We are Being Held Hostage to Unfettered Capitalism: not to Trump, Racism, the Chinese or COVID-19

As the US continues to be ravaged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the country remains in lockdown, a morbid irony of which is that we appear to have traded COVID-19 deaths for suicides. The catastrophe has laid bare the cruelties of neoliberalism, yet this has not stopped the media from unleashing a barrage of misinformation, blaming the disaster on the president, racism, and the Chinese, interspersed with other creative attempts at scapegoating. Indeed, the pandemic appears to have coincided with a peculiar outbreak of epidemiologic hallucinations.

Many have been happy to blame the president for the country’s disastrous coronavirus response. In a Common Dreams article titled “As Nation Mourns 100,000 Dead, Trump Goes Golfing,” the authors write, “President Donald J. Trump, who has faced mounting criticism for his administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and his lack of empathy throughout, decided to leave the White House on Saturday to play golf.” “Trump going golfing shows a tone-deafness and a lack of empathy,” the authors chide.

A Common Dreams article by Julia Conley blames Trump for Americans that refuse to wear masks, referring to these miscreants as “Trumpian anti-mask jerks.” “This Is Trump’s Fault: The President is Failing, and Americans are Paying for his Failures,” which appeared in The Atlantic, pushes a similar faux-left argument. In an article that appeared in Mother Jones titled “Trump’s 100 Days of Deadly Coronavirus Denial,” the authors write that “The severity of the moment has often escaped the president, who seems intent on solving the crisis with spin and bluster—along with a healthy dose of magical thinking and buck-passing.” Riding this wave of philistinism, Michael D. Shear and Donald G. McNeil Jr. write for The New York Times:

For weeks, President Trump has faced relentless criticism for having overseen a slow and ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic, failing to quickly embrace public health measures that could have prevented the disease from spreading.

Recent polls show that more Americans disapprove of Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus than approve.

It is true that the president has failed to be transparent regarding the lack of testing, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE). He has also repeatedly, and without scientific evidence, promoted hydroxychloroquine, which he even claims to be taking himself. Yet the president’s lexical inanities cannot alter the fact that the American health care system is not run by the White House at all, but by corporations which have long placed profit-making over all other considerations.

While lampooning the 45th president may fill liberals with a perverse sense of schadenfreude, the fact is that the present health care system is precisely the very system that Trump inherited from his predecessor. In fact, this is the same diabolical system we have had for over thirty years.

When not blaming The Orange One, China has also served as a convenient scapegoat. Writing for SILive.com, Tom Wrobleski posits in “Here’s who to Blame for Coronavirus: Communist China,” that “A leaked report from the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance – consisting of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand – lays out in damning detail how the Chinese downplayed the outbreak from the very beginning, according to multiple media reports.”

The New York Post, a China-bashing aficionado, informs us in “China Admits to Destroying Coronavirus Samples, Insists it was for Safety,” that “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has charged that Beijing refused to provide virus samples taken from patients when the pandemic began in China in late 2019, and that Chinese authorities had destroyed early samples.” An article on CNN.com titled “US Government Report Assesses China Intentionally Concealed Severity of Coronavirus” further promotes this preposterous narrative. Not one to be outblustered or to shy away from scapegoating, Trump himself has attempted to lay the blame on both Beijing and the World Health Organization (WHO).

There is undoubtedly some truth to the claim that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been particularly hard-hit by the virus. (The Seattle Indian Health Board requested COVID-19 tests, and were sent body bags instead). And yet identity politics demagoguery is being used as a means to divert attention away from the fact that a health care system which allows people to die because they cannot afford their insulin will inevitably be ill-equipped to contain a pandemic.

Already, there have been efforts made to profit off of the catastrophe, as evidenced by the rash attempt to promote not only hydroxychloroquine, but also remdesivir, another drug which is being hailed as a savior yet which has likewise been inadequately tested.

The financial barriers that go hand in hand with obtaining medical care in a for-profit system can only facilitate the spread of the virus. Writing for The Nation, Augie Lindmark, MD, writes:

Long before SARS-CoV-2 dominated news cycles and hospitals alike, there were already established epidemics in US health care: namely, medical bills and uncertainty. In 2019, a third of US adults reported that their families couldn’t afford health care and 44 percent endorsed skipping a doctor’s visit because of cost. Medication affordability wasn’t much better: 29 percent of adults reported not taking a medication as prescribed because of cost.

Enter Covid-19. You could almost hear the virus salivate.

Indeed, prior to the pandemic there were Americans that were unable to get a divorce, get married, quit their job, or even work, out of a legitimate fear of losing their insurance. Insufficient and inadequate PPE will continue to endanger the lives of frontline health care workers and their families, as well as the lives of non-COVID patients that require emergent care. Furthermore, as Dr. Ashish Jha, Dr. Leana Wen, and others have noted, a lack of testing makes reopening the economy a particularly hazardous endeavor.

Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea have largely been able to keep their economies open due to comprehensive testing, widespread temperature checks, contact tracing, and universal coverage; while the Danish government implemented a scheme ensuring that most of its workforce would continue to be paid in the event that they were forced to stop working as a result of the quarantine. Commenting on the draconian lockdown measures implemented in a number of Western countries, Yoram Lass, former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Health, said in an interview with spiked: “In developed countries many will die from unemployment. Unemployment is mortality. More people will die from the measures than from the virus.”

It is incontrovertible that the lack of hospitals, ventilators, respirators, testing, and contact tracing, are the spawn of an oligarchy which continues to sabotage the implementation of a nationalized single-payer model. Moreover, this is the same health care system that relentlessly pushes profitable yet ethically dubious treatments, such as staggering amounts of opioids and psychotropic drugs, Vioxx, and unnecessary surgeries. With an official death toll hovering around 100,000, the US has been the country most ravaged by the virus, a testament to a health care system whose avarice is insatiable, and which is indifferent to human life.

The question is, will any lessons be learned from this conflagration of misery and despair?

David Penner has taught English and ESL within the City University of New York and at Fordham. His articles on politics and health care have appeared in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Dr. Linda and KevinMD; while his poetry has been published with Dissident Voice. Also a photographer, he is the author of three books: Faces of Manhattan Island, Faces of The New Economy, and Manhattan Pairs. He can be reached at: 321davidadam@gmail. Read other articles by David.