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Post Re: Trump Watch
Umair Haque wrote:
they are going to have to come face to face with what authoritarianism really is: an indifference to any kind of civilised values of dignity, care, concern, humanity. That is what they risk becoming in their paralysis.

I thought this was an insightful and rousing discussion, but I also want to take issue with some parts of it. Starting with the fact that the principle opposed to those civilised values is much more complex than simply authoritarianism as if that is chosen for its own sake. No one I know gives away all that he or she has, just because of caring and concern. There are opposing considerations of prudence, management and simple selfish preoccupation. And if you think about it, fascism is an institutional version of these. The trains run on time. People are expected to conform and uphold the solidarity of the group vs other groups. Some normative version of social values is promoted for all to accept. The venerable film of the classroom experiment in fascism "The Wave" demonstrated how it holds the promise of effectiveness. The students did their homework, by God.
It recently emerged that the Postal Service had a plan to send facemasks to every American. That is precisely the kind of thing that would and should have happened in a sane and rational country. And it was the Trump Administration that stopped this plan dead in its tracks.

Now, the Post Office’s plan was to send five reusable facemasks to Americans. Doesn’t sound like a lot. But it could have been built on, as emergent plans in emergencies often are. America could have found itself in a situation like this: the Postal Service sent Americans facemasks every week, and the government mandating wearing them, in any public place.
That alone, epidemiologists suggest, would have massively reduced the incidence of Covid. Dropping deaths, probably, from the 200,000 they’re at to half that — and that’s in a conservative scenario.
I have not heard of this. My understanding was that facemasks were in short supply - too short to provide them to all. Whenever it was that Trump failed to distribute them, they would have been available in stores by then, and not in shortage at the hospitals. So we are really talking about the failure to mandate.

Remember, pandemics spread exponentially. That is why if you nip them in the bud, before exponential growth accelerates — that is your best chance of stopping them. It is why some nations have been spectacularly successful — South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand — and some, like America, have had the world’s worst outcomes.
Yes, understanding science is critical to making democracy function effectively. I tried to get a group of high schoolers to understand the difference between exponential and linear growth, but the curriculum made us move on before the point could sink in for most. This is, of course, a sin and a crime. If I had known the pandemic was coming I would have slowed down and done extra processing despite the curriculum.

Fascism's disdain for science is well known. But this is a good time to stop and think what is going on. People's need for singular authority, concentrated into purest form as support for some megalomaniac who can only desire more power, shoves aside whatever other priorities might appear to conflict. It happens in religion, it happens in politics. When reason itself takes a back seat to the apparent priorities of the group, then the train is going to derail. QAnon Nation is but a step away.

To this day, America has no Covid policy or strategy. That is why the death toll is simply skyrocketing every single day, reaching astonishing numbers. It took just 10 days for America to go from 190,000 deaths to 200,000 — deaths have stabilised at about 1,000 per day. 1,000 people a day are needlessly dying from coronavirus in America. Really think about how many people that is.
So what we know now is that there wasn’t a national-level strategy for Coronavirus for a reason: not because Trump was incompetent, stupid, misinformed, or foolish. But for a reason that almost impossible to fully process, even if you say you believe it. Because Trump knew — but didn’t care.
I think this is oversimplified. Trump's role was certainly catastrophic. But a big reason why America has no Covid strategy is that it is a big nation with a lot of centrifugal forces pulling people in different directions, so that federalist decentralization has become built in to the ideologies and power structures. And it might be worth noting that this system is exactly the one imposed by the US on West Germany after WWII as a protection against fascism.
The states have strategies. There are public health officials and tripwires for various levels of openings and closings. Granted it is far more decentralized than would be optimal for good policy, but as we speak, no state has failed to fail, so to speak. Just as Europe's policies might have been more effective if they were all centralized, coordinated and more uniform, so the US failure to coordinate has weaknesses but is also natural and not so obviously at great fault.

The only kinds of societies in which such awful failings are tolerated are authoritarian states, really. And in that sense, America is a pre-authoritarian state. Americans seem to have shrugged and given up on all this. They don’t seem to understand — or even care to understand — the unbelievable scale and depth of Trump’s failure on Covid.
The reasons for that are both complex and straightforward. America is still a racist and classist country, and Covid hit the poor and minorities hardest. America is also the home of the Darwinian logic of self-reliance — the strong should survive, and the weak perish, and so Americans have had a cultural tendency not to care about Covid the way that nearly every other country on earth has.
Here is, I think, the heart of Haque's argument and the most important issue to think through. Haque conspicuously left out the group most heavily afflicted by Covid and the one that is most often mentioned by people who are arguing that Covid is not that terrible, namely the old. Yes, America is still invested in the logic of self-reliance, but that is not all about racism and the expendability of the working class. It is also about, well, self-reliance. If the old cannot keep up, then too bad. If the poor cannot afford quality health care, then let them get master's degrees, like they are supposed to.

This is not, fundamentally, about authoritarianism. But it is about failure to exercise care for others. America does not just have a history of using the poor for the benefit of the rich, it also has a history of vast and unprecedented opportunity. Land for anyone, to put it in the simplest possible terms. We have recently been asked to consider the collateral damage on Native Americans and African-Americans, and that is nothing to sneeze at. It has infected our ability to look with objectivity on straightforward policy choices that other countries have no trouble with. But at the core, Americans are heavily invested in the myth that anyone can make it with determination and grit. We really have to work on accommodating the competing principles that often get shoved aside by this myth, but it is also a good baby to keep as we throw out the bathwater.

Plenty of leaders have gotten away with terrible things. Stalin, Mao, Saddam — the list is endless. But thanks to its misplaced feeling of exceptionalism, Americans think of themselves as above such nations. They look down their noses at such countries. But the truth is they have become one. A place where an authoritarian’s negligence results in mass death — and terrorized, traumatized, timid, fearful people cannot hold him accountable for it, and so he simply gets away with it. Just like Russians, Chinese, Iraqis, Americans cannot really fully process the scale of the horror — a kind of denial and wilful ignorance kicks in, even among the good people. They become a silent majority this way — because who can really sit down and think the thought: “hundred of thousands of people died just because of one man’s maliciousness?” It’s too terrible to bear.
And yet it must be borne, if a nation is to rouse itself from the slumber of apathy. In this way, Americans have become arrogant people. They think they could never become a place where mass death happened, just because an authoritarian led them to it — that only happened in those other dirty, poor countries. But unfortunately, they are now a country like that. Two hundred thousand Americans are dead. A thousand die a day. That’s another hundred thousand by the end of the year. All because — we now know — of Donald Trump’s malicious indifference. No ground should be given on this score. Democracy dies with the tolerance and silent acceptance of abuses of power this grave, this vast, this unbelievable.
One man's slumber of apathy is another man's focus on the things they can realistically manage. I agree with Haque's conclusion that we screwed up royally on Covid. But I believe it because of the facts that we got wrong, and the elevation of symbolism above pragmatism. Not because the alternative principle of caring for others must be elevated to determinative status.

I am all for caring - I think the disdain for the lives of the old was and is barbaric. I think it is shocking, and more than a little fascist, how the right wing has blithely ignored the lives of their fellow citizens on the excuse that "it mainly kills old people." But I am also deeply suspicious of ideologies that say we must bear any burden for the alleviation of anyone's suffering. My priority would be on preventing either principle - individual liberty vs. social support - from dictating policy in disregard for the facts.

The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Sun Oct 18, 2020 9:48 am
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Post Re: Trump Watch
Trump's Administration, and the evil Barr, have done another good thing, worth saluting.

By going after Google for exclusive contracts and other means of leveraging its search dominance to gain more dominance, the Administration has put some teeth back into anti-trust enforcement, and restored some balance to the power that comes from network advantages. Let Facebook look to its policies as well. I never thought I would be glad for anything WalMart did, but their development of on-line shopping is almost the only realistic check on Amazon's growing power in retail.

Tue Oct 20, 2020 9:24 am
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