A False Dichotomy

An editorial of mine was published today in a local paper. It's the first in a short series about America's future and how we can work together to solve our most pressing problems, and like most things these days this first essay is about the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has disrupted our entire way of life and it seems like that will continue for longer than we would like or hope. The race to a vaccine and mass inoculation is ongoing, but it will take time to see the fruits of that labor. In the meantime, we are not helpless...our current situation is not unsalvageable.

The article ends with a phrase I've repeated over and over again since March.

In short, the current choice between a forced reopening during a pandemic or a safe but devastating shutdown is a false dichotomy β€” one created by a refusal to help fellow Americans during a crisis.

So far, aside from modest measures (one-time checks, boosting UI insurance, and SBA loans) the federal government has yet to fully respond to the pandemic. Many other nations shut down their economies, but they've also provided aid to individuals and businesses so that they can weather those shutdowns and emerge, raring to go, when they're over. Instead of doing that, our federal government has refused to help states and local governments with revenue shortfalls, failed to provide adequate financial aid to individuals and businesses in need, and overall acted as if the pandemic is nothing to worry about even though, at time of writing almost 300,000 Americans have died of the disease. Instead, the President and Senate Republicans have simply insisted that their hands are tied, that the incredible capabilities of the most powerful nation on earth simply can't be used to help its people.

A lot of this disfunction lies at the feet of Republicans in the Senate. To it's credit, the House passed a new round of pandemic relief months ago, but the Senate never even considered it, and Joe Biden's sizable pandemic plan is probably subject to the same fate.

In an Op-Ed for the New York Times this week, David Brooks wrote about the most recent coronavirus aid talks and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's efforts to curtail them.

To their great credit, Pelosi and Chuck Schumer embraced the bipartisan framework. Mitch McConnell went on the Senate floor Thursday, pretended to soften, ignored the compromise and did not move an inch.

If [we don’t see a Covid-19 relief measure pass in the next week or two], McConnell should spend Christmas with people thrown out of work and witness the suffering he has caused.

This is what has infuriated me for months. We have a solution to this pandemic. We know how to curtail its spread: shutdown, pay people to shutdown, and encourage masks and distancing. Then and only then: reopen safely. We could open schools while keeping bars and restaurants closed if those businesses could afford it, and we can make sure they could. Instead we choose not to. This dichotomy: reopen unsafely or suffer safely is a false choice. There are plenty of better options, but we won't take them. Instead we chose this route.

I'll leave you with an excerpt from an article I wrote but never published.

..we can't control the virus, we can only mitigate its spread. We can, however, directly effect the economy. We could have built up our institutions, we could have helped those that lost their jobs, we could have woven a net to catch those who fall. We chose not to, but we still can.

Filed under: politics, government, covid-19
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