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General News    H3'ed 10/29/20

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Don't Just Blame It on the Pandemic

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Consider two numbers that tell you a good deal about where the United States is as October ends.

The first is 510,000. The coronavirus is now spiking, particularly across the Midwest and rural West, as Americans start heading indoors for winter amid a chaotic refusal to wear masks and social distance in certain parts of the country. As record numbers of new Covid-19 cases are being reported, researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation recently estimated that more than half a million Americans could die of Covid-19 by February 2021. (No, President Trump, it's not "going away"!) However, if mask wearing became a reasonably uniform national reality, those researchers also suggest that 130,000 of those lives could be saved. That should tell you something about the failing state (of health and wellbeing) of an over-armed, riven, ever more unequal and embittered America as election 2020 approaches.

On the other hand, consider this: at more than 51 million, early voters (in person and by absentee ballot) had already surpassed 2016's early voting count by four million on October 23rd and the numbers have only continued to soar. And keep in mind that, in six key battleground states, with days still to go, it looked like significantly more Democrats than Republicans had voted and, as Politico reported, "Democrats are also turning out more low-frequency and newly registered voters than the GOP." Obviously, there are no guarantees here, but there is at least evidence that, in the worst of times, Americans have not given up on their democratic system, which brings me to the thoughts of TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, about a country, still the wealthiest on the planet, that, in the age of Donald Trump, looks like it may be going down remarkably fast. It stands a chance of becoming a failed state of (quite literally) the first order -- and yet, as Greenberg suggests, not without a glimmer of hope in sight. Tom

Donald Trump's Failed State
America's Daunting New World and the Coming Election
By Karen J. Greenberg

These past few months, it's grown ever harder to recognize life in America. Thanks to Covid-19, basic day-to-day existence has changed in complicated, often confusing ways. Just putting food on the table has become a challenge for many. Getting doctors' appointments and medical care can take months. Many schools are offering on-line only instruction and good luck trying to get a driver's license or a passport renewed in person or setting up an interview for Social Security benefits. The backlog of appointments is daunting.

Meanwhile, where actual in-person government services are on tap, websites warn you of long lines and advise those with appointments to bring an umbrella, a chair, and something to eat and drink, as the Department of Motor Vehicles in Hudson, New York, instructed me to do over the summer. According to a September 2020 Yelp report, approximately 164,000 businesses have closed nationwide due to the pandemic, an estimated 60% of them for good. CNBC reports that 7.5 million businesses may still be at risk of closing. Meanwhile, more than 225,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus and, as a winter spike begins, it's estimated that up to 410,000 could be dead by year's end.

Then there are the signs of increasing poverty. Food banks have seen vast rises in demand, according to Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. According to a study done by Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy, between February and September, the monthly poverty rate increased from 15% to 16.7%, despite cash infusions from Congress's CARES Act. That report also concluded that the CARES program, while putting a lid on the rise in the monthly poverty rate for a time, "was not successful at preventing a rise in deep poverty." And now, of course, Congress seems likely to offer nothing else.

The rate of unemployment is down from a high of 14% in April, but still twice what it was in January 2020 and seemingly stabilizing at a disturbing 8%. Meanwhile, schools and universities are struggling to stay viable. Thirty-four percent of universities are now online and only 4% are conducting fully in-person classes. The policy of stores limiting purchases in the spring and summer is still a fresh memory.

And what about freedom of movement? Dozens of countries, including most of the European Union, Latin America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, have barred entry to American tourists and travelers, given this country's devastatingly high rate of infection. Canada and Mexico just re-upped their bans on U.S. travelers, too. In a sense, the pandemic has indeed helped build a "great, great wall" around America, one that won't let any of us out.

In fact, Americans are not being welcomed, even by one another. Inside our borders, states are requiring those arriving from other states with high percentages of Covid-19 cases to quarantine themselves for 14 days on arrival (though enforcing such mandates is difficult indeed). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's list of places subject to such a travel advisory now includes 43 of the 49 other states.

And as we are reminded on a daily basis in the run-up to Election Day, early voters, especially in heavily minority districts, are being forced to wait long hours in endless lines in states where the pandemic is beginning to spike. In some places, local officials clearly set up the conditions for this as a deterrent to those they would prefer not to see at the polls. In Georgia, where a governor was intent on reducing the numbers of polling places to reduce turnout in African-American neighborhoods, the waiting time recently was, on average, 11 hours. Early voting lines in New York City "stretched for blocks" in multiple venues.

To top it all off, political and racial violence in the country is climbing, often thanks to uniformed law enforcement officers. From George Floyd's death to federal officials in unmarked vehicles dragging protesters off the streets of Portland, Oregon, to federal law enforcement officers using rubber bullets and tear gas on a gathering crowd of protestors to clear a path to a local church for President Trump, such cases have made the headlines. Meanwhile, officials across the country are ominously preparing to counter violence on Election Day.

In the face of such challenges and deprivations, Americans, for the most part, are learning to adapt to the consequences of the pandemic, while just hoping that someday it will pass, that someday things will return to normal. As early as March 2020, a Pew poll had already detected a significant uptick in symptoms of anxiety nationwide. The percentage of such individuals had doubled, with young people and those experiencing financial difficulties driving the rise.

The American Psychological Association (APA) considers the pandemic not just an epidemiological but a "psychological crisis." The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a paper written by two APA authors suggesting that Covid-19 is already taking "a tremendous psychological toll" on the country.

Failing, American-Style

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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