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What Does ‘Small Government’ Buy Us?

Suddenly, America is a nation of socialists, asking in dismay: “Where’s the government?”

Trump is now showing us what such a drownable government looks like. And what it costs us.

These are not born-again Bernie Sanders activists, but everyday people of all political stripes, including the previously apolitical multitudes, who’re now clamoring for big government intervention in their lives. There’s nothing like a rapidly spreading pandemic to bring home the fact that all of us need a generously funded, fully functioning government. Alas, as everyone can see in our present moment, the government today has been reduced to a rickety medicine show run by an inept, small-minded flimflammer peddling laissez-fairyland snake oil.

“We have it totally under control,” Trump pompously declared after the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was confirmed in January, then tweeted: “It will all work out well.” As it spread out of control through February and into March, he continued to be nonchalant: “We’ve done a great job.” 

But an increasingly anxious public couldn’t even get reliable test kits from Trump’s hollowed-out government health agencies. Still, he shrugged off all concern and responsibility: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” 

This was not exactly a can-do Rooseveltian response to a national crisis, but Trump stayed blasé, denying scientific reality and assuring us that, “One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

Of course, it hasn’t. And by March, a rising death toll exposed this imposter of a President as incompetent, uncaring . . . and silly.

So, after weeks of the complete absence of White House leadership, a deadly pathogen is raging practically everywhere across our land. Unknown millions are being infected, and a “closed indefinitely” sign has literally been hung on the American economy. Even our social and civic interactions—the essence of community life—have been halted.

Rightwing politico Grover Norquist once said he wanted a government so small “I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Trump is now showing us what such a drownable government looks like. And what it costs us.

Now that “social distancing” has become the official ethical standard for human relationships, abruptly supplanting eons of ingrained communal behavior by us humanoids (handshakes, hugs, pub life, ceremonial gatherings, etc.). Awkward. Disconcerting. Isolating.

Yet, as we scramble to deter the ravages of COVID-19, we might benefit by pondering a self-inflicted cause of the contagion’s disastrous spread. 

For some forty years, American corporations and governments have colluded to push economic, political, and social policies that have intentionally distanced the financial fortunes of the wealthy from the workaday majority.

Consider the interrelationship of multimillionaires with the unseen kitchen staff of the restaurants where they dine. To further enrich themselves, these moguls have denied health coverage for food preparers, and lobbied to kill proposals to provide them with paid sick leave. 

So, say one kitchen worker coughs. He or she is infected with the new coronavirus, but doesn’t know it because of a lack of access to testing. And with no sick leave, even though running a fever, the worker must come to work. Later, somewhere a multimillionaire coughs. After all, COVID-19 doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor.

The very progressive policies that plutocrats have been blocking for years—such as a living wage, Medicare for All, and free college tuition—are exactly what a sane government would adopt to fend off the wholly destructive inequality confronting every American.

While we’re now forced to temporarily distance ourselves from each other, our country also suffers from another lethal disease: the widening separation of elites from the rest of us. And the only cure for this is a national push for renewed social cohesiveness. 

As a friend and fellow writer Glenn W. Smith recently put it, “[COVID-19] puts into focus a biological, psychological, economic, and socio-political fact we too often deny: We are a species of completely interdependent beings.”

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