Hampton Institute - March 31, 2020

"During a pandemic that is exacerbated by neoliberal capitalism, people are quickly becoming radicalized. We are realizing that we don’t actuallyneedlandlords, or bosses, or CEOs — these parasites that bleed the working class dry. They are, in other words, “non-essential.” In any civilized society, housing, healthcare, food, and education would be provided as a prerequisite to the mereconceptof justice. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.” This means industrial production and technology should be directed toward meeting human need first and foremost. We are human beings, and our lives can no longer be commodified."

To say that the Trump administration responded inadequately to the COVID-19 pandemic would be the understatement of the decade. Trump’s response was chock-full of misinformationracism, dangerous proposals, dangerous policies, and a strain of conservative anti-intellectualism that ignores public health experts. It has even been compared to former president Ronald Reagan’s botched response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. This comparison also contains an important historical lesson: Reagan and Trump represent the beginning and end points of the American political tradition marked by deregulation, austerity, and corporate-funded governance.

Though many liberal pundits decry him as an uncharted divergence from “normalcy”, Trump is simply the hideous, unmasked expression of neoliberalism — a ghastly gremlin our decaying society has vomited up after four decades of germination. In short, neoliberalism created Trump. Year after year we witnessed the dismantling of unions, the passing of job-killing trade deals, the gutting of social services, and the continued stagnation of wages. These policies tilled the political soil for an outgrowth of right-wing populism that attempts to harken back to the “great” white supremacist legacy of America. It is a faux-populism that scapegoats immigrants and minorities, blaming the most marginalized for the societal rot produced by the implementation of free market fundamentalist ideology. Trumpism as specific historical phenomenon is certainly new. But, in terms of the systemic nature of this barbarism, Trump is not an “aberration” — he is an inevitable extension of the existing system.

During the spread of the coronavirus and the subsequent economic crisis, Americans are learning the true nature of neoliberal disaster capitalism, or what journalist Naomi Klein has referred to as “Coronavirus Capitalism.” This current iteration is part of a disturbing historical trajectory. In short, corporate entities and powerful individuals have repeatedly exploited crises by swiftly implementing policies that further enrich the ruling class at the expense of everyone else — a phenomenon Klein has elucidated more broadly in her 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine.”

As we are quickly realizing, the entire system is callous and predatory, and the tattered safety net that once existed has vanished long ago. But, just like the virus itself, political consciousness is rapidly spreading. Every day on social media, I am heartened to be reminded of the true heroism of cashiers, sanitation workers, first responders, warehouse workers, grocery stockers, and delivery drivers during these perilous times. While these seemingly undesirable jobs are proven to be essential by this crisis, it has also become evident that the captains of industry don’t have any verifiable role other than extracting profit from our labor. As Jasmine Duff reminded us in a recent Hampton Institutecolumn, “these so-called wealth creators can spend months isolated in their mansions or country estates without this having any impact on the basic functioning of society.” ...
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