The failure of the American public health delivery system facing the Covid-19 is a socio-political and ideological failure born from the intrinsic contradictions of contemporary capitalism at large.
“The present crisis forces a confrontation pitting the notion of a health care system owned, financed and regulated by the government against the notion of a privatized health care system based on profit.”
Today, there are over 386,104 cases of coronavirus, over 12,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands more fear for their health and lives, and millions for their livelihoods, some numbers increasing exponentially on a daily basis. With millions of people filing for unemployment, the country is scrambling to get protective equipment for front line health workers, ventilators for severe cases, to make sure that ICU beds as well as general quarantine hospital beds are available, etc. In short, the United States and most western European countries are facing a crisis, as none of them, just a few weeks ago, appeared to take the situation in China very seriously. This attitude, the lack of pre-emptive and preventive measures as well as the failure in organizing and promoting of a state of readiness is not just unfortunately negligent, it is clearly criminal.
There are many critics of the situation and these are, of course, quick to pass judgement and point to the culpability of the present administration and its early down playing of the crisis.
Many on the left are unfortunately vindicated while many of the right are going to be thoroughly disappointed.
In the richest and most powerful nation on the planet, the American public health response has not been up to the challenges of the pandemic, to say the least, and authorities, political and medical have all been playing catch up. And they are many reasons for this but we will only look at some media and political aspects of the issue. One thing however can be ascertained, the failure of the American public health delivery system facing the Covid-19 is not in any way a failure of medical sciences in the United States but a series of socio-political and ideological failures born from the intrinsic contradictions of contemporary capitalism at large. These are systemic failures.
“The lack of pre-emptive and preventive measures as well a state of readiness is not just negligent, it is clearly criminal.”
Ideologically, one of the main problem is that the challenge of the coronavirus was first encountered by the People’s Republic of China and if, early on, that was of no particular interests to western “democracies,” namely Western European countries and the United States, the presently successful approach of the Chinese government certainly is cause for political and geopolitical concerns for the United States and these Western democracies.
The success of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party represents a major problem for Western Europe and the United States particularly in light of the tremendous difficulties these latter countries are having in dealing with this medical crisis. The ideological differences between the communist country and western capitalist countries couldn’t be more striking. Facing the coronavirus has forced capitalist countries to confront a problem that this very capitalist system appears unfit, in any case, unable to deal with appropriately.
The issue therefore is going to be for political, financial and corporate elites to spin a narrative that alters, muddles, confuses and distort the social and medical realities to cover up the present failings of capitalism, at least when it comes to public care, health and safety.
The present crisis forces a confrontation that is basically pitting the notion of a nationalized health care system, i.e. owned, financed and regulated by the government against the notion of a privatized health care system based on private enterprise and medicine for profit. The United States certainly has public health care institutions, such as the Center for Disease Control, but those institutions are mostly seats of authority while the overall delivery system of health care remains in private hands (Clinics, hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies and drugstores, pharmaceutical companies, medical supplies, technologies, etc.).
“The coronavirus has forced capitalist countries to confront a problem that this very capitalist system appears unable to deal with appropriately.”
The argument proclaimed by some, namely that the Italian tragedy illustrates the failure of a nationalized health care system is an argument made in bad faith as most European national health delivery systems have been subjected to austerity measures imposed by Brussels’ institutions representative of European capitalism. In the latter case, proponents of free and private enterprise both at national and European levels, have dedicated themselves to the dismantling of public institutions by emphasizing cost cutting and on-going privatizations to then criticize and blame the very same public institutions for being unable to cope with the crisis.
The fact is that in the last thirty years and longer, both in Western Europe and the United States, the public health care system has been financially gutted and subjected to on-going budget cuts while private companies have been given free reins to take over the medical commons. This is true not only of medical institutions but of most public institutions in general.
The crisis has and is clearly revealing the inhumanity of the private system in addressing the present issues as the coordination between government institutions and private health care delivery has been laborious, the productions of needed medical materials (PPE, testing kits, etc.) by private entities has been inefficient and insufficient, the anticipated handling of severe cases by private facilities is proving to be overwhelming (see Italy, Spain, France and New York), while the handling of test analyses by private laboratories is proving to be remarkably slow. The coordination between government and private companies has simply not worked as expected as has been shown by the government’s dealings with GM and Ford to produce tragically lacking respiratory ventilators.
The utter failure of the private system of health care delivery is for all to see and the government, whose political purpose is obviously and fundamentally to uphold this very system will do absolutely everything in its power to ascertain that the notions of nationalization, the relevance and the importance of public institutions and industries are either excluded from all political discourse, or negatively criticized despite the evidence, especially in the main stream media. Thus, for Washington, Wall Street and the boardrooms of all great companies, beside solving the medical crisis in order to get the economy going, domestically the system of private and free enterprise must be preserved at all cost, even that of human life.
“In the last thirty years and longer, both in Western Europe and the United States, the public health care system has been financially gutted.”
To address this crisis rationally, it is imperative that the public remains critical despite the toll, medical, financial, psychological exacted by the pandemic and with this in mind, we will present a series of arguments that we suspect will fill in the narratives of the main stream media and whose purpose is not to inform, explain, clarify in the name of journalistic integrity, political transparence and honest governance but to cover up the failures mentioned above and to make sure that no ideas of a “socialistic” nature, namely ideas emphasizing the importance of public institutions and industries can take hold in the social, popular and political landscape of the United States (This could be applied as well to Western Europe). Many arguments will be relentlessly thrown at the American people, i.e. audiences, to such ends, that is to say to distract, entertain, terrify, divide and lead them into seemingly pertinent discussions away from the urgent issues of public health, public institutions and industries. These issues will be characterized by provocations to debates that are in fact pseudo-debates, which do not, in any ways, address the concrete issues at end confronting the American people today (as well as those of Western Europe).
The following arguments (a few among many) will be introduced by the institutions of government, by both political parties as well as the main stream media (printed, TV and internet). Most political and social narratives will be a mixing of those presented below but the main idea of these narratives will be to uphold the system of free and private enterprise at all cost, in spite of its obvious structural failings in the face of the pandemic.
- The fear “argument”
The fear argument refers to the manipulation of people and the uncritical vigilance of individuals who are simply scared or terrified for their safety, that of their families, communities and so on. The fear argument is always utilized to mobilized people against a threat often imagined. Fear will lead people towards radical and simplistic positions, falsely and easily explaining a situation often more complicated. This is used constantly against threats from other countries like those incarnated by foreigners, immigrants, Russians and today Chinese, by others ethnic or religious groups, Jews, Muslims, etc. The message of this argument is that we are to fear these threats because they hate us, etc. The fear arguments feeds into other arguments as we shall see.
In the case of the present pandemic, the fear cannot be defined as an argument as it is founded upon an actual and real natural threat. The Virus is dangerous. However, the actual tangible threat of the virus is to be transformed and manipulated into a fear argument, into a narrative. The actual viral menace certainly leads to concrete questions of how to solve the crisis, how to make sure it does not happen again and what went wrong with the mishandling of today’s situation. Of these questions, only the first one will be addressed in the main stream narratives, if only because it is unavoidable. With that in mind, the narrative of answering this crisis will be constructed to ascertain the other two are not addressed with any depth. The fear argument is fundamental. The people must be terrified and to that end, the main stream media will carry out the job of exposing the fright, the chaos, the suffering of the victims of the disease and all those involved in the care of those hospitalized victims of the coronavirus. And if such scenes are yet to be available, the attempts at preparedness will be emphasized to demonstrate the anxious anticipation of such catastrophe and suffering. Although the images related through the media are actual representations of the severity of the crisis, it still fuels the fear of the audience. Very few depth analyses or critical reporting of the situation, its causes, will be carried out by the mass media, content to do the bidding of political and financial elites as usual.
- The us vs them argument.
This is often the easiest argument to sell the people. The infamous enemy who wants what we have, who hates us and wants all ills to befall us. It illustrates the fear argument and provides fear with a representation. This argument implies that we are special, that we have what others want for themselves. Today, this argument is of course present as we shall see but it remains a difficult sell since this virus, the enemy, is present all over the planet without distinctions of nations, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, government, ideologies, geographies, religions and so on. It is, we could say, basically a universal menace. But on top of that, it is not only a universal menace, it is a natural threat. So, claiming that the virus hates Americans and our way of life is rather difficult.
Despite the fact that the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu) first appeared in 2009 in the United States, the pandemic, according to the CDC, caused over 60 millions people to be infected, led to over 274,000 hospitalizations and to over 12400 deaths; in the face of that pandemic (Between 150,000 and 570,000 people died worldwide of the disease) no one ever described the virus as the “American virus.” However, in the cold war climate of the relationship between the United States and China, the emergence of the coronavirus in Wuhan has certainly led to a flurry of anti-Chinese arguments, still on-going to this day, even though China keeps on providing help and supports to so many countries. The virus, according to this argument, is not a natural universal threat but has become labelled as the “Chinese Virus.” The biological threat of the virus can now be easily integrated into the pre-pandemic anti-china, anti-Chinese and anti-Chinese communist party narrative already in place in the media and sold to American audiences. The Virus is now an enemy which is Chinese and by connotation communist. The main stream media have been remarkably relentless in communicating that message. The virus and China become one and the same. In this narrative, China was first accused of covering up the illness, then accused of enforcing authoritarian and quasi dictatorial policies when it enforced public health policies, drastic quarantines and the likes; policies now paradoxically utilized in all countries with severe rates of infections. While the epidemics raged and was confronted by the Chinese people and their government, it seems that mostly the trade war carried out by Mr. Trump against China mattered and the epidemic most likely provided an opportunity for the United States to make gains in the trade negotiations. Now that Western countries do have higher rates of infections than China and that Western policies (as is the case with Italy and Spain) are as “draconian,” if not more, as those implemented by the People’s Republic of China, it has to be assumed that China can only be lying about its numbers of infected population and death rates.
“The biological threat of the virus can now be easily integrated into the pre-pandemic anti-china, anti-Chinese and anti-Chinese communist party narrative already in place.”
It is imperative that the success of communist China be downplayed, remains unappreciated and unconceivable to western audiences. China should not be able to escape that conclusion. If China were to fail it would be because of the negligence, incompetence and cruelty of the Chinese communist party and if it were to succeed it would be because China is a lying, deceitful and a dictatorial country. It is of the utmost importance that audiences in the western world came to the conclusion that no possible good may come from communist China, especially when it performs better than Western countries. The message and conclusion sold relentlessly to the American people through the main stream media, politicians (both republicans and democrats) and government is that there is no possible way China, a communist country, could have been successful where Western countries and the United States are failing. The mediatic translation of this narrative is that the suffering that we, as Americans, are facing cannot possibly be caused by our own failings but can only have been caused by “them,” the Chinese and their communist government. The message has been transmitted so well that cases of racist acts and words against Asian-American individuals have been recorded leading to D. Trump to refer to the Virus sarcastically as “wherever it is from.”
This is a very important argument for it mobilizes people and it creates a representation of the enemy, Chinese, when the enemy, the virus, is truly invisible, natural and universal.
Moreover, the “us vs them” argument can also feed into the political domestic divide between republicans and democrats. This approach is constantly being used by the Trump administration as well as the speaker of the House.
- The “war” argument
D. Trump and French president E. Macron both want to sell the present medical crisis as a war, a war against the virus. This argument is just the domestic version of the previous one. Once it is assumed that it is not our fault, it is theirs, what of us? We are now at war and accordingly, the people must be mobilized to win the fight against the enemy. The nation, ideally, must unite (Unity argument) against this threat and be ready to make sacrifices. One must be ready to accept whatever measures are taken to win the battle. This argument is a very powerful one because once it is embraced by all, all sorts of things are possible that were, before the “war,” unconceivable. First, the government can do as it pleases to protect the American people who is then constrained, for good reasons since we are speaking of its protection and safety from this biological menace but at the same time, those who may decide to dissent and not go along can be deemed traitors to the cause of winning the war. Any dissenting opinions, even medical and epidemiological, i.e. expert opinions, can be shut down and dismissed and the victims of the war, even those resulting from reckless, incompetent and negligent policies, can be hailed as heroes or martyrs. Whoever will not go along such narrative, hailing our heroes and martyrs will be deemed either negativist, traitorous or even unamerican. The war argument in fact now justifies all draconian measures taken by the authorities. Of course, there can be, as usual, many critiques of this argument, which we will explore further but at the present, we will limit ourselves to question whether the policies implemented by the government in order to win this war against the virus are enforced to protect the people or to protect private interests and free enterprise? These are indeed two different projects, which can be readily confused by claiming the former (protecting the people) while really enforcing the latter (protecting markets). This argument, no doubt, will feed the national narrative supported by the elite class and the main stream media.
- The “optimistic” or “positive” argument
This argument is more or less part of the war argument. D. Trump has adamantly iterated the qualities, the smarts, the beauty of the people dealing with the crisis whether medical or political individuals. “We will get through this!” D. Trump in his addresses always remained positive and optimistic as to the strategy embraced from the get-go to deal with the crisis and its outcome and to retort to any critical questioning as “nasty.” In order to win the war, we must remain in a winning spirit and the American people are winners. In the competitive framework of free enterprise, it remains very important to not be defeatist and pessimistic when facing the battle. As a matter of fact, such a pessimistic stance can become akin to betraying the American people. In this all-out war for the survival of the country, there is no room for doubts, hesitancy, critical thinking and questioning. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. One is commanded to contribute to the solution and not the problem, which is well known by all. This requisite optimism in the face of danger is a must that will be upheld both by government as well as media pundits trying to balance out the terrible and frightening events occurring in various hospitals and medical facilities, the very events whose image the Tv networks frighteningly will show ad nauseam for as we know, when it bleeds it leads. This is a very powerful argument when comes the time to manipulate a terrified people (fear argument). This optimist argument fosters encouragement, brings hope, strength, calls for one’s inner power to man up, to be tough and face up to the challenge of the crisis. The Optimistic argument reassures. The reassurance will counterbalance the fear and fright fueled by the war argument through the main stream media. The emotional game and gain are engaged and will not let out, if it ever. Indeed, the optimistic argument allows for a constant reframing of any criticism. Once the crisis passed, the Optimistic argument will shout with conviction how incredibly well the crisis was handled, how beautiful, how remarkable everybody has been in the face of this terrible enemy, how courageous, creative and supportive all, and particularly the private sector, have been in winning this war. In fact, this crisis has just provided the American people the opportunity to show the world how exceptional and amazing a people we are. This argument will of course make abstraction of all the victims of the disease, of all the suffering and losses caused by the crisis, of all the political and structural negligence and incompetence that led to the crisis and its aggravation, and of any reflections that might lead to a rethinking of the role of public institutions and industries i.e. of the value of nationalization.
And those opposing this unrequited optimism will be asked, “do you hate America so much that you cannot enjoy, just for once, its success in ending the terrible suffering of the American people?”
- The libertarian argument
The reason of the present crisis is consequent to the bureaucratic sluggishness of government to act appropriately in times of crisis. The political and economic goal, according to this argument is to further reduce governmental regulations at both state and federal levels and let entrepreneurs deal with the crisis according to the rules of the free market. This argument is difficult to sell in times of crisis as companies worry about their own economic survival, confronted with necessary lay-off of employees and so on. The power of the libertarian argument lies not so much in its economic approach as in its political approach. Indeed, libertarians, like others, do worry about the loss of civil liberties consequent to the enforcement of drastic policies born from the need to contain the virus and protect the population. Namely, the libertarian argument thrown at the US government is the same one that was thrown at China and its handling of the crisis. Whereas some libertarians worry that civil liberties are now being curbed in the present crisis clearly expresses a confusion of priorities by placing individual rights and freedoms ahead of the spread of infection, medical care crisis and death, others on the other hand do worry about the government using this crisis to enforce policies, deemed repressive, to consolidate its power and to enforce policies it will maintain once the crisis is over; a valid and well justified political concern. However, the libertarian argument seems to introduce a confusion in that the government can be blamed no matter what. If the government does intervene and fails in doing so, it is then accused of being overly bureaucratic, sluggish and useless, and if it does intervene and implement uncompromising policies, the government can then be accused of being repressive and coercive.
“Some libertarians place individual rights and freedoms ahead of the spread of infection,”
The libertarian argument thus is very useful to conservatives and milieus committed to the free market for it criticizes the institutions of government from the standpoint of not allowing enough economic freedom… even when the government is fully committed to free and private enterprise. This argument which is really a pseudo argument completely excludes the issue of social public health and goods and deprives any possibility of addressing the present medical and social crisis from the perspective of the common good, public institutions and industries.
This argument places in opposition a government, along with a semblance of popular input, committed to the free market with individuals (read companies) committed to the free, unregulated market who criticize the government for not deregulating the market enough, for interfering too much. The pseudo-debate in the end opposes the idea of a government preaching deregulation and privatization with individuals wanting more deregulation and privatization. This argument purports to define the notion of limited government into even more limited government and presents it to the American people as big government against free and private entreprise. The reality is that it introduces a pseudo-conflict between a government representing private interests and private interests themselves. This argument is often relied on in the main stream media to, once again, exclude any notions of society based on the common good, the group and other ideas of collectivity. This is translated and masqueraded regularly as the debates between democrats and republicans or occasionally in the more general issues pertaining to individual freedoms vs government.
- The Darwinian argument
“Herd immunity,” the expression first heard in Great Britain reeks of past histories, “the good old days of eugenics.” The idea is to let the virus spread freely, unimpeded in order to facilitate an anticipated natural self-immunization against the disease. Of course, in consequence, a great number of individuals, elderlies, immune-compromised people, people with other serious medical conditions, the poor, etc. would perish from the disease but… but the great majority would survive and life would go on. We are here in the antechamber of social Darwinism. The “natural” law of survival of the fittest is to be applied to our society in light of the natural viral threat. Such a theory certainly would resound positively in the halls of Nazi Germany. This argument from an ethical and human position is untenable. The anticipation of the elimination of the few, the unfits, for the sake of the many is not only questionable, it is absolutely reprehensible, short of embracing Nazi “naturalism.” It is actually incredible that such an approach would even be considered and expressed without shame or guilt in the main stream media. The complete absence of ethics and mere immorality of this idea was clearly revealed when was considered the consequent medical impossibility to care for the particularly large number of seriously ill individuals and the resulting deaths were the virus allowed to infect freely without impediment. Yet the issue of condemning the economical standings of the many for the sake of the few appear to remain a valid, seemingly pragmatic, albeit amoral and utilitarian concern. Of course, this Darwinian approach does not contradict in any way the libertarian right, with its unwavering faith in the self-organizing and self-regulating free market. The extreme position of this argument is interesting to the media insofar as the issue of a nationalized public health system is completely off the map when it comes to the debate between those cynics who cherish the free market and the economy over the life and death of a minority of human beings and those who realize how terrifying, ethically and morally, such a prospect would be for human beings and human kind as a whole. The crisis becomes transformed in a question of ethics and morality, above and beyond social and political concerns.
- The “economic” argument
The economic argument comprises the libertarian argument above and is just a milder version of the Darwinian argument. The single and most important issue when it comes to winning the war (fear and war arguments) against the viral threat is to make sure, above all else, that the economy survives and functions. Instead of preparing to face the unfolding crisis, D. Trump puts it this way, the country was not made to not work, America must be open for business. The argument here is very clear, do whatever it takes to care for people, to protect the population, as long as the primary concern, making sure that the financial world does not collapse, is addressed first. The virus came, some people died and eventually life goes back to “normal,” whereas the markets are functioning once again. This is the most important argument; for what would become of America if yes, a maximum of people are saved but the country ends up in an unending economic crisis? This argument is, once again, terrifying because it offers no alternative to a problem (the pandemic) it cannot solve. It goes therefore hand in hand with the Darwinian argument. Either the economy survives or it perishes and you with it. If you deem the economy more important you might not do what is required to face the pandemic, ending up with an epidemiological catastrophe, and if you chose the pandemic as being more important you might not attend to the economy and end up in an economic catastrophe. This either/or argument is false and certainly the media will not present it in this fashion but instead will show how a compromise needs to be exacted economically and socially to face the pandemic without providing any more concrete solutions. The function of this argument is to ascertain that the true compromise between economic pressure and human constraints, which are embodied in public institutions, are not addressed in any conclusive way when addressing the challenges of the economy in the face of the virus. To such ends, the issues must remain in the forms of unanswered questions and multitudes of opinions; a good use of diversity…
- The “urgency” argument
This is a very common argument entertained both by politicians and main stream media. This argument cuts off any reflections, any critical thinking by imposing the necessity to address the situation in the here and now. Indeed, the very fact of a crisis, and today this pandemic, addressing the problem urgently is paramount to avoid catastrophes. So urgent measures have to be taken, both medical, political and financial. Any argument that questions the validity of these measures can be countered by the immediacy and urgency of addressing the situation of crisis. “We do not have the luxury of pondering, philosophizing, etc.” Moreover, questioning our public health system delivery at this point in time, when it confronts extremely difficult and real challenges will be perceived as cruel and useless. The urgency validates the “optimistic” argument. We have a problem to solve and either you are part of the solutions or you are not. Criticisms of our public health system delivery is, at this point, moot, useless and defeatist. This is probably why, in the middle of a campaign, B. Sanders cannot be overtly and brutally critical of the public health care system’s handling of the situation, even though it would validate implementing reforms even beyond his Medicare for all program (public financing, private benefits). Instead, B. Sanders must do all he can, like everybody else, to constructively help in the fight against the coronavirus. Being critical would only reflects one’s lack of compassion for the victims, both medical and financial, of the pandemic. The urgency argument is a favored argument in any system based on the ability to adapt to any situation with the faith that the system will self-organize in the most optimal fashion. More to the point, this is a favored argument of all those promoting a system of free and private enterprise, thereby condemning the very idea of planning and planification for the future. By principle, capitalism and free market thus will not plan, anticipate and prevent crises but will actually claim to the faithful belief, that is the incredible ability to flexibly adapt to crises and overcome them. If this may be faithfully believed in the sphere of politics and economics, the present epidemiological crisis, demonstrates that such notions are completely obsolete and unable to deal appropriately with the situation. Thus, the urgency argument prevents any kind of critical questioning and is paramount to maintaining the ideological status quo in spite of the crisis.
- The “unity” and bipartisan argument
The country must be united in the face of the crisis. Again, this is not a new argument. One of the functions, for any society, of the “enemy” is to unite a nation to confront a threat, real or imagined. Hence, today the enemy is a virus and we should all unite in this battle or war. The imposition of “unity” will, of course lead to the necessity for all parties, for both republicans and democrats to unite, that is to say to agree as to what policies are to be implemented in this time of crisis, politically, economically and financially. To not do so will only lead to accusations of being divisive at a time calling for unity, to be without compassion for the victims of the pandemic, to be the cause of suffering by arguing and holding back policies of relief, without taking the time to ask relief for whom? In short, the call for unity will prevent any alternative to the policies to be implemented. It has been clearly demonstrated by the Democrats that they cannot go against capitalist relief policies (economic packages, financial bailouts, etc.) either because they are ideologically in agreement with the policies themselves or because they fear being accused of being without care, unpatriotic, etc. (See urgency and war arguments).
- The bad faith and Lie argument
What can be said of such arguments? Politicians and the mass media will simply lie without qualms or any regards for the truth, will make unfounded, unverified claims without guilt or shame. Whatever the motivations or alibis invented to justify these practices, these arguments will only go along the ideological direction of the free market and capitalism. It can be suspected that this kind of strategies have for sole purpose to confuse the issues, to muddle valid concerns and empty out any serious and honest arguments addressing the crisis. For instance, the claim that foreign powers are spreading false information in the US about the Virus has been repeated over and over. A claim that might be possible, no doubt, but a claim impossible to verify. Or again, the claim made in a major newspaper, the New York Times, that the United States has the best public health system in the world. The latter claim is quite striking for if it were true, we would not be facing the crisis in such an urgent and tragic fashion and we would be today singing the praise of that very system. However, such is not the case unfortunately. Maybe this lie could be classified as an optimistic argument?
- The reform argument
Because, to some extent, all the previous arguments (and others) will not suffice to calm and quiet criticisms, especially when the rise in victims from the coronavirus can no longer be downplayed and the crisis turns to a social and national tragedy, a narrative has to be constructed to face such criticisms that will not altogether negate, dismiss, displace them, in light of the unavoidable failures supported by facts and numbers, again particularly when the rise in victims from the coronavirus can no longer be downplayed and the crisis turns to tragedy. As is usually the case, in order to protect the free and private enterprise system as a whole, some heads will have to roll. The issues of necessity for reforms will be displaced onto a generalized blame game. Failures will be assigned singular, particular and anecdotal considerations, none of them systemic. Namely, the premise is that the system works and does function properly, in our present crisis, that the system is, of course, capable of managing such crisis optimally and successfully but that its failures are caused by certain individuals in the federal government, in state governments or in private companies; by particular states who, for whatever reasons did not comply with federal policies, by particular companies, for instance, who did not comply or rise up to the demands placed upon them or by certain political forces, parties, etc. Each political party, Republicans or Democrats will assign blame onto one another. Some individuals in either party will blame the leadership of either party. Both parties might unite to condemn the present administration. The libertarians will blame government, no matter who heads the executive. The point being here that the failures born from systemic, social and economic structures will never be put into question at the systemic level; the conclusion to be narrated will be as follow, the system of free and private enterprise works and functions perfectly well, unfortunately, human beings are imperfect and therein lie its failings. And those individual entities, be it people and/or companies, will become the lambs sacrificed on the altar of the free market providing the opportunity to both protect the system of free and private enterprise and demonstrate how, remarkably, justice can be carried out to redress its failings. Two birds with one stone and the show can go on.
- The “Human” argument
This argument is about the “human” story. The stories of doctors, nurses and other medical specialist and health workers courageously fighting for the lives of their patients. This is a powerful story, the story of human beings thrown in the battle against the virus covid-19. It will show their daily strife and struggles, away from their families, both clinical and personal. It is the story of tragedies when patients failed to breath and pass away in the loneliness of quarantine. It is a story of hope when the patient about to die waives goodbye to his family from afar and then pull through the rough to rejoin the livings. It is the relentless selflessness and frustration of these clinicians left unprotected to care for the sick. It is the incredible ingenuity of health workers making contraptions to protect themselves. All these remarkable and touching stories will reach the heart of audiences. The realities of these frontline health workers will move audiences to tears and shock, and terrify. The incredible courage, commitment and outstanding skills and knowledge of these health workers cannot be put into doubt whatsoever. Many people will owe these workers their very lives.
That being said, the main stream media whose altruism has always shined on the pantheon of humanity, and I am here being sarcastic, will make use of these individual and not so anecdotal tragedies to increase their ratings in times of economic downturn. They will actually make use of this suffering, they will obscenely expose the tears and sorrows of lost lives, they will sing praises for these health workers but the main stream networks will never ask the questions as to the systemic causes of such tragedies. They will never critically ask, why has this happened and if they do, they will then revert to the reform argument and only address pseudo-issues. With the Human argument, they will capitalize, as they always do, on the emotional aspects of suffering born from the pandemic to diffuse critical questionings and void any political critiques of capitalist ideologies. The networks’ capitalization on the horror of the “Human” story reveals a level of cynicism few of us can even comprehend. And yet this “Human” argument will transform the medico-social crisis into a “Human” crisis, a crisis bigger than you and me. A crisis, which we must accept since this kind of suffering has always been the lot of human beings from time immemorial. The violence of nature reduces us to our “human” fragility and this crisis put our humanity to the test, a test to be overcome by our faith in …humanity and the sacrifice one must be ready to make to save ourselves from suffering. The “Human” argument offers a transcendental version of the events. We are no longer in the material realm of social policies, politics, public health care, etc. All that is left behind to exhibit both the singularity of personal experiences in the face of tragedy and the universality of humankind, at least in its American or European capitalist version.
“The main stream networks will never ask the questions as to the systemic causes of such tragedies.”
These arguments or at least some of them are not, of themselves, toxic but it is the use of these arguments that is questionable. Social narratives can indeed be appropriate to certain and extraordinary situations but the issue here lies, literally, in the fact that the main reason for their use is to manipulate people in order to maintain a status quo that is of no benefits to the very people being manipulated. With the crisis, everyone, tragically, can see the emperor is naked and accordingly these arguments are utilized to make sure that nobody recognizes what they are seeing. That is the ideological role of the main stream media and it will perform its functions perfectly in the present epidemiological catastrophe.
The pandemic has placed Western social democracies in an awkward position, particularly the United States, being the most powerful nation on earth. It has brought to the fore that, contrary to its own belief, the extraordinary financial, economic and military power of the United States is of absolutely no use against the pandemic.
Indeed, this crisis introduces a particular sort of threat, for which capitalist economies, supposedly the most advanced societies, have been, obviously, ill-equipped to confront. Indeed, the virus threatens every person across a population spectrum of a country as well as across nations and geographies, independently of individual characteristics and features, be they race, ethnicity, gender, etc. Self-proclaimed exceptionalism, incredible military power, financial wealth, Individual initiatives, entrepreneurships and financial creativity have been and remain incapable of facing off the viral menace efficiently and to the surprise and disappointment of many, these short comings, to be polite, are already having extremely serious consequences onto our lives.
“Everyone can see the emperor is naked.”
The virus introduces a threat that is generalized socially and affect the whole of society, the whole collectivity and group at large. The General conception of society in capitalism can be defined overall by a commitment to methodological individualism. Accordingly, social determinism, the notion that society affects and determines significantly individuals, is dismissed. On the other hand, the activities of society at large according to methodological individualism, are considered to be the unanticipated results of individuals’ activities in all their diversity. Society as such does not exist as fact but merely as byproduct of individual activities. The latter we could say defines the foundation of individual freedoms and rights and their economic co-optation into free and private enterprise. Thus, the idea of planification is absolutely rejected as being both unable to appropriately anticipate fore coming events (economic events) and depriving individuals of their fundamental freedoms. These notions assume that any unanticipated events can be addressed, corrected and solved by the adaptive and creative activities of individuals. Clearly, these very idealistic ideas encounter very quickly their limitations when confronting the harsh realities of collective crises; a point at which this idealistic basis crumbles. The present crisis of this pandemic illustrates very well the inability of a human organization based on methodological individualism to confront effectively the viral threat. The free and private enterprise system cannot deal, speedily and efficiently, with the contagion. This pandemic, indeed, does not play by the rules of the free market and threatens the whole of society while capitalism, in the United States and Europe, idealistically functions on the premise that it is ideologically exempt of such social, collective threats and crises.
It is obvious today that a socialist system with centralized agencies organizing levels of planification allows for a swifter and more effective response to threats at the social and collective level and to the benefits of individuals constituting this collectivity. In such a system, the issues of individual freedoms and rights are not so much shelved, as some would have it, as much as these freedoms, rights and activities are reframed; In that kind of social system, the individual’s responsibilities and accountability towards the group matter significantly more and in times of crisis, do prevail. Individual activities, in a planned economy with a nationalized health delivery system, will be constrained for the sake of others and the group at large. These notions are extremely difficult to implement when individual freedoms and rights and some mythical individualism prevail over social and collective life. Hence the often-quipped notion that “one is as healthy as the person next to you” is radically novel, psychologically incomprehensible and disturbing to most Americans and many Europeans.
“The free and private enterprise system cannot deal, speedily and efficiently, with the contagion.”
Even though these ideas are not of themselves particularly revolutionary as ideas of social interdependency, cooperation and solidarity have been and remain the fundamental fabric of human social organizations. In a capitalist society, the very concept of public and social solidarity, of common good, of publicly owned industries, of nationalization is akin to the end of the world. Therefore, there is a veritable fanatical obstinacy on the parts of the elites, political, financial and even academic, to uphold the belief in a social system based upon methodological individualism despite the fact that centralized, planed and nationalized public industries, in this case health care delivery, can outperform private ones and save lives.
In capitalist societies, extraordinary measures can, of course, be taken by governing institutions to, more or less, take over and direct the private sector and dictate private enterprises their activities and behaviors in light of emergencies such as our present pandemic – an act by government often criticized as “socialist.” The media battle and communication exercise then will often consist in trying to uphold private and free enterprise based on individual activities despite the uselessness and evidence of the futility of such conceptions even in the face of social and collective emergencies and the obvious and necessary recourse to government driven directives and implementations.
Thus, the arguments mentioned above will be elaborated to feed the narratives destined to uphold an ideology that is obsolete, at least, in the present situation. We will witness a radical dichotomy between the narratives and arguments of unity, hope, courage, etc. and the financial realities of bailouts, of supporting investors, large companies, in short markets and free enterprise whereas medical and health workers as well as the population of citizens at large are given lip services.
The very function of these arguments described above is precisely to convince the population into going along with a set ideology, accepting uncritically this lip service, in spite of the ideology’s failures directly affecting said population and at the same time, to prevent any serious alternatives and critical approaches from entering the social and political platform of American social and political life.
They are many forms of arguments that can and will prevent the issue of public health care and by extensions, public institutions and industries from being seriously taken into account. The many narratives that emanate from TV screens and news in print will use most of them to ascertain that the failures of capitalist America facing this medical crisis are not addressed or discussed in any clear and transparent ways.
Presently, the main stream media is struggling to achieve three goals, one is to maintain its audiences’ ratings 24/7 by constantly exhibiting the terrible effects of the crisis upon the American people and fueling emotions and the fear factor (“when it bleeds it leads,” which could be construed as another argument). Another is to perpetuate the blind faith in the free market and praise the country’s ability to deal with the virus, namely to promote the unity argument, the optimistic argument, the war argument, the urgency and the economic argument (with its libertarian derivative and pseudo counterargument). A third goal brought forth, directly and indirectly, is to destroy, dismiss or simply omit altogether the radical conception of a nationalized health care system or even the modest consideration of a Medicare for all program as proposed by B. Sanders as well as any mentions of the success of communist China in dealing with the virus (and others such as Cuba with its medical expertise in infectious diseases and its productive bio and pharmaceutical industry).
“The main stream media goal is to destroy, dismiss or simply omit altogether the radical conception of a nationalized health care system.”
The very notion of nationalization, whether it is in social democracies, with hybrid private and public sectors or in socialist countries, must be at all cost extracted and annulled from the social political narrative. The notion of a national public health system is dangerous because it introduces the serious possibility that a public institution, infrastructure or industry, as we have said above, could be more effective than private enterprises and could jeopardize altogether the very notion of free market. The fear of a domino effect is probably very real among promoters of private enterprise, if one industry or one institution become nationalized and thrive, how many are to follow?
There seems to be, despite the gravity and severity of the medical, social, economic situation, an absolute and complete inability of Western capitalist countries to self-examine and ask what has gone wrong in handling this pandemic, this question may arise once the urgency has abated but it is doubtful. I suspect that to actually being accountable to the American people and asking such questions will inevitably be censored in the present social and political landscape. Getting answers to these questions is impossible because the institutions of government, the executive and the legislative bodies on both sides of the aisle do not want to hear any address of public ownership of both institutions and industries, they do not want to confront the actual necessity of radically reforming the public health care delivery system, they do not want to come to the admission that a nationalized, effective, well prepared and well financed public health delivery system is both possible and necessary.
When we speak today of the People, for the People and by the People, we have to accept that as was the case in both the French and American revolutions, the People never referred to the multitudes, the masses, the regular folks, namely to you and me; It referred only to those who owned property and were therefore entitled to vote. Even though such limitations placed on voting rights were altered and transformed throughout history, in Western Europe and the United States, private property has remained sovereign, sacrosanct and must be protected at all cost, particularly from subversive ideas of public ownership in any shape or form. Thus, we could make the following claim that the poverty of the American public health delivery system, despite the American scientific medical excellence, and its consequent failure in confronting the coronavirus is an inevitable consequence of capitalism. Accordingly, these failures must be reformulated, through narratives, as success for the very sake of protecting private property and the free market, especially when addressing the public and common good becomes truly urgent and would be deemed necessary by any rational mind. The urgency to protect private property and free enterprise becomes corollary to the urgency of addressing popular suffering, for the suffering of people, en masse, always carries with it the danger of political change.
“The fear of a domino effect is probably very real among promoters of private enterprise.”
All the narratives present and to come regarding the pandemic will, in one way or another, reiterate all sort of arguments such as those mentioned above to protect the free market and to diffuse the discontent of the masses born from suffering while leading them astray from pertinent issues brought clearly about by this public health crisis.
There is little doubt that the negligence and arrogance of western nations and their commitment to capitalism, in Europe and North America are absolutely responsible for their present domestic medical crises. At such time when solidarity of nations should indeed make complete sense, when the gathering of medical specialists and scientists of all nations would seem to be the most rational thing to do, when the whole world ought to come together in supporting one another, when the sharing of scientific and medical knowledge would seem imperative, when all the parties who have somewhat succeeded in controlling the spread of the epidemic (as China, South Korea, Singapore, etc.) should be respectfully consulted, well, it is not happening. It is not happening when reason tells us it should be and should go without saying.
The arrogance and hegemonic impulses of the United States and its vassal European states appear to be prevailing. Brussels’ commitment to free enterprise only matches that of European nation themselves. While facing a catastrophic situation domestically, the vindictiveness of the United States does not abate and that country continues to impose sanctions on much smaller nations severely suffering from the pandemic, refuses communications with sanctioned countries such as Cuba, which with China, produces serious antiviral medications (interferon-alpha 2b) thus, depriving us of medications beneficial to all. It seems the competitive mentality of western democracies always prevail over ideas of international cooperation and solidarity – except tragically when the negligence of European political managers, read governments, is so great that their own national domestic situation prevents them from even helping each other. And yet, incredibly, some European journalists, thinktanks or politicians dare carry on their paranoid rantings against Russia’s and China’s significant medical help and support. There are no limits to their arrogance. Once this crisis is over and hopefully it will, after counting the dead and honoring their “sacrifices,” what will happen when the next crisis flares? What will happen when a fully aerosol virus, namely a virus able to remain airborne for extended periods of time, emerges? What will we do when self-quarantine and social distancing is no longer enough? Epidemiologists tell us that it is not a question of if it happens but when it happens. With increased temperature consequent to climate change, epidemics will be on the rise. How shall we prepare for such eventualities when the commitment to free enterprise abhors the very idea of anticipation and planification? Will we persist on our present path? We have today a clear response were we to answer that question in the affirmative. The political bankruptcy of Western “democracies” is for once exposed and offers the very sad spectacle of incompetence, cynicism, prejudice and provinciality that only reveals the necessity for political change, albeit now in an urgent fashion. This medical crisis offers us a clear but tragic testimony to the limitations of capitalism and the obstinacy of the few to be proven right no matter what. “Western democracies,” through this crisis are revealing their fanatical belief in private and free enterprise, albeit a fanaticism in suits and ties. And as the essay purports to discuss, these fanatics, the capitalist elites, their government representatives and their media will do everything they can to disavow the failures and uphold the very system that favors them. An do not be mistaken, they will do so even at the cost of thousands of lives, and this time, even American lives, all the while striving very hard at convincing us of the opposite, namely how much they care!
Philippe Gendrault, PHD is a Psychologist in San Francisco, California.
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