Coronavirus and the crises of US capitalism

July 1, 2020
Used with permision from Alan Moir.

The United States is facing a number of interrelated crises: the coronavirus; the economy; institutional racism, including police violence against African Americans; disarray in the Federal government; and climate change.

There is a new upsurge in coronavirus infections, especially in those states that have rushed to reopen their economies. Spikes in new cases are being reported in 36 states as of June 29. The June 28 New York Times headline, “Cases soaring as leadership on virus fails”, summed it up.

The NYT pointed to the “shared sacrifice of millions of Americans” over the past four months, who have suspended their lives ‒ “with jobs lost, businesses shut down, daily routines upended”.

The NYT said the spike in new infections has resulted in a “realisation for many Americans that however much they have yearned for a return to normalcy, their leaders have failed to control the coronavirus pandemic. And there is little clarity on what to do next.”

The NYT accused public health officials of “real hubris” at the start of the pandemic, in claiming that the US could lock down and contain the virus, as China had done. “That futile hope helped create an unrealistic expectation that the shutdown, while intense, would not be for long, and that when it was lifted life would return to normal."

Health and economic crises

“That expectation was reinforced by President [Donald] Trump," said the NYT. Trump has "downplayed the severity of the crisis, refused to wear a mask and began calling for states to reopen, even as the virus was surging”.

As a consequence of “a lack of federal leadership” and “unified approach”, said the NYT, “just as the country needed to stay shut longer, many states with Republican governors took their foot off the brake, and Mr Trump cheered them on”.

Some states with Democratic governors also opened up too soon and too much, and are now seeing spikes ‒ notably California.

The accelerating new upsurge hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from continuing to claim that the virus has been contained. Trump says we are witnessing the “dying embers” of a soon-to-be-extinguished pandemic.

Vice President Mike Pence talked of “remarkable progress” on June 26. He claimed: “We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We saved lives.”

Prize-winning science writer and author Laurie Garrett told DemocracyNow!: “Let’s be clear. This whole situation in the United States is a failure to develop a federal strategy.”

Garrett, who wrote The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health said: “We have no real overarching strategic plan that creates a webbing between the various states, so that we don’t have a situation where states are competing against each other or undercutting one another, as is now the case and has been for months now.”

While the US currently represents about a quarter of reported COVID-19 cases globally, if Brazil, India and Russia are added in they make up “half of the entire global total of this pandemic”, said Garrett.

“That means, unless we control our efforts in our country and those other three, the whole world gets imperiled by reinfection and reinfection and reinfection…

“We have a duty not just to ourselves and to Americans … but to the whole planet, and in particular to countries that don’t have the resources we have, that don’t have the capacity to conquer their own outbreaks, whether they’re desperately poor or they lack an entire infrastructure of health or both.”

Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has become well known for his leadership regarding the virus, testified before Congress on June 30. He warned the situation is “moving in the wrong direction” and said daily new cases, now at about 40,000, could reach 100,000, if the new upsurge is not contained soon.

The US is in the midst of a massive recession from the shutdown caused by the virus. Trump is calling for a complete reopening of the economy, to get it back to what it was before the pandemic, to bolster his election prospects. However, even if that were done, there would be no guarantee the economy would snap back from deep recession immediately, as Trump wants.

The new upsurge of virus infections now excludes that possibility and threatens to make any recovery long and slow, and may even trigger another downturn.

BLM rebellion

The virus began to expose the institutional racism oppressing Blacks and other people of colour, as it became evident that infections and deaths disproportionally affected them. Then, the economic downturn was revealed to also disproportionally hit people of colour the hardest.

A mass upsurge, led by Blacks, which began in response to the police murder of George Floyd, has rapidly become a movement against the whole racist system. It brought the truth home to a wide section of the US population, and is having a deep impact.

Trump’s militaristic and openly racist response to the Black Lives Matter upsurge, and his complete failure to lead a national response to the pandemic, are causing a drop in his popularity.

As a result, Trump is becoming more openly racist. For example, he retweeted a video of a white nationalist screaming at a BLM protester, “white power! white power!” (the post was later removed) to mobilise his hard racist following. He is digging in on his claims that the upcoming election in November will be “rigged” if it goes against him.

The pandemic and the Black-led upsurge are causing further disarray between both capitalist parties and within them. Trump’s hold on the Republicans has begun to fray. The government is paralysed, and cannot get anything meaningful done, except where both parties agree – such as on imperialist policies.

The Supreme Court is legislating with mostly reactionary rulings, but there have been some setbacks for Trump. Chief Justice John Roberts (a George W Bush appointee), fearful of the Court’s reputation (and his own) as just a far right arm of the Republicans, has sided with the “liberal” wing of the Court a few times, including on June 29 when he voted to strike down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana.

The crisis of climate change has receded into the background, even as the burning of fossil fuels by the US and other nations rises. As Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has warned, if this is not reversed soon, there will be dire consequences by 2030, with the end of civilisation a possibility after that.

Climate change and assaults on the environment are related to these other crises. Global warming is disrupting animal habitats. Studies have also shown that continuing destruction of forests and human encroachment on wildlife habitats increase the likelihood of animal to human disease transmission, resulting in pandemics.

What ties these crises together is capitalism and the imperialist interests of the so-called advanced countries. World War I marked the end of any overall progressive role for capitalism. Everything that has happened since further drives that lesson home.

If civilisation (and possibly the human race itself) is to survive, capitalism must be overthrown and a new rational system begun to be built.

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