America’s response to the coronavirus has been a lose-lose proposition.
The Trump administration and governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis insisted that there was no trade-off between economic growth and controlling the disease, and they were right — but not in the way they expected.
Premature reopening led to a surge in infections: Adjusted for population, Americans are currently dying from Covid-19 at around 15 times the rate in the European Union or Canada. Yet the “rocket ship” recovery Donald Trump promised has crashed and burned: Job growth appears to have stalled or reversed, especially in states that were most aggressive about lifting social distancing mandates, and early indications are that the U.S. economy is lagging behind the economies of major European nations.Krugman argues that the Republicans have spawned - and nurtured - a 'cult of selfishness' that is now playing havoc across America.
So what was going on? Were our leaders just stupid? Well, maybe. But there’s a deeper explanation of the profoundly self-destructive behavior of Trump and his allies: They were all members of America’s cult of selfishness.
You see, the modern U.S. right is committed to the proposition that greed is good, that we’re all better off when individuals engage in the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest. In their vision, unrestricted profit maximization by businesses and unregulated consumer choice is the recipe for a good society.
Support for this proposition is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.
This rage is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom. But people who insist on the right to pollute are notably unbothered by, say, federal agents tear-gassing peaceful protesters. What they call “freedom” is actually absence of responsibility.
Rational policy in a pandemic, however, is all about taking responsibility. The main reason you shouldn’t go to a bar and should wear a mask isn’t self-protection, although that’s part of it; the point is that congregating in noisy, crowded spaces or exhaling droplets into shared air puts others at risk. And that’s the kind of thing America’s right just hates, hates to hear.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Republicans are selfish. We’d be doing much better if that were all there were to it. The point, instead, is that they’ve sacralized selfishness, hurting their own political prospects by insisting on the right to act selfishly even when it hurts others.UPDATE
What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.
I have repeatedly described Americans today as "groomed." They are a people conditioned, skilfully divided, rendered too feeble to defend their Constitution or their society. Ralph Nader touched on this in 2018 in what sounded like a post mortem on America.
The U.S. has developed a society with an almost indeterminate absorptive capacity for injustice, abuse and degradation,” Nader said. “There is no civic education in the schools. They don’t know what the Constitution is. They don’t know what the law of torts is. They don’t know where the town hall is. They’re living in virtual reality, swinging between big screen TV and their cellphones. They’re wallowing in text messages. To an extent, they’re excited by the workings of the minds symbolized by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. That’s the young generation. Great changes start with people in their 20s. But look what you’ve got now. You’ve got 10 years of internet connection, cellphones available to any child. That’s one. The second is 24/7 entertainment. The third is the abandonment by the elderly generation. They’ve sort of given up. They don’t know the gadgetry. They don’t know the language. They have their own economic insecurity. They’re not extending any kind of historical experience to the young which contains severe warnings. Watch out. You don’t think it can happen again, [but] it can happen again and again. There’s no verbal, oral tradition between the generations. Less and less. Then you have the political system, which is deep-sinking the society. How are people going to mobilize themselves? Is there a strong union, a labor movement? No. A strong consumer movement? No. They’re losing their privacy.
Compounding the decay is the collapse of the legal profession, a problem exacerbated by Trump’s stacking of the federal courts with incompetent and far-right judges selected by groups such as The Federalist Society. The courts, Nader said, have already destroyed the freedom of contract and the law of torts. They have repeatedly revoked constitutional rights by judicial fiat, ruling, for example, that unlimited campaign contributions by corporations is a form of free speech and the right to petition the government.
Nader worries that as long as “10 to 15 percent of the American people are well-off” the elites will have enough support to continue the assault.
“Societies have been repressed by far smaller members of well-instituted upper classes,” he said. “That’s what we forget. Eighteenth-, 19th-, 20th-century Europe. A tiny clique controlled them. When there’s any problem it flips over to dictatorship. As long as the contented classes are not upset, the system of control is in lock, like connecting gears.”It should come as no surprise then that Krugman's 'cult of selfishness' should respond to the Covid pandemic as they have, plunging America into a public healthcare crisis. What could be more predictable? How will it manifest next?