Who Among Us Is Essential?
May 27, 2020

A deadly pathogen is afoot in the land. An unknown number of us are walking around with it inside us. We spread it unaware and asymptomatic. The mimetic drive to recreate normalcy, to reopen businesses and expose countless millions to the virus in workplaces and in churches is itself symptomatic of a set of social pathologies that may kill the country if they don’t kill us individually.

Earlier, we chuckled at the preppers with their nitrogen-packed foods and backyard bunkers. They have cached weapons and ammo, etc., so they can survive Armageddon when society collapses and there is no law except the gun. Or with their pimped-out AR-15s they’ll mount an armed insurrection against a Predator-equipped military when democracy turns to tyranny (i.e., their tribe loses political power). Turns out they cannot survive a few weeks at home with power, water, and Netflix but no Chick-fil-A.

The cult of hard work measures human worth by productive potential: no work, no worth. It is so ingrained in this consumer culture that even people prepared to ride out Armageddon cannot tolerate the feeling of worthlessness attached to not working and consuming for even a few weeks. For the Midas cult, those elites bent on turning everything and everyone they touch into gold, the U.S. cannot get workers back on the wheel fast enough. Workers’ diseased bodies and the old and unproductive are expendable. Fodder. Grist.

Those properly conditioned to it know nothing else. “Let us work! Let us serve! Let us die!”

Read between the headlines. I don’t have to spell it out for you.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has exposed just how warped this culture is and just who is and is not essential. Not that those committed to the status quo will open their eyes to see it, both those with power and those without.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren saw it all along:

“I think the political moment has changed,” she said, pointing to the debate over what constitutes an essential worker during the pandemic. “Turns out it’s not an investment banker. … It’s people who get out there who put their own health at risk in order to keep life going in this country.”

The central issue in American life is the imbalance of power, Anand Giridharadas believes. The centrality of the perspectives of the powerful influences what we see on cable TV and in the halls of Congress. The shape of national policies reflect their shaping it.

The One-percent strive to remove the governor from the country’s economic engine. They paint the government as the enemy (except when it hands out money to corporations) under the guise of “freedom.” This has engendered a “paranoid attitude” about government, Giridharadas believes, as well as an infantile conception of freedom as the absence of government.

Conveniently for the One-percent, this blinds Americans to the threats to freedom posed by private actors: banks, employers, toxin-producing industries, etc. Workers’ best protection against them is the government, not their trusty AR-15s.

“And so this childlike freedom obsession that tens of millions of Americans unfortunately have is literally killing us in this pandemic,” Giridharadas says, “because they are so focused on government oppressing them through lockdowns that they don’t understand that you can end up way more impressed by a virus. You could end up way more impressed by not having economic security. You can end up way more oppressed by having the kind of healthcare system that encourages people to stay home instead of get tested.”

The elite perpetuate this system and profit from feeding bodies into their economic furnaces. We should reform corporate law to promote stakeholder capitalism, says Giridharadas. But people like Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) and the Business Roundtable “are not serious” about it even while giving lip-service to the notion. They are more interested in “the moral glow of voluntary virtue.” But heaven forfend it should be a rule. That would be government tyranny.

Giridharadas got me thinking about Mitt Romney’s infamous comment that “Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax.”

The less discerning hear that as 47% of Americans pay no taxes. But working people pay withholding taxes with the first nickel they earn. Withholding is the bulk of the taxes low-wage workers pay. Mitt Romney’s complaint was that 47% pay no income taxes, which is the bulk of what the Mitt Romneys pay.

About a decade ago, you could picture federal revenue each year (roughly) as five one-dollar bills. Two were income tax. Two more came from payroll taxes, and the last was corporate and other taxes. As the rich got richer and corporations paid less, that has shifted.


One-percenters complain they pay too much in taxes and the 47% pays too little because the One-percent pays them too little so the One-percent can collect more. Thus, One-percenters pay even more income tax. So instead of rebalancing the economic power in this country toward the people who are really essential, the One-percent buys off politicians who will cut their taxes so they can keep the more. As a bonus, they still get to complain the 47% doesn’t pay anything because the One-percent still pays them too little.


But our system has been custom-tailored to suit the rich, Giridharadas say. And it doesn’t have to be that way. That is a choice.

“So many other countries are not like this and they still have capitalism,” he continues. Shocking? “Do you know that Germany has capitalism? Do you know that all the Scandinavian countries have capitalism? They have great companies there.” And universal health care.

Meanwhile, in the depths of this pandemic-induced depression, Republicans are worried that we are coddling the unemployed, hoping to use the threat of job loss and loss of health insurance to get them back on the wheel at risk to their lives. And the MAGAs who this weekend will wave flags and celebrate Americans who died protecting their country are incensed about having to wear masks to protect themselves and their neighbors.

Because Freedom.

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For The Win, 3rd Edition is ready for download. Request a copy of my free countywide GOTV mechanics guide at ForTheWin.us. This is what winning looks like.

Note: The pandemic will upend standard field tactics in 2020. If enough promising “improvisations” come my way by June, perhaps I can issue a COVID-19 supplement.

Published with permission of Hullabaloo

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