Friday, March 13, 2020

No Ordinary Time

You must know that this is the time when all good men and women give every bit of service and strength to their country that they have to give. This is the time when it is the United States that we fight for, the domestic policies that we have established as a party that we must believe in, that we must carry forward, and in the world we have a position of great responsibility.
We cannot tell from day to day what may come. This is no ordinary time. No time for weighing anything except what we can do best for the country as a whole, and that responsibility rests on each and every one of us as individuals.”
So spoke Eleanor Roosevelt in her famous July 1940 speech to the Democratic National Convention. With much of the world already at war and the United States only a year-and-a-half away from war, Eleanor Roosevelt rallied the party to collective action in service of the common good. Faced with a dangerous external threat, she could and did call upon the strong moral resources of the nation to meet it.

This too, now, is no ordinary time. The external threat is here - in the form of contagious disease and all the terror that inspires. But who is left to rally the nation? Who is left to call upon our reservoir of strong moral resources? And are those resources still available to us? Or have they all given way to what Ross Douthat would call our decadence

Decadence indeed! We are, on paper, the world's richest and most powerful country. But we are governed by a political party which for four full decades (since the morally disastrous election of 1980) has disparaged and undermined the functions of government, has successfully increased inequality thus separating citizens from one another rather than uniting them, and has gone to war against science and expertise. So now we cannot even test citizens to find out who and how many are infected - something other countries with a reservoir of social solidarity have been able to do.  A well-governed society would have public health officials to seek out the elderly and others most at risk. A well-governed society could close schools if necessary, without fearing that students would lose needed meals or be left unsupervised all day because their families, already living on the margin, dare not take off from work - even if they are sick themselves.

The dysfunction of the American medical industry is a familiar story. It is what happens when an important public good is allowed to be instead part of a private, for-profit economy.  When this is over, surely the moral bankruptcy of our dependence on for-profit private medical insurance will be even more obvious than it was already.

But for now it is far from over. This is no ordinary time.

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