At The Brink?

This is not a rant.  This is first a conversation (I’m having) with myself, then perhaps a conversation with you, and with luck, a conversation you have with those you care about.

I am worried.  I am worried that there is going to be semi-permanent damage done to our way of life by the COVID-19 pandemic and our relatively inept response to that challenge so far.

I am retired, so all of my income comes from investments made with what I saved over a 40+ year career.  Yesterday, I wondered if it was time to sell everything and go to cash.  In my opinion, which is by no means particularly insightful let alone expert, the market is completely ignoring the economic devastation that will result from this pandemic.  For example, the market dropped when the third week of April unemployment numbers were announced.  So much for the efficient market hypothesis, eh?  Didn’t every Tom, Dick, and Harry with money in the market know that unemployment applications were going to be horrific and were going to continue to be for some time?  I think so.  But apparently “the market” did not.

Unemployment is at 15% and will likely go higher.  Many retailers and those dependent on them (e.g., suppliers, transporters, credit card companies, etc.) are being decimated.  J.Crew, Neiman-Marcus, and JCPenney are the just the front edge of the wave.  The restaurant industry has been similarly injured, particularly the independents and small chains.  Between those two segments of the economy, we are talking almost 35 million employees  – most of whom are threatened with unemployment. The last time we had unemployment like this was the Great Depression, and the resulting wide-spread disruption and loss and anguish gave rise to real concern in this country about a revolution. Many states are “opening up” – but how fast will unemployment decrease and how fast will deaths by COVID increase?  By many measures, history is repeating itself.  Given our current divisiveness, how much more do you think it is going to take before ignition?

The political reaction by the fringe right and their supporters has been unhinged.  Arguing that it is a good idea for old people and “the bottom of the social scale” (read: mostly minorities) to die in order for the “rest of us” to benefit from opening up the economy smacks of eugenics and social Darwinism.  43 percent of the current US population are other than non-Hispanic white and that will hit 50% in another 25 years.  We will become a majority minority country.

What happens if we have 4 more years of an administration that encourages white supremacist behaviors and action?  I worry that folks have forgotten that the Second Amendment works both ways.  You should think about that.  How close to the edge are those “fringe” groups pushing us? Waving confederate battle flags and shouting antisemitic and anti-Islamic epithets, not to mention support for that behavior at the highest levels of our government, does not seem to me to be a very effective method of calming those targeted people and may in fact incite them to take drastic action in response.  That is called civil unrest.

And add to this the fact that this President’s apparent campaign strategy is to repeat 2016,  this time suggesting that President Obama rather than Hillary Clinton  should be locked up.  I will bet you real money that we will hear “lock him up” in reference to our former President before the summer is over. And that, my friends, will be like tossing gasoline on the racial divisiveness that is already a key element of Trump’s reelection campaign.

The amount of money being spent to help support those in need as a result of the pandemic  is truly staggering and also very much necessary and appropriate.  But the backlash has already begun.  In Georgia, the Governor “opened the economy” and then said anyone who did not go back to work would lose their unemployment benefits.  Unemployment is mostly state-funded and thus, at the risk of lives rather than spending more money, the Governor made his decision.  Texas, which under Governor Abbot did little to stem the coronavirus spread,  reopened everything with the result being a new record spike in both COVID-19 cases and deaths. A number of politicians on the right (mostly) have made comments that people dying from COVID-19 is just the price we will have to pay for opening the economy.  But we have made no serious efforts to get testing up to where it needs to be and in fact, the Federal government has all but walked away from the problem, leaving it “up to the states.”

Leave it up to the states? If we’d done that in the past, African Americans  would be unable to vote in many southern states, the age of consent would be 14 in others, rape would be virtually a non-prosecutable offense in yet other states, and “stand your ground” laws would be ubiquitous. Our lakes and waterways would make Love Canal look like a small mistake.  It is likely that  there would be some significant overlap of those actions in certain states.  If that really happened, we would absolutely be a divided country and there would definitely be states I would never visit.

This is a national problem, not a state problem.  I am worried we are doing permanent damage to the reputation, and effectiveness of our Federal government (as poor as some may have thought it already was).  What happens when it becomes fundamentally untrusted and dysfunctional?  And for those of you who have never lived in such a country, let me tell you from experience that you then have no idea how bad life can be when all the Feds do is ensure that they are in power and when their only objective is to take as much as they can.  When the military becomes the police and/or the police are militarized.  As a young man who was asked for his passport at gunpoint, I can tell assure you that you will not like it.

Moreover, never in my awareness has the fundamental rule of law been so challenged by a President and his administration.  We have a Secretary of Education defying court orders, we have a President calling for Congress to call in and investigate members of the previous administration while preventing his own people from testifying in front of Congress.  We have an Attorney General that has been lying about and obfuscating evidence and acting like his job was to protect the President as opposed to protecting the American people. And we have a Majority Leader in the Senate who’s so partisan and vituperative and malignant that he put members of his own party at risk of disease in order to approve federal judges, including some nominees deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association. This administration has shown a casual disregard and contempt for the rule of law, the right of a free press, and has violated first amendment rights by advocating violence.  With four more years of this, what will be left?

When all we end up standing for are the interests of the rich, the corporations, and the career politicians, we will be just like Russia, and perhaps China, and certainly like all those other ‘shithole countries” that Trump so derided.  Res ipsa loquitor.  You have been warned.

OK, I lied.  It is a rant.

3 thoughts on “At The Brink?

  1. I feel you, Dan. However, I am not as afraid…JC Penney, J Crew and Neiman’s were already in trouble before this began. Common knowledge about those – Nordstrom had been trying to go private for a while so big retail has been in need of a reset for years. Like a prairie fire, new growth can grow from the decimation. Perhaps that is what we are looking at – it will take a lot of years to repair the damage of this administration but out of the damage new interesting, creative life will form. Maybe we’ll come out of this with a national service corps for our young people; maybe better safety nets; maybe national healthcare…who knows…maybe even more people actually voting!

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