Robert Reich, writing for The Guardian, weighs in on the fairy tale that our country is somehow “roaring back,” as Donald Trump characterized it when he hawked a report last week based on misleading unemployment statistics—numbers that were already woefully out of date at the time they were released.
The US economy isn’t roaring back. Just over half of Americans have jobs now, the lowest figure in more than 70 years. What’s roaring back is Covid-19. Until it’s tamed, the American economy doesn’t stand a chance.
As former Labor Secretary Reich notes: “The uptick in jobs in June was due almost entirely to the hasty reopening, which is now being reversed.”
Last month, many businesses rehired previously laid-off employees based on cues they received from state governors assuring them the crisis had passed and that it was “time to reopen.” Those governors and Republicans in their legislatures in turn took their cues from a political imperative pushed relentlessly by the White House. But, as most of these governors well knew, that wasn’t the reality at all. It was simply a story spun out of thin air by an administration growing increasingly desperate about its reelection chances; a story to mollify a restless public grown increasingly frustrated at the endless lockdowns; a story to provide temporary cover for Republicans at the state and federal level who had absolutely no clue how to handle this pandemic.
But mostly it was a story to satisfy their donors, who were seeing their corporate profits evaporate and taking it out on their paid stooges in Congress and the states. The GOP jumped to the task, bailing out businesses as much as they possibly could—namely with hundreds of billions of dollars—without ever telling the American public where those funds were actually going. (Hint: It was to their donors.) But it wasn’t done out of any concern for American workers. If it had been, the GOP would have come up with a game plan that didn’t simply involve waving some fairy dust at the end of May and telling people it was now suddenly safe to go back to work.
This was effectively an untested medical experiment on a grand scale, collectively embraced by Republicans, with ordinary Americans as its unwitting subjects. The reopening push was not based on any scientific or medical planning to address the pandemic but wholly on “feel-good” politics designed to satisfy donors for a few months.
So when those June unemployment numbers trumpeted by Trump and his state media last Thursday were actually compiled, reported COVID-19 cases in this country were averaging 25,000 daily because all those reopenings in late May were only just beginning to register a corresponding spike in infections. Since that report, cases have now jumped drastically to an average of 55,000 per day or more, forcing many states that had prematurely reopened to reverse course, shutting down businesses once again in a desperate attempt to prevent the virus from spiraling out of control and overwhelming their state’s medical capabilities. Late in June, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci warned that we were likely to see 100,000 cases of new infections every day thanks to inadequate efforts to contain the virus and these misguided reopenings.
Republican state legislators from Texas to Arizona to Wisconsin, where COVID-19 cases are now shooting through the roof, all rode the reopening bandwagon for months. They pounded their chests on their Facebook pages about their “patriotism,” attended rallies in support of gun-toting Neo-Nazi militias, and brought frivolous lawsuits to force businesses to reopen. In most Republican-led states (and some Democratic-run ones as well), the GOP’s blind push—and often violent agitation—to force accelerated reopenings caused several states to issue blanket, credulous edicts to reopen long before it was safe to do so. In states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where they did not control the governor’s mansion, GOP-controlled legislatures introduced articles of impeachment to try to force their states to reopen, or petitioned like-minded judges to overrule the lockdown measures.
In less than a week since those new job numbers were released, instead of a nation “roaring back,” we are now witnessing an embarrassing and hasty Republican retreat from everything they and Trump assured us of with such certainty. Meanwhile, as Reich painstakingly points out, the pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere in the last four months. It still hangs around, strong as ever, like a voracious beast, ready to devour anyone foolish enough to try to defy it.
Now, Reich explains, all of those efforts are proving to be disastrous.
Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, initially refused to order masks and even barred local officials from doing so. This week he closed all gyms, bars and movie theaters in the state. The governors of Florida, Texas and California have also reimposed restrictions. Officials in Florida’s Miami-Dade county recently approved the reopening of movie theaters, arcades, casinos, concert halls, bowling halls and adult entertainment venues. They have now re-closed them.
And so on across America. A vast re-closing is under way, as haphazard as was the reopening. In the biggest public health emergency in US history, in which nearly 130,000 have already lost their lives, still no one is in charge.
You’d think some Republicans would have the decency to apologize. But none have as of this writing. Meanwhile, as a result of Republican dithering and inaction, millions of Americans are now finding themselves teetering on the edge of a financial abyss thanks to the complete lack of a coherent national response to this crisis by this president, and thanks to the Republican officials at all levels who abetted him. Reich plainly lays out what is coming in the next few weeks, all Republican “magical thinking” and fantasy-spinning to the contrary.
Brace yourself. Not only will the virus take many more lives in the months ahead, but millions of Americans are in danger of becoming destitute. Extra unemployment benefits enacted by Congress in March are set to end on 31 July. About one in five people in renter households are at risk of eviction by 30 September. Delinquency rates on mortgages have more than doubled since March.
An estimated 25 million Americans have lost or will lose employer-provided health insurance. America’s fragile childcare system is in danger of collapse, with the result that hundreds of thousands of working parents will not be able to return to work even if jobs are available.
The GOP-controlled U.S. Senate has all but abandoned the field in this pandemic, blocking attempts by Democratic lawmakers in the House to provide additional emergency aid to suffering Americans, and instead going on vacation throughout the entire month of June. In this conscious act of cowardice, they deliberately left Americans to their fate. Sen. Mitch McConnell and his colleagues have long since exhausted their quiver of phony, supply-side, “market-based” solutions and are now willingly leaving millions to be crushed by an ongoing economic catastrophe that is only now beginning to reveal its full ferocity.
As the true, stunning magnitude of this crisis finally hits home for Americans, the Republican Party will be offering no solutions—because they have none. Helping Americans in a crisis like this is not in their playbook, and they have no point of reference even if they had the inclination to do anything. In the end, they will be only too happy to scamper away to whatever gated communities continue to offer them shelter, muttering their worthless platitudes as Americans collapse into economic hardship, hunger, and in many cases, homelessness.
By late summer, all people of voting age in this country are going to be forced to make brutal, existential decisions about their futures and those of their families, and none of Trump’s hysterical babbling about Confederate statues or other race-baiting dogwhistles is going to make one whit of difference. This crisis is about to go into overdrive, far beyond any Republican attempts to “wish it away.” Millions of peoples’ lives are about to come alive with a fierce urgency that may well consign the Republican Party to the sorry trash bin of history, as Americans realize just how badly they’ve been screwed and lied to.