The coronavirus crisis shows now is the time to demand more from our government

In America, we’re fighting with angry Kyles and Karens over donning masks so they don’t infect everyone as they fly into a spit-flinging rage

Woman in a U.S. flag mask on her face
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

America has blown past every country in the coronavirus pandemic, with almost 4 million cases and more than 140,000 deaths.

If you want to know why the most medically advanced country in the world ended up here, look no further than the malfeasance and conspiracy-mongering of President Donald Trump. The New York Times this weekend ran a devastating tick-tock of the White House’s disastrous response, fed by Trump’s sycophants, like making governors beg and compete against each other for vital medical equipment (like a “sick Hunger Games,” as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker put it) and failing to issue national lockdown (and later) mask orders while encouraging armed insurrections against governors who did, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Gov. Tony Evers with his Safer at Home order.

Gov. Tony Evers with mask
Gov. Tony Evers addresses reporters on July 7. (Screenshot from Youtube)

It’s now culminated in Trump’s order to slow down testing (he told us he wasn’t kidding) and the immoral strategy of just ignoring mass death that’s now rocking states, even those he needs to win in November.

We’ve also completely blown our obligation to make sure people survive the pain of COVID-19 in every form. Look around the world at other democracies with competent leadership. Countries from Germany to New Zealand to South Korea are reopening landmarks and schools, while people are enjoying restaurants and traveling.

Meanwhile, in America, we’re fighting with angry Kyles and Karens over donning masks in Walmart so they don’t infect everyone as they fly into a spit-flinging rage while demanding to speak to the manager.

We’ve barely prepared for in-person learning, with Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos putting a fiscal gun to the head of states that don’t follow their poorly drawn plans (which they really can’t make good on). And a U.S. passport is basically worthless, as few nations will let Americans in thanks to our failure to get COVID-19 under control.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Photo by Gage Skidmore. (Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos  Photo by Gage Skidmore. (Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)

But our biggest failure is in our moral obligation to take care of the 328 million people who live in our country during perhaps the most harrowing time in modern history. It’s true that legislation like the Paycheck Protection Plan helped keep some businesses afloat, even as funds lined the pockets of questionable entities, including Trump allies, the Catholic Church and yacht clubs in Michigan.

And the CARES Act was one of the more generous safety net packages we’ve had in recent decades, helping millions stay afloat by beefing up unemployment benefits, a $1,200 lump sum payment for most people and aid to states and hospitals to respond to coronavirus. But jobless benefits run out this month and many states, including Michigan, are still reeling from the recession.

Congress also failed to require sick time for most employees, which especially hurt essential workers in warehouses and grocery stories, thanks to intense lobbying from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and corporations. The Trump administration refused to do an open enrollment in Obamacare for the millions who lost their employer-provided insurance.

And after endless media stories about how the $600 weekly unemployment benefit was just too darn generous because it actually allowed people to survive and, in some cases, gave them the freedom not to go back to unsafe working conditions, the GOP-led U.S. Senate is determined to ax or drastically shrink the amount. Forcing people back into the workplace has the added bonus of juicing the economy (and, they hope, Trump’s reelection chances), even if it literally kills people as the pandemic is spinning out of control.

That’s the kind of collateral damage Trump and most Republicans are quite willing to live with.

President Donald Trump with pursed lips
President Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Photo by Gage Skidmore /Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

The fact that this inhumane GOP response is barely questioned and that the supposedly liberal media is quite comfortable playing the role of fiscal scold to millions of low-income Americans, disproportionately people of color, who literally just want to stay alive and pay their bills, underscores why America has failed so spectacularly in this moment.

There is no reason why so many people had to get sick, financially suffer and die at this time. This did not happen in other democratic countries. The pandemic has been a perfect storm, revealing in stark relief the inequities in our health care system and how tattered our safety net is.

Now is the time to blow things up. Everyone deserves good health care, childcare, sick leave, housing, education and assistance when they are down and out. There’s nothing radical about this in an era when we have the skills and know-how to likely develop a COVID-19 vaccine by next year.

What good is human suffering when we have the ability to eliminate much of it? This is a promise we owe each other and yes, the government should pay for it.

It won’t be easy. Universal health care — which again, every rich nation has, although not necessarily single-payer — will cause massive disruption in a system that has creaked along for decades. But health care has already been upended by a pandemic, so if there was ever a time, it’s now. There’s a reason why many European countries adopted their plans after World War II, after all.

And we are the richest country in the world. Nobody bats an eye at the crippling cost of the military or the taxpayer dollars Trump spends padding his own businesses, keeping migrant kids in cages and deploying federal agents to blue cities to crack down on Black Lives Matter protesters.

None of this will be politically easy. Realistically, even if we elected a Democratic president and Congress this fall, more moderate members will be wary. Trump has also stacked the courts with radical right-wing judges salivating over the chance to kill every progressive dream alive.

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Knowing the history of this country with social change, Democrats’ affinity for compromise, even when Republicans laugh in their faces, and the total opposition of the super-rich and corporations, I know the odds are against us.

But I also know that if we don’t start demanding more now, we never will. Poor people, working-class people, women and people of color must seize this terrible moment and make the case for something better, for a renewed America truly rooted in fairness, justice and equality.

It is, quite simply, what we owe ourselves and each other.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.