As U.S. death tolls from Covid 19 spiral towards three or four thousand a day, health officials urge us to stop breathing on each other while saying nothing about the vast majority being dependent employees or small entrepreneurs, not free agents, thus unable to cheerfully comply with draconian public health orders that torpedo our jobs and businesses while remaining silent on how the bills are supposed to get paid.
While one searches in vain for intelligent commentary in the corporate media about this dilemma, ordinary Americans are well aware of the problem, as well as of the contempt with which they’re being treated. Consider Dave Morris, owner of the D & R Daily Grind Restaurant and Cafe in Portage, Michigan, who interrupted a local CBS News broadcast last week to explain why he was defying shutdown orders. In two minutes he told more economic truth than one hears in a year of listening to the experts on corporate media.1
Morris: Our government leaders have abandoned me.
Reporter: Are you the owner?
Morris: They took four trillion dollars of stimulus money. They gave it to who? Special interest groups and campaign donors. I’m Dave Morris. I own the place.
Reporter: So what’s going on?
Morris: What’s going on? You know what’s going on.
Reporter: You tell me.
Morris: Hey, we got a government that has taken the stimulus money. They gave it to special campaign donors. They gave it to special interests. They abandoned me and they had put me in a position where I have to fight back. O.K.?
Reporter: Do you feel that this is the right thing to do?
Morris: Absolutely. I feel everybody needs to stand up. Hey, listen. There was enough money to give every family, every family in this country $20,000 to go home for two months. They chose to give it to special interests, and campaign donors, the Kennedy Space Center, and they abandoned us. You could’ve given me money [and] I’d gladly walk away for sixty days and let the virus settle down. [But] I’m not going to do it alone, O.K.?
Reporter: Are you going to continue to violate the state’s orders and stay open?
Morris: State order (tone of disgust). This isn’t an order. This is a conspiracy. This is a tyranny.
Reporter: What do you want to tell other restaurant owners?
Morris: (raising his arms) Wake up! Stand up! This is America. Be free! I got patriots coming out supporting me the last two days. You know what? It’s a great thing. Wake up! This is America. Don’t let them ramrod you. This is crazy when you turn around and you watch what’s going on Westnedge Avenue. The big department stores, the train stations, the airports. Side by side eating meals for four hours. And you’re going to blame me? Come on! (sarcastic) Come on! This is not right and you guys know it. Everybody knows it. Stand up, America. Give us the money to shut this thing down and calm this virus, but don’t take it out on a select few.
Reporter: Is there anything else you want to add, sir?
Morris: That’s it, brother (smile). I’m glad you listened to me. Thank you. Hey, I’m really a generous guy.
Reporter: The entire Western Michigan just listened to you. You’re live on T.V. right now.
Morris: I’m glad to hear that, O.K.? I’m really a good guy. I’ve been married thirty-eight years. I got a wife, three kids; I got four great-grandchildren. Let me tell you something: I got a good life and I’ve worked hard for it. I’m not giving up easily. I’m not going down alone. They want me to go down and be quiet. They never want to hear from me again. I’m not going to put up with it. It’s time to rise up. Shut it all down or don’t shut any of us down. (emphasis added) That’s the only way to get control of a virus.
Of course, Morris is wrong in attributing policy to a conspiracy, which it is not, but that’s merely a technical point. (The problem is not the government per se, but the massive private concentrations of wealth that dominate the government). He is completely right that current policy is disingenuous and hypocritical, not to mention nearly impossible for the economically dependent to adhere to, that is, a large majority of the American population.
So let’s stop pretending that the American people are “stupid” for not complying with such policy. And remember that this is the policy that first said masks were useless and now says they’re essential; that first denounced large congregations of people as deadly, super-spreader events, then praised huge gatherings of Black Lives Matter protesters for risking infection in pursuit of a noble cause; that first urged everyone to “follow the science,” then let airports and bars be open while schools remained closed.
This is what we get when we divorce “science” from any rational analysis of society and politics. The feigned neutrality that results is an elaborate rationalization of the favoritism-for-the-rich that dominates the disastrous status quo. It’s also a prominent feature of the Osterholm Update, a weekly podcast by public health expert Dr. Michael Osterholm (recently appointed to Joe Biden’s Covid 19 Advisory Board), about the latest developments in our battle with coronavirus.
Dr. Osterholm loves to pretend that’s he’s above the political fray, just calling “balls and strikes,” not making value judgments. But that stance itself rests on a value judgment about value judgments; i.e., that public health officials ought not to make them. But if the medical experts are unwilling to call out the government for failing to give proper economic support to American workers during the prolonged quarantine policy they insist we all embrace, the policy of physical distancing means very little, in spite of its medical utility. After all, what good does it do to tell people to stay home, when they have no money to pay rent with? Everyone knows they’re going to go out and work, since they have no other way to stay housed. And even when they’re home, the wage-dependent are often sharing cramped space and stagnant air with other tenants, because with rents high and wages low it takes many tenants to keep the rent paid. Therefore, it should be obvious that non-union workers – virtually the entire private sector in the United States – are the least able to live in the uncrowded, well-ventilated spaces our public health authorities say are medically necessary, because maximizing private gain requires the opposite. Space, like everything else in this profit-obsessed culture, has to be paid for, and poor people can’t afford nearly enough of it.
In 1949, the National Housing Act established the goal of a decent home in a suitable living environment for all. Most people would surely include sunlight and uncrowded space in that definition, both known to be essential to good health, and especially useful in resisting the spread of coronavirus. But seventy-one years after passing that act, we are far from achieving that sensible housing goal. While the stock market booms and home sales soar, millions of renters are paying more than half their income for poor quality housing in polluted neighborhoods that should have been declared a national health crisis long before coronavirus appeared on the scene.2
So we can’t just call “balls and strikes,” we have to get our hands dirty and comment on the perverse values of the politicized culture within which we all live and work. The bottom line here literally is profit, which is more important than human life. That’s why there’s no coherent coronavirus policy, no sensible economic relief package, and no end of news stories telling us Americans continue dying in grotesque numbers.
- “Angry Man Interrupts Live Newscast With A Surprisingly Rational Point,” The Rational National, December 4, 2020.
- See: “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2020.”
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