The Daddy State

We can’t let the pessimism/cynicism engendered by past experiences blind us to the possibilities and opportunities of a new and different future. Briefly, here’s what I hope:

That owing to cross-immunity or some other as yet unidentified factor(s) (which an article shared with me by my friend Frank in the UK refers to as COVID-19 “dark matter”), the pandemic does not resurge in New York as I fear it might, and that, across the country and around the world, the toll of COVID-19 proves far less deadly and catastrophic than the most dire prognostications suggest it might.

That the mass uprising across the United States marks a watershed moment which commences a sharp turn away from the politics of neoliberalism, a stark rejection of rising neofascism, and a shift towards democratic socialism or something like it.

That in the wake of pandemic and owing to the political breakthrough/transformation about which many of us have long dreamed, it becomes possible to initiate drastic, holistic, Green New Deal-style (or, perhaps even better, Red Deal-style) action to address the global climate crisis which, no matter what you may have read, continues to escalate even with the modest pandemic-related emissions reductions. (Think about it like this: You’ve fallen off a cliff. You’ve been accelerating. (Ignore critical velocity for now, if you would.) But then, mid-fall, a painful insect bite or something causes you to cup your hands, which, you realize, are now catching the air and slightly decreasing your downward acceleration. Great! But… you are still accelerating towards the ground as you fall off a cliff.)

And here are a few anecdotal reasons why I continue to have deep misgivings:

The sign I saw at a demonstration at Stonewall earlier this week reading, “We fought COVID-19. Now we are fighting police brutality.”

The knowing half-joke I overheard at a demonstration at Union Square yesterday that, “We should definitely all get COVID tested.”

The message I received from someone asking to reschedule a FaceTime call because of the “race riots.”

The comment I overheard yesterday from inside a Thai restaurant on West 4th Street (where people stood in the doorway picking up their takeout) that, “It’s a race war, so you can drink outside.”

Where these big hopes and small reasons for big fears may meet is yet to be seen, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a significant national spike in COVID-19 cases, then hospitalizations, then deaths starting around the end of next week.

Brief Twitter roundup – as I’m sure most of you are aware: Police (who are tired) have continued bumrushing, beating, and arresting nonviolent protesters (in Brooklyn); arresting essential workers while they work (in Manhattan); nearly killing peaceful old men (in Buffalo); dragging away non-violent demonstrators and leaving others incapacitated in pools of blood (in Williamsburg); and randomly shooting pepper balls at moving vehicles that contain pregnant women (in Denver), among other brutal outrages.

You may have also seen that: New York County Supreme Court Justice James Burke has effectively suspended habeas corpus in New York; full-grown (non-police white) men are evidently assaulting little (white) girls to prevent them from calling for justice for George Floyd; and Lin-Manuel Miranda may not be the hero of racial justice some people thought he was…

Also, a friendly reminder, people say a lot of things on the Internet, but not all of them are necessarily true. Not sure if “Kett[l]ing was created by the Israelis to contain the Palestinians,” and confident that we, here, in New York City are definitely not “in the occupied West Bank,” but part of the point is well taken, as it is undeniable that the NYPD, and many US police forces, have trained with the IDF for years.

If you want to experience a brief, painful descent into Left infighting and the vagaries of “culture war,” “identity politics,” and a whole lot of other phrases I’d scarequote because I’m not actually sure how to name what’s going on here, you can retrace my steps from Doug Henwood’s Tweet regarding the right-wing media embrace of journalist Michael Tracey (who may or may not be “progressive” or “left-wing,” and apparently was both opposed to the Russiagate hysteria from the left, but is also sometimes a darling of the alt-right) who defends Intercept reporter Lee Fang, for whom I have a lot of respect, who’s been attacked for sharing a video interview – with a (Black) protester in Oakland – in which the protester seems to draw a false equivalence between police murder of Black people and so called “Black-on-Black crime.”

(I actually agree – as my previous posts have made very clear – with Tracey’s alarm about the sudden about-face, including by many epidemiologists and public health professionals, regarding the importance of taking measures to prevent the explosive spread of COVID-19. (I think about-face is one of those military metaphors that has insinuated itself deeply into our language/culture.) However, when Tracey shares cherry-picked articles about journalists being “sucker-punched” by protesters, he’s being statistically dishonest, to say the least.)

Ross Barkan – who points out that “[c]alling for Bill de Blasio to resign is cathartic but isn’t actually going to change anything – has an excellent piece up on “Why […] the NYPD [Is] So Powerful.” I’ll note that I have called for de Blasio to resign relative to his persistently disastrous handling of the pandemic, and based on my view that, for most of his second term, he’s been absentee when the City could really use/have used an engaged, present, competent executive. Regarding the uprising, police brutality and unaccountability, etc., I agree with Barkan; I’d be happy to see de Blasio resign regardless, given what a disaster his mayoralty has become, but fear that his resignation would be perceived as a “victory” by some when it would do little or nothing to address the underlying structural factors which account for the frightening power of the police, many of which Barkan outlines in his piece.

I hope Murtaza Hussain is correct and that “Protests Over George Floyd’s Killing [Have] Exposed [The President] as a Lame-Duck Authoritarian,” but we’d do well to recall that, throughout the nearly four years of this Presidency, as people have railed against, mocked, and derided the kleptocratic buffoon in the White House, he/his Administration has overseen a far-reaching and highly effective program of tax cuts, deregulation, installation of young, Far Right judges, etc., etc. Just yesterday, the President issued an executive order (which will be challenged in court, and will likely not hold up), attempting to use pandemic-related emergency powers to make it harder for sub-national governments in the US to block fossil fuel pipeline projects. (For a counter point to Hussain’s take, I recommend Mehdi Hasan’s conversation with scholar of fascism, Ruth Ben-Ghiat; they are in agreement that we dismiss the threat posed by our President at our own peril.)

Finally, it’s not only Twitter (or social media more broadly) where one encounters spurious claims online. This Washington Post article asserts that the “U.S. spends twice as much on law and order as it does on cash welfare.” This claim, narrowly, may be true, but it’s highly deceptive. Most people don’t have the savvy to differentiate between cash welfare, and the other immense – if insufficient and deeply flawed – social welfare programs (chief among them, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) that the Federal Government administers. Here’s an excellent (long, paywalled) piece from Catalyst that shows that the US:

spends roughly $250 billion a year on prisons, police, and the courts, at all levels of government. This is considerably more than any other state in world history. Yet it also spends upwards of $3 trillion on social policy. Even if we count only that fraction of social policy which is spent on the poor (i.e., roughly that fraction which could strictly be tallied as part of the state’s war on the root causes of crime), the figure is at least $1 trillion. To wit, the US government spends at least four and perhaps as much as twelve times more on programs that fight the root causes of crime than on repressing its symptoms.

The article, entitled “The Economic Origins of Mass Incarceration,” goes on to show that, while the US trails more or less all its OECD/rich country peers, often by a wide margin, it still has (as the numbers above would suggest) a more than 10 / 1 ratio of “Social Spending / Penal Spending.”

To get things right going forward, and to not simply get fooled again – because a mayor resigns, or a police budget is marginally cut, or a few unenforceable rules are put in place, or a pandemic preparedness plan is produced then shelved to gather dust and left unfunded, etc., etc. – we need to be deep in the weeds of how the system actually works and what it would mean to actually change it. As is often the case, Glenn Greenwald offers an especially nuanced take, this time on the disagreements on the Left regarding goals, strategy, and tactics in the midst of the nationwide uprising unfolding across the US.

Wish I could say I have a clear sense where all this is headed, but I don’t; for me – as I suspect is the case for many of you– hope and fear, inspiring dreams and harsh realities are at loggerheads in my heart.

Postscript: This note is more for posterity, but I just noted that, in the midst of all this, the Dow Jones was up more than 800 points today and stands above 27,000 again. The Fed money cannon is clearly doing what it was intended to, the rest of the country and the world be damned.

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