America’s Bizarre Cult of Death

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B-2 bomber flies over Kansas City to honor Covid-19 workers

W.J. Astore

A recent news item caught my eye: “Whiteman Air Force Base [in Missouri] to salute health care workers with flyover on Tuesday: Flyover will include B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber, four T-38 Talons and two A-10 Thunderbolt lls.”  New York City had its own flyover by the aerial demonstration teams of the Navy and Air Force.  “America Strong” was the theme of the latter.

Isn’t it curious that we celebrate our life-saving medical workers with flyovers by warplanes that are designed to take life?  And, regarding the B-2 stealth bomber, a life-taker on a truly massive scale, since it’s designed for nuclear warfare.

Maybe there’s a weird form of (unintentional) honesty here.  We use death-dealing machinery to celebrate life-preserving medical workers, highlighting a bizarre cult of death in America, one seemingly embraced and advanced by Donald Trump’s policies on Covid-19, among other policies working against the health and welfare of ordinary people.

As Tom Engelhardt notes in a new piece for TomDispatch.com, Trump is only America’s latest assassin-in-chief, but this time the killing is happening here in the homeland, rather than being exported to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries across the globe.  Speaking of violence coming home, together with homeland insecurity, is there any other country in the world in which gun sales have soared during this pandemic?  From an article in The Guardian:

Estimated gun sales also soared to 2.58m in March, Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting reported, an 85.3% jump from the same time last year.

An explosion in gun sales during a pandemic suggests something about the American psyche that is truly scary.  So too do combat jets screaming in the skies as a celebration of heroic lifesavers.

First as Tragedy, then as Farce

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W.J. Astore

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce.  Karl Marx used it to describe Napoleon’s cataclysmic reign followed by the far less momentous and far more ignominious reign of his nephew, Napoleon III.

Marx’s saying applies well to two momentous events in recent U.S. history: the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and the current coronavirus pandemic.  The American response to the first was tragic; to the second, farcical.

Let me explain.  I vividly recall the aftermath to the 9/11 attacks.  The world was largely supportive of the United States.  “We are all Americans now” was a sentiment aired in many a country that didn’t necessarily love America.  And the Bush/Cheney administration proceeded to throw all that good will away in a disastrous war on terror that only made terror into a pandemic of sorts, with American troops spreading it during calamitous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, among other military interventions around the globe.

Again, it was tragic for America to have thrown away all that good will in the pursuit of dominance through endless military action.  A great opportunity was missed for true American leadership achieved via a more patient, far less bellicose, approach to suppressing terrorism.

In this tragedy, the Bush/Cheney administration avoided all responsibility, first for not preventing the attacks, and second for bungling the response so terribly.  Indeed, George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 and has now been rehabilitated as a decent man and a friend by popular Democrats like Michelle Obama, who see him in a new light when compared to America’s current president.

Speaking of Donald Trump, consider his response to America’s second defining moment of the 21st century: the coronavirus pandemic.  It’s been farcical.  The one great theme that’s emerged from Trump’s 260,000 words about the pandemic is self-congratulation, notes the New York Times.  Even as America’s death toll climbs above 50,000, Trump congratulates himself on limiting the number of deaths, even as he takes pride in television ratings related to his appearances.  The farce was complete when the president unwisely decided to pose as a health authority, telling Americans to ingest or inject poisonous household disinfectants to kill the virus.

Tragedy, then farce.  But with the same repetition of a total failure to take responsibility. As Trump infamously said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the botched response to the pandemic.

9/11 and Covid-19 may well be the defining events of the last 20 years.  After 9/11, Bush/Cheney tragically squandered the good will of the world in rampant militarism and ceaseless wars.  Then came Covid, an even bigger calamity, and now we have our farcical president, talking about the health benefits of injecting or ingesting bleach and similar poisons.  At a time when the U.S. should lead the world in medical expertise to confront this virus, we’ve become a laughingstock instead.

What comes after farce, one wonders?  For too many Americans, the answer may well be further death and loss.

American Health Care Is Wealth Care

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Covid-19 is exposing the American health care system’s greatest weakness: its focus on wealth rather than health

W.J. Astore

As millions of Americans lose their jobs due to Covid-19 disruptions, they also lose their health care, which is tied to their jobs.  Only in America is health care contingent on employment.  Efforts to create a national, single-payer, health care system have failed since the Truman administration in the late 1940s.  Americans have been sold on the idea that health care is best administered by “the free market,” which of course is neither free nor much of a market.

The American health care system puts profit over people; in short, it’s wealth care, not health care.  This is simply fact.  Health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, are motivated by money.  Indeed, health insurers make money by denying you coverage, not providing it.  They raise co-pays and deductibles to unbearable limits.  Meanwhile, they spend liberally on lobbyists to keep Congress in their pockets, as well as on advertising to persuade Americans that health insurers are always on your side.  Until you file a claim, that is, or need expensive treatment.

Health care should be about health, not wealth, and people, not profit.  Back in 2013, I wrote the following article on health care for Huffington Post.  Of course, the system has only grown worse.  America faces a crisis today, driven by a deadly pandemic.  Isn’t it time to embrace single-payer health care for all?

***

Americans generally, and politicians in particular, proudly proclaim that we live in “the greatest” country. But how should we measure the greatness of a country? I’d suggest that quality of life should be a vitally important measure.

And what is more fundamental to quality of life than ready access to health care? When you’re sick or suffering, you should be able to see a medical specialist. And those costs should be — wait for it — free to you. Because health care is a fundamental human right that transcends money. Put succinctly, the common health is the commonwealth. And we should use the common wealth to pay for the common health.

Here’s the truth: We all face the reality of confiscatory taxation. If you’re like me, you pay all sorts of taxes. Federal, state, and local income taxes. Property taxes. School taxes. Social security. State lotteries are a regressive tax aimed at the poor and the gullible. We pay these taxes, and of course some for health care as well (Medicare/Medicaid), amounting to roughly 30 percent of our income (or higher, depending on your tax bracket, unless you’re super-rich and your money comes from dividends and capital gains, then you pay 15 percent or lower: see Romney, Mitt).

Yet despite this tax burden, medical care for most of us remains costly and is usually connected somehow to employment (assuming you have a good job that provides health care benefits). Even if you have health care through your job, there’s usually a substantial deductible or percentage that you have to pay out-of-pocket.

America, land of the free! But not free health care. Pay up, you moocher! And if you should lose your job or if you’re one of the millions of so-called underinsured … bankruptcy.

Health care is a moral issue, but our leaders see it through a business/free market lens. And this lens leads to enormous moral blind spots. One example: Our colleges and universities are supposed to be enlightened centers of learning. They educate our youth and help to create our future. Higher Ed suggests a higher purpose, one that has a moral center — somewhere.

But can you guess the response of colleges and universities to Obamacare? They’re doing their level best to limit adjunct professors’ hours to fewer than thirty per week. Why? So they won’t be obligated by law to provide health care benefits to these adjuncts.

Adjuncts are already underpaid; some are lucky to make $3000 for each course they teach. Now colleges and universities are basically telling them, “Tough luck, Adjunct John Galt. If you want medical benefits, pay for health insurance yourself. And we’re limiting your hours to ensure that you have to.”

So, if Adjunct John Galt teaches 10 courses a year (probably at two or three institutions of “higher” learning) and makes $30,000, he then faces the sobering reality of dedicating one-third of this sum to purchasing private health insurance. If that isn’t a sign of American greatness, I don’t know what is.

I groan as much as the next guy when I pay my taxes. But I’d groan a lot less if I knew my money was funding free health care for all (including me and mine). Commonwealth for the common health. With no death panels in sight.

A healthy republic that prides itself on “greatness” should place the health of its citizens first. That we don’t is a cause for weeping — and it should be a cause for national soul-searching.

Is the Coronavirus Emasculating?

 

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James Mattis, modeling combat-inspired leather jackets for “real” men

W.J. Astore

Is the coronavirus emasculating?  It’s a serious question.  Judging by photos, most of the people protesting shutdown and social isolation orders are men, with a few sporting totems of manhood like assault rifles.  Many men (and women too, obviously) have lost their jobs, with some “reduced” to new roles as Mr. Moms.  Are we already seeing a hypermasculine reaction to Covid-19, an emphasis on toughness and grit, a live and let die mentality, or perhaps live free and die?  If so, it will only imperil public health and safety further, while possibly aiding Donald Trump in his reelection efforts.

There’s an article circulating that persuasively argues the countries that have best handled the coronavirus crisis are led by women, like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel.  Is it because women are better listeners, a bit more willing to submit to expert advice, and more patient?  Or is it that women just have to be better than your average bloke to get ahead in this man’s world?

Certainly, it’s illustrative of something that Donald Trump claims he’s a “wartime” leader in a “war” against the virus.  Trump almost desperately wants to pose as a wartime leader, much like Winston Churchill, facing down a foe with fierce and manly determination.  But a contagious virus isn’t exactly the Nazis, and a “never mind the odds” mentality of risk-taking is almost guaranteed to lead to further contagion and death.

If nurses, grocery clerks, and the like are America’s new heroes, does that lead more than a few wannabe men of action to question where they stand in the heroes olympiad?

What put me on this line of thought is an advertising campaign for a jacket marketed by a company headed by a combat veteran that features retired Marine Corps General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis as a model.  The boilerplate for the company says their jacket is designed “for men who refuse to hide what they truly are. It’s mean, streamlined and fast.”  And expensive too at roughly $1330, but it does come with its own tracking device.  Eat your heart out, James Bond.

Hey, it’s just marketing, but even marketing tells us something about society.  Conservatives talk about the feminization of society, often deploring the rise of metrosexuals and mixed gender roles.  “Take charge” men are seemingly the antidote. Trump is aware of this phenomenon.  Indeed, as a friend of mine noted, Trump most resembles the stereotype of loudmouthed fathers of the 1950s and 1960s, the ones who insisted on being obeyed no matter what.  The “do as I say, not as I do” dads, the ones who got their way by bluster and bullying.  (No Ward Cleavers need apply.)

Wartime toughness, “mean — streamlined — fast,” may be just the thing in combat.  But it isn’t what the doctor ordered in the struggle against Covid-19.  The virus, after all, can’t be shot, or punched, or bullied into submission.  It’s oblivious to bluster; indeed, you might say it feeds on it.  What works instead is a community spirit of containment through cooperation.  A quieter form of heroism.  Nothing masculine or feminine about this.

A sensible and patient approach, grounded in sound science and proven medicine, is what’s working.  No hard men in combat-inspired leather jackets are required.

The Case for Joe Biden

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Hold your nose and vote for Joe?

W.J. Astore

The case for Joe Biden can be summed up quickly: He’s not Donald Trump.

Frankly, for a lot of people, that’s enough.  Biden suggests a return to normalcy, a hint at bipartisanship, Supreme Court selections that won’t be carbon copies of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, and policies that, for example, accept the reality of climate change and seek solutions to immigration that don’t enable racism or prioritize walls.

But it’s not enough for me.  Biden is a deeply flawed candidate, and his policies (such as they are) haven’t stoked my interest and earned my vote.

Yet friends tell me I must vote for Biden, since a vote for any other candidate represents a vote for Trump.

That’s what a friend told me on Facebook: That I had to put aside my ideals, hold my nose, and vote for Joe, since Trump constitutes an existential threat.  Trump’s been a disaster; indeed, I argued against him, vociferously, as in this piece from March of 2016.  But that doesn’t mean I want to vote for “the lesser of two evils.”

Here’s what I said to my friend on Facebook; I’ve only included my statements, with minor additions for context:

Very frustrating because the fix for Biden has been in since the beginning. And Joe Biden is a horrible candidate. Can’t vote for him or Trump.

I understand the sentiment [of voting for Biden]. But I want to vote for someone, not against someone else. It’s quite possible Biden will be unable to serve due to mental decay/dementia. So my response to the DNC is: How dare you give me Biden as a candidate! How dare you tell me to hold my nose and vote for yet another corrupt politician who’s clearly in decline! How dare you fix the process against progressive ideas! You have not earned my vote.

I respect your choice [for Biden]. But your logic [that a vote for anyone other than Biden is a vote for Trump] is wrong. I write frequently against Trump, and try to persuade others of the dangers he represents. So, I won’t vote for him. Period. I will vote for someone else, but I refuse to allow the corrupt DNC to dictate that my only choice is to vote for a senile corporate tool named Biden.

It’s shameful that the DNC has conspired to give us such a weak candidate to go against Trump. If Biden loses, it’s the fault of the DNC, not those voters who found him unattractive. In politics, you have to be able to earn votes. Nominating a candidate who is so deeply flawed is just plain stupid and cynical. Luckily, I live in a state where my vote really doesn’t matter, i.e. Mass. is not a “battleground” state.

A year ago, I guessed the dream ticket of the DNC would be Biden/Harris. It may be that one prediction that I get right. It’s an uninspiring ticket that’s designed to suppress progressive changes. You have to accept a grim reality: the DNC exists, not to win elections, but to suppress progressive change and candidates like Bernie and Warren. In the eyes of the DNC, they have already won, even if Biden loses in November.

What say you, readers?  Should we vote blue no matter who?

What’s “Great” About Donald Trump?

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Trump: Legend in his own mind

W.J. Astore

MAGA: Make America Great Again.  That was Donald Trump’s slogan for 2016.  He obviously believes he has succeeded, since his slogan for 2020 is Keep America Great.  “Great” is obviously vague, protean, and labile in meaning, but what does it mean to Trump?

It’s a serious question that deserves consideration.  Here, to my mind, is how Trump thinks he’s made America great, keeping in mind that greatness to Trump is all about that which produces adulation for, well, one Donald J. Trump.

  1. Military might. Trump loves to brag about how he’s “restored” the military, making it bigger and badder than ever.
  2. More riches for the richest. Hence that huge tax break for the richest, perhaps the signature achievement of his first term.
  3. A galloping stock market. Well, until Covid-19.
  4. More power and money for Trump and his family. Trump views greatness in terms of what’s best for him and his family empire.
  5. Walls to keep out “the other.” For Trump, part of being great is denying that status to others.  A world of great heads like Trump demands lots of little people suffering.
  6. A neutered press (the “enemy of the people”). For Trump, the press is his foil, his lapdog, his trumpet, and his enemy, all in one.  When it’s dancing to his tune, Trump knows he’s winning – and he feels like a winner, too.
  7. Permanent partisan divide in which the Democrats are seen as almost demonic. Trump needs an enemy to measure himself against, and “Demoncrats” like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi are tailor-made rivals to belittle, which helps to make him feel bigger.
  8. Near-total dismissal of expertise, especially of science (climate change as a “hoax”). A “very stable genius” needs no help from others; he is omniscient.  He even knows the best way to tackle and treat a pandemic!
  9. Always blaming someone else for any setback. Greatness, to Trump, means never having to say you’re sorry.
  10. Disenfranchising or discouraging as many “bad” Americans as possible from voting. Not every American can wrap their heads around Trump’s greatness.  Those who can’t really don’t deserve to vote.

In all seriousness, Trump is great at one thing: shameless deception.  The man knows the craft of the con.  He often can fool most of the people most of the time.  Imagine the good a man like this could do if he had empathy, ethics, and truly sought to serve others.  But Trump serves only himself.  A petty tyrant, he has commanded the attention of Americans in an almost unprecedented way, only to divide them and diminish democracy.

Herein lies a conundrum: How has a man whose spirit is so small, whose sense of service is so shriveled, whose judgment is so un-great, convinced so many that greatness lies within their grasp if only they listen to him, follow him, cheer him on, and reelect him?

Great may indeed be a protean concept – but by any definition the greatness of America does not reside in enabling or empowering one Donald J. Trump.

Losing “Wartime” President Trump Wants Absolute Authority with No Responsibility

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This photo never gets old

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump, the self-anointed “wartime” president, the one who believes he deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor, is losing his version of the Vietnam War.  No, not to STDs (sexually translated diseases), which Trump once said was his version of that war.  Trump’s Vietnam is his woefully mismanaged efforts against the coronavirus; even his efforts at propaganda are transparently missing the mark, much like the Five O’Clock Follies (the official government briefings) did during the Vietnam War.

Indeed, Trump even echoes the language of that war, speaking of seeing “lights” at the end of “tunnels” in the “war” on the coronavirus, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com.  Here is how Tom put it:

And yet few who lived through the Vietnam War would be likely to forget that phrase. It was first used, as far as we know, in 1967 when the war’s military commander, General William Westmoreland, returned to Washington to declare that the conflict the U.S. was fighting in a wildly destructive manner was successfully coming to an end, the proof being that “light” he spotted “at the end of the tunnel.” (He later denied using the phrase.) That memorably ill-chosen metaphor would become a grim punch line for the growing antiwar movement of the era.

So let’s say that there’s a certain grisly charm in hearing it from the president who skipped that war, thanks to fake bone spurs, and has talked about his own “Vietnam” as having been his skill in avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, in various home-front sleep-arounds. He once even claimed to radio personality Howard Stern that he should have gotten “the Congressional Medal of Honor” for doing so. (“It’s Vietnam. It is very dangerous. So I’m very, very careful,” he told Stern, speaking of those STDs.)

In any case, to have picked up that metaphorical definition of failure from the Vietnam era seems strangely appropriate for a president who first claimed the coronavirus was nothing, then a “new hoax” of the Democrats, then easy to handle, before declaring himself a “wartime president” (without the necessary tests, masks, or ventilators on hand). In some sense, President Trump has been exhibiting the sort of detachment from reality that American presidents and other officials did less openly in the Vietnam years.  And for this president, Covid-19 could indeed prove to be the disease version of a Vietnam War…

Give Donald Trump credit. He seems to be leading the richest, most powerful country on the planet in an ill-equipped, ill-organized, ill-planned battle (though not in any normal sense a war) against the pandemic from hell. Whether or not it ends in a Vietnam-style helicopter evacuation from that hell (or even from the White House) remains to be seen, but at least the imagery chosen so far has been unnervingly apt, though next to no one in our increasingly bunkable world even noticed.

By any metric, but especially by the daily body count for COVID-19, Trump is overseeing a defeat of monumental proportions, a flailing response and a failing “war” that may end up killing as many Americans as the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  But Trump seems more concerned about getting his name added to COVID-19 stimulus checks than he is about saving lives.  What next?  Coinage that reads, “In Trump We Trust”?

Here’s the thing about Trump: He claims he’s got “absolute” and “total” authority over America, as if he’s a king, yet he takes no responsibility for his actions (or inactions).  All military members know that authority and responsibility are inseparable.  You can’t — or, you shouldn’t — have authority if you’re unwilling to take responsibility.  Authority without responsibility is the very mark of a tyrant or a sociopath.  Yet Trump is already on the record for wanting total control even as he utterly denies any responsibility in his self-declared “war” on the coronavirus.

But this deadly virus doesn’t care about Trump’s vast ego, his empty posturing, and his endless lying.  Sorry, Mister President, you’ve already lost your self-declared “war.”

Update: Three years ago, I compared Trump to the child/petty tyrant in the original “Twilight Zone” episode, “It’s a good life.”  I said “Trump is sending us all to the cornfield.”  Nothing has changed, except now we face a pandemic that can kill in days or weeks rather than the slower calamity of climate change.  Here’s the link: https://bracingviews.com/2017/06/02/trump-is-sending-us-all-to-the-cornfield/