March 25, 2020

The news as I write tonight at 11:50 pm is that the Senate has just passed the biggest relief and stimulus bill in U.S. history. The bill dedicates $2.2 trillion dollars to set up loan programs for struggling businesses, reinforce unemployment insurance, shore up hospitals, and make payments to Americans suffering in the economic downturn. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, which is not currently in session, making its passage somewhat complicated but still likely.

On the strength of the looming passage of the bill, the stock market rose for a second day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up 495 points, or slightly more than 2%.

Infections and deaths from coronavirus continue to rise as well. Shortly after midnight on March 25, the United States had more than 69,000 cases and at least 1000 deaths. New York has emerged as the current center of the disease, with 30,811 infections and 285 deaths, but other areas are expecting their numbers to climb quickly. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, warned about mass death as the numbers there rise to 662 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 11 deaths. He says the city will be shut down for at least two months.

Nonetheless, some Republicans insist that the cure of trying to stop the spread of the illness by shutting down society is worse than the disease. Today Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi, who has been lambasted for insufficiently responding to the crisis as Mississippi’s cases of coronavirus have started to spike, issued an executive order that he claimed would create new restrictions to combat the spread of the virus, but it exempted retail shopping, media, trash collection, education, construction, accounting services, churches, restaurants with 10 or fewer diners at a time, and so on. (Unsure if this order overrides their own stronger rules, many leaders of towns and cities in Mississippi that have taken stronger measures have chosen to keep their own rules in place.)

Reeves did, however, join Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Republican state attorney general of Ohio to order that any abortions in their states that were not medically necessary to save the life or health of the mother were “non-essential” medical procedures and thus should not proceed during the crisis.

Trump is using his daily briefings on the coronavirus in place of his rallies, and media channels are trying to figure out how both to cover the briefings and to avoid spreading disinformation that will hurt Americans’ ability to respond to the crisis. It is clear Trump is relishing the constant television coverage, and is using it to advance his reelection campaign. In the process, he is playing fast and loose with the truth. Media channels are aware that Trump got scads of free press coverage by engaging in shocking behavior, and are trying to cover the news without repeating that mistake. Today an NPR station in Seattle announced that it will no longer cover his briefings because they disseminate misleading or false information. On Monday, CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing after an hour, saying that “the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.” Deputy White House Press Secretary Judd Deere said their decision was “disgraceful.”

Increasingly, the reality is that Trump is outside the real action in the fighting against the pandemic. As the federal government has dropped the ball, state governors and local leaders have stepped in. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who leads the National Governors Association, dismissed out of hand the idea of ending the national lockdown by Easter, as Trump has suggested, and Republican and Democratic governors both have prioritized public health over the national economy.

Similarly, Trump played little if any role in drafting and passing the stimulus packages, leaving the largest stimulus bill in history in the hands of Congress and his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, while he tweeted (incorrectly) that “the United States has done far more ‘testing’ than any other nation, by far!” and that the “LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”

The country is reordering itself as we hunker down for this crisis. Already our work habits, our social habits, our shopping habits, and our personal lives have been knocked into new grooves. It is a mistake, I think, to imagine that when we finally get a handle on this disease, America will go back to what it was before coronavirus. Observers cannot help but note that such profound dislocation presents a perfect opening for an authoritarian power grab. The Department of Justice’s recent attempt to get Congress to pass legislation permitting the arrest and detention of defendants at will during a time of emergency is a troubling step in that direction. (I thought the DOJ story might well be untrue and said so when I wrote about it; I was wrong, it is true.) During past crises, a number of Americans have welcomed such authoritarianism, hoping to ditch the slow messiness of democracy in favor of quick, strong fixes. Notably, during the Depression, fascism didn’t strike everyone as a bad idea.

But while it is imperative for citizens of a democracy to watch for and resist the rise of such authoritarian power during a crisis, these times are also open for a redefinition of the nation, not only of our government, but also of how we live. We are learning that many of us can work from home—how will that change our urban and rural spaces? We are learning that our lives depend on a strong government response to pandemics and economic dislocation—how will that change our government? We are learning that our families and friends are even more important than even we knew—how will that change our priorities?

The questions raised by this life-changing crisis are open… and so, suddenly, is America’s future.

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Notes:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/25/trump-senate-coronavirus-economic-stimulus-2-trillion/#comments-wrapper

stock market: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/stock-market-news-live-updates-march-25-2020-221501559.html

cases: https://www.whio.com/news/national/coronavirus-live-updates-records-deadliest-day-total-cases-top-000-deaths-reach-000/LHmAKdZK1owUkM69Dc8SOP/

Los Angeles: https://www.businessinsider.com/covid-19-los-angeles-to-shelter-in-place-for-months-2020-3

Tate Reeves: https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2020/03/25/mississippi-coronavirus-whats-covered-tate-reeves-executive-order/5081522002/

https://mississippitoday.org/2020/03/25/mayors-scramble-to-know-does-gov-reeves-coronavirus-declaration-clash-with-local-orders/

https://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2020/mar/23/governor-rejects-state-lockdown-covid-19-mississip/

abortion: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/mississippi/articles/2020-03-24/mississippi-sets-more-limits-amid-virus-no-stay-home-order

Trump coverage: https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/seattle-npr-station-says-no-171848492.html

https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/3/25/21193121/coronavirus-trump-tv-approval-ratings

Trump takes a back seat: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/25/nation-comes-together-without-trump/

Authoritarians: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/when-disease-comes-leaders-grab-more-power/608560/

DOJ: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/trump-coronavirus-habeas-corpus/