Post-Pandemic America: Prelude To Socialism Or Fascism?
Above photo: A New York Police officer stands guard in an almost empty Times Square during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., March 31, 2020.
May 8 marks the 75th anniversary of the defeat of fascism in Europe, a historic victory over modern despotism that catapulted American capitalism to world domination by default. As the only combatant country with its cities and infrastructure left intact, the United States emerged from this colossal bloodbath as the single most potent economy on earth. Europe, especially Germany, lay in utter ruins and tens of millions, half of them civilians, lay in early graves. By contrast, the US economy flourished adding some 11 million jobs within the seven years following the war; the minimum wage increased; the poverty rate fell; farm incomes, dividends and corporate profits hit all-time highs; and bank failures along with unemployment had all but disappeared. American capitalism entered a Golden Age.
Fast forward to 2020, and suddenly everything has changed with the explosive advent of another worldwide war, an unprecedented and unforeseen one against an invisible enemy wreaking havoc upon the health and welfare of nearly every nation on earth, especially the USA. The tables have turned, irrevocably. No nation has been hit harder by this insidious invasive enemy than America; and none has suffered more from gross government malfunction and dire social dysfunction. The glittering structure built by American capital since its brief golden age exposed itself in this pandemic to be a top- heavy house of cards on the verge of collapse. What follows the coming collapse is open to debate. Objective forces favor socialism, but subjective ones point toward fascism.
The US economy suddenly hit a solid brick wall this fateful year bringing large sectors to a virtual standstill and driving countless small businesses into bankruptcy. The GDP fell by nearly 5% in the first quarter and is conservatively estimated to minimally shrink at annual rate of 30%, a disastrous decline not experienced since the Great Depression. As of early May, well over 30 million American workers have applied for unemployment insurance, and overwhelmed agencies are hard-pressed to deliver the desperately needed relief on time. Millions more, those either ineligible for such temporary survival compensation or blocked from applying, are also jobless and face destitution. The official unemployment rate, a gross underestimate of actual joblessness, stands at 17% and will likely skyrocket to well over 30% by summer, exceeding Great Depression levels. Loss of a job translates into loss of health insurance for millions of Americans who are now only one medical problem away from family bankruptcy. Soup lines common during the Great Depression now increasingly appear as miles-long stretches of cars lined up for emergency food supplies.
Whatever safety net there once was to absorb such economic shocks, inhumane concentration of wealth without work and politics without principle, both grave social sins, evaporated it. After some 50 years of steadily increasing class inequality, the richest 400 Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us; the 5% at the top of our grossly stratified society own 66% of the nation’s wealth, while nearly 70% of US adults have less than $1,000 in savings and 20% have more credit-card debt than emergency savings; over 16 million Americans have negative net worth and one in four African-American families have zero net wealth. Such obscene concentrations of wealth and glaring gaps of inequality have not been experienced since 1928, right before the Great Depression.
Rather than enhance assistance to victims of this drastic decline, the Trump regime proposed massive cuts to America’s meager welfare programs – SNAP, TANF and WIC – which help keep millions of impoverished citizens from utter destitution. However, when it comes to corporate welfare, the flood gates of public funds are thrown wide open. The recently enacted CARES legislation is a thinly disguised gargantuan gift to America’s super-rich; some $500 billion in so-called loans are simply given to America’s largest corporations with no meaningful oversight or accountability. Because of a tax loophole an additional $1.2 million goes, on average, to 43,000 millionaires each, while struggling Americans may receive a one-time $1200 check. That generous gift to the super-rich comes on top of the $1 trillion generated for them by the 2017 statutory corporate tax rate cut and largely deposited in lucrative stock buybacks. Even during this pandemic billionaire wealth increased by nearly 10% and continues to do so.
At the other end of this unsustainable and unstable pyramid of parasitism are 150 million Americans living from paycheck to paycheck and 40 million officially poor Americans living day from day. An astounding 52% of US children are impoverished or low-income and 11 million children live in food insecure households; 50% of renters spend one-third of their modest income on housing; and some 49 million families carry a collective debt of $1.5 trillion in student loans. The richest country on earth harbors highly volatile levels of toxic financial insecurity on a pandemic trajectory toward eruption.
These objective conditions of unprecedented inequality and insecurity have generated subjective conditions of unprecedented mass frustration increasingly giving rise to displaced aggression, scapegoating directed against the victims not victimizers of the crisis. Every economic decline is coupled with a rise in racism to some degree. Yet the looming collapse of our failing capitalist economy carries with it the potential to unleash and empower even more nefarious social forces. Fascism in America is a possibility, thanks to the openly racist Trump regime and mass false consciousness among its rabid base. To prevent this calamity, defeat of Trump this November is necessary, but not sufficient. The social and psychological roots giving rise to his pathetic presidency and sustained popularity despite its abysmal failures need to be addressed. And these run deep within the American psyche and society. Racism, a stepping stone to fascism when unchecked, remains securely at home within the American social fabric, far beyond Trump’s nationalist base. So does its uterine twin, social darwinism. The coronavirus pandemic has stimulated this ideological virus in forms not witnessed since the heyday of the eugenics movement.
Inspired by resurgent social darwinist thought, there is an expanding willingness to let select populations die from the pandemic just so the ailing capitalist economy may be restored to health. According to the barbaric billionaire in the White House, the cure must not be worse than the disease and holding the pandemic death count to 100,000 would be a “great win”; according to one of his cheerleaders in elected office in Texas, grandparents are willing to die to save the economy; according to a popular right-wing pundit, those dying from the pandemic were on their last legs anyway; and another conservative commentator claims everyone is making “actuarial deductions about the costs” in human lives by lifting lockdown orders. Precious little institutional concern is expressed over the rising body count of prisoners, like the 30 year-old Lakota woman who died in federal custody after giving birth while on a ventilator in late April. To accelerate re-opening the country for business, a group of former health officials recently urged Congress to pay infected low-income Americans $50 per day to self- isolate in empty hotel rooms.
Such passive measures in thinning out the herd, a plan straight out of the social darwinist handbook, are slowly and steadily taking their toll in prisons, jails, nursing homes, VA facilities, warehouses, and food-processing plants throughout our troubled land. A more active approach to thinning and targeting certain cohorts manifested itself recently at several state capitals. Angry protestors, many armed with military assault weapons, demanded an immediate end to pandemic containment policies wisely imposed by state governments. Some invaded state capital buildings brandishing their weapons motivating some legislators to wear bullet-proof vests; others vociferously called for select governors to be locked up or even strung up; and among the ubiquitous Trump/Pence flags were occasional swastikas. While not officially a gang of brown shirts, the armed thugs of intimidation at these right-wing rallies, embraced as “good people” by Trump, are their functional equivalent.
Our embattled country is deeply divided and its political polarization grows with each passing day. Yet there is a way out of the current crisis, one decisively declared by a courageous group of American revolutionaries facing another bitter tyranny: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security”. If Americans heed this historic patriotic call to duty during this despotism, then a new America, a socialist one, will eventually emerge from the coming collapse of capitalism. If not, the despotism will intensify diabolically and decay into fascism. The struggle continues, and the fate of a people caught in the belly of a wounded beast hangs in the balance.