Monday, April 27, 2020

Failed State?

The forthcoming June issue of The Atlantic features an article by George Packer, "We Are Living in a Failed State: The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken"-

Now it is beyond obvious that the US response to the pandemic has been at best inadequate, especially given the length of time the Trump Administration wasted with denials and scapegoating instead of using it to prepare the country, develop effective testing, etc. Packer's point, however, goes deeper than that.

Packer begins his argument, employing the medicalized language we have all become so familiar with. "When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills - a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public - had gone untreated for years." It is those "underlying conditions" Packer wants his readers to focus on, conditions that have led him to use the loaded term "failed state" to describe the country we have become.

This, he notes is already the third big crisis of our short 21st century - after 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008, which had already torn apart the increasingly fragile bonds of our national unity. In one, succinctly written paragraph, he lays bare the co-morbidities the coronavirus found in the America it infected.

"This was the American landscape that lay open to the virus: in prosperous cities, a class of globally connected desk workers dependent on a class of precarious and invisible service workers; in the countryside, decaying communities in revolt against the modern world; on social media, mutual hatred and endless vituperation among different camps; in the economy, even with full employment, a large and growing gap between triumphant capital and beleaguered labor; in Washington, an empty government led by a con man and his intellectually bankrupt party; around the country, a mood of cynical exhaustion, with no vision of shared identity or future."

Besides diagnosing the underlying causes and conditions of our national illness, Packer more positively points to the alternative community hiding in plain sight. "In the smartphone economy that hides whole classes of human beings, we're learning where our food and goods come from, who keeps us alive." It is no accident that so many of them are poorer people in low-paying jobs that our wealth-worshipping society habitually disrespects - and whom this present pandemic so directly endangers.

These underlying causes and conditions, these co-morbidities of our failed state, have been developing untreated for 40 years at least, ever since the morally disastrous election of 1980 and the enthronement of a political ideology that is anti-political, anti-social, and so ultimately anti-life.  Its moral bankruptcy long evident, the utter uselessness of that anti-democratic, small-government, free market ideology has been demonstrated once again by this pandemic.  If the Great Depression could cause capitalist America to look for something better, if World War II could cause a habitually warring Europe to look for something better, perhaps this pandemic can cause this failed state to do the same?

"We can learn from these dreadful days," Packer suggests in conclusion, "that stupidity and injustice are lethal: that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death."

No comments:

Post a Comment