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In normal times, a report by the UN’s International Labor Organization predicting that 1.6 billion people, whose incomes support fully half the world’s population, are on the verge of losing their livelihoods would be the only thing anyone on Earth would be paying attention to. But in the Covid-19 moment, such extraordinary predictions become mere footnotes.
Take a deep breath, however, and ponder what is being said here, for it is, without a doubt, today’s Signal. Half of the world’s population is at imminent risk of economic devastation: hunger, endless debt, closed schools, the collapse of entire social systems.
In normal times, the US president would be coordinating a global response to mitigate this disaster—coordinating distribution of medical supplies, shoring up global food distribution systems, working with the IMF and other agencies to extend desperately needed credit and aid to countries whose economies risk complete system failure. The alternative is a cascading economic crisis that could send much of the world back into the Dark Ages.
But these aren’t normal times. Instead, as The New York Times documented in a remarkably detailed analysis, Donald Trump, who has been absent as a global leader, holds propagandistic press briefings—even less credible than the daily briefings by US generals during the Vietnam War—in which he either congratulates himself, mocks his political opponents, peddles conspiracy theories, or promotes quack cures for Covid-19 such as injecting bleach.
The Irish Daily Mirror, gobsmacked by America’s downward spiral, recently averred that it was incumbent on Congress to “imbleach” this manifestly unfit, unstable president.
And those among the parochial MAGA crowd inclined to dismiss the ILO report as abstract and distant from American concerns should think again. Here in America, states and cities are projecting a $500 billion shortfall, and there’s a serious risk that public safety agencies, schools, and other vital services will soon start being slashed to the bone.
Mitch McConnell’s callous response: Let the states—especially blue states with more generous pension systems for public-sector employees—go bankrupt. In fact, rather than work round-the-clock on developing aid packages to keep states from cratering, McConnell, who is well aware that Trump’s reelection chances are fading by the day, wants to turn the Senate’s attention to rushing through even more extremist judicial nominees while he still has the chance.
Trump, for his part, wants to blackmail liberal states by withholding financial aid from them unless they scrap sanctuary policies that are providing a modicum of protection to immigrants who are being hunted down by ICE agents. This, combined with the scandalous decision to withhold stimulus checks from all mixed-status families, means that millions of Americans—including hundreds of thousands of US-citizen children, disproportionately clustered in the country’s biggest and most dynamic cities—are being deliberately pushed into destitution by the administration because one member of their family lacks legal status.
This goes far beyond the standard rough and tumble of partisan politics. Letting America’s largest states and cities go bankrupt and deliberately pushing immigrant communities into destitution would be akin to national suicide. It would beggar large parts of the country, just as surely as the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by the looting of the country’s wealth during the subsequent “shock therapy” privatization period, beggared tens of millions of citizens. Decades later, many parts of the former USSR have still not recovered from the economic devastation of the implosion, and many residents lack even the most basic income security.
Trump’s lackluster response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been bad enough. Now, the GOP is promoting policies in response to the economic fallout, many of them animated by harsh anti-immigrant prejudice, that could push not only the economy but the US system of government, with its carefully calibrated balance of power between the states and Washington, to the breaking point.
Already in cities like Las Vegas, where the economy is reliant on tourism, the shutdown has resulted in mass hunger. Stark television images this week showed miles-long lines of cars driven by unemployed casino, hotel, and restaurant workers lining up for food given out by food banks at now-shuttered casinos.
And the Noise? The mindless, maskless, MAGA machismo of Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to abide by Mayo Clinic guidelines to wear a mask while visiting patients.
Stay strong, stay healthy, and keep on fighting like hell for a better, saner, kinder tomorrow.