What Does “Small Government” Buy Us?
Suddenly, America is a nation of socialists, asking in dismay, “Where’s the government?”
These are not born-again Bernie Sanders activists but everyday people of all political stripes (including previously apolitical multitudes) who’re now clamoring for big-government intervention in their lives. Nothing like a coronavirus pandemic to bring home the need that all of us have — both as individuals and as a society — for an adequately funded, fully functioning, competent government capable of serving all. Alas, as everyone can see in our present moment of critical national need, government today has been reduced to a rickety medicine show run by an inept, small-minded flimflammer peddling laissez-fairyland snake oil.
“We have it totally under control,” President Donald Trump pompously declared after the first U.S. case was confirmed in January. As it began rapidly spreading out of control in February, he tweeted nonchalantly, “It will all work out well,” adding, “We’re doing a great job.” But an increasingly anxious public found that reliable test kits couldn’t even be purchased from Trump’s hollowed-out government health agencies. Still, he shrugged off all concern and responsibility: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Not exactly a can-do Rooseveltian response to a national crisis, but he stayed blase, denying scientific reality and assuring us, “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
Of course, it hasn’t, and by March, the inconvenient fact of a rising death toll exposed this imposter of a president as incompetent, uncaring … and silly. So, after weeks of the complete absence of White House leadership, a deadly pathogen is raging practically everywhere across our land; unknown millions of us are being infected; a “closed indefinitely” sign has been hung on the American economy; and even our people’s social and civic interactions — the essence of community life — have been halted.
Right-wing politico Grover Norquist once said he wanted a government so small he could “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Trump is now showing us what such a small-minded government looks like. And what it costs us.
Suddenly, social distancing has become the official ethical standard for human relationships, abruptly supplanting eons of ingrained communal behavior by us humanoids (handshakes, hugs, pub life, ceremonial gatherings, etc.). Awkward. Disconcerting. Isolating.
Yet, as we frantically scramble to deter the health ravages of COVID-19 and grapple with the global economic devastation it’s causing, we might benefit by pondering how social distancing is a self-inflicted cause of the contagion’s disastrous spread. For some 40 years, American corporations and governments have colluded to push economic, political and social policies that have intentionally distanced the financial fortunes of the wealthy from the well-being of the workaday majority.
Consider the interrelationship of multimillionaires with the unseen kitchen staff of restaurants where they dine. To further enrich themselves, such multimillionaires have forced low-wage policies on food preparers, denied health coverage for them and lobbied to kill proposals to provide paid sick leave. So, one kitchen worker sneezes. He or she is infected with coronavirus but doesn’t know it due to having no health care coverage for testing. Even though running a fever, the staffer must come to work so as not to lose the job. Later, somewhere a multimillionaire sneezes. After all, COVID-19 doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor.
The very proposals that plutocrats have been blocking for years (living wages, “Medicare for All,” paid sick leave, family medical leave, free college and trade school tuition, home health care and others) are exactly what a sane government and egalitarian economy would adopt to fend off the wholly destructive inequality that now confronts every American.
While we’re now forced to temporarily distance ourselves from one anther, the lethal disease our country has is the widening separation of rich elites from the rest of us. And the cure is a national push for renewed social cohesiveness . As a friend and fellow writer recently put it, COVID-19 “puts into focus a biological, psychological, economic, and socio-political fact we too often deny: We are a species of completely interdependent beings.”
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.