people
  • Working from home, if your job and employer allows it
  • Staying home if you are feeling ill
  • Take your temperature daily, if you develop a fever, self-isolate and call your doctor
  • Implementing good hand washing practices – it is extremely important to wash hands regularly
  • Covering coughs and sneezes in your elbow or tissue
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs
  • Beginning some preparations in anticipation of social distancing or supply chain shortages, such as ensuring you have sufficient supplies of prescription medicines and ensuring you have about a 2 week supply of food and other necessary household goods.
  • With these preparation in mind, it is important to not panic buy. Panic buying unnecessarily increases strain on supply chains and can make it difficult to ensure that everyone is able to get supplies that they need.

I’m including this because I think he’s done a nice job of summing up the advice we’ve all read and heard many times by now. Our actions, collectively, will determine if we end up – to oversimplify – with one million cases globally, or one hundred million.

3 thoughts on “Maybe Having a Science-Denying Ignoramus in the White House Isn’t Good for Business After All…

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