Pandemic Journal (#23): Different Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic 

Previous posts have reported that  according to Fareed Zakaria, Peggy Noonan and Ross Douthat, two classes of U.S. society have different opinions about how the U.S. should respond to the coronavirus pandemic: the Managerial Overclass or the Remote Class favors maintaining the lockdown until the virus has been controlled while the Underclass or the Exposed Class favors abandoning those policies and reopening as soon as soon as possible.[1]

Another New York Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg, disagrees. She believes that the conflict over policies regarding the pandemic are better explained by political party affiliations.[2]

Her dissent cites a recent public opinion poll in which “74 percent of respondents agreed that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Agreement was slightly higher — 79 percent — among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed.”[3]

Another basis for her opinion was research at the University of Chicago that found that “when it comes to judging policies on the coronavirus, ‘politics is the overwhelming force dividing Americans,’ and that ‘how households have been economically impacted by the Covid crisis so far’ plays only a minimal role.”[4]

More specifically, the Chicago survey showed that roughly 77 percent of Democrats favored lockdown measures remaining in place as long as needed compared with roughly 45 percent of Republicans. On the other hand, roughly 30 percent of the Republicans wanted such measures to remain no longer than a few more weeks versus roughly 4 parent of Democrats. The report adds, “the data reveals no strong association between having lost income due to COVID-19, or fear of losing one’s job, and views about the right length of the lockdown. Among survey respondents, 41 percent indicate having been negatively impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, all else being equal, these respondents were not more likely to favor a quick reopening.”

Goldberg also says, “Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump’s base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.”

On the other hand, “The push for a faster reopening, even in places where coronavirus cases are growing, has significant elite support. And many of those who face exposure as they’re ordered back to work are rightly angry and terrified.”

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[1] Pandemic Journal (# 19): Class Conflicts in Responses to Pandemic (May 15, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic (May 16, 2020); Comment: Endorsement of Pandemic Pragmatists (May 16, 2020).

[2]  Goldberg, The Phony Coronavirus Class War, N.Y. Times (May 18, 2020).

[3] Washington Post-Ipsos coronavirus employment survey, May 4, Wash. Post (May 20, 2020).

[4]  Bertrand, Briscese, Grignani & Nassar, Wave 2: When and How the U.S. Should Reopen Is a Matter of Politics, Trust in Institutions and Media, Survey Says, ChicagoBooth.edu (May 5, 2020).

 

A Conservative’s Critique of Trump  

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, writes a most damning critique of Donald Trump as president.[1]

The coronavirus pandemic, Douthat says, provided Trump with the opportunity to consolidate political power. “Here was a foreign threat, an invisible enemy that required a robust government response, a danger that arguably vindicated certain nationalist and populist ideas, a situation in which the normal rules of politics could be suspended for public safety’s sake.” This “was exactly the scenario that people alarmed by his ascent most feared — a case of History granting a president temperamentally inclined to authoritarianism a genuine state of exception in which to enact his fantasies of one-man rule.”

“But Trump didn’t want the gift. It’s not just that our president was too ineffective to consolidate power, that any potential authoritarianism was undermined by his administration’s incompetence. . . . Trump clearly lacks both the facility and the interest level required to find opportunity in crisis. In this case, . . . he showed no sense of the pandemic as anything save an inconvenience to be ignored, a problem to be wished away, an impediment to his lifestyle of golf and tweets and occasional stream-of-consciousness stemwinders. And when reality made ignoring it impossible, his only genuinely political impulse — the only impulse that related to real power and its uses — was to push the crucial forms of responsibility down a level, to the nation’s governors, and wash his presidential hands.”

“In this the coronavirus has clarified, once and for all, the distinctiveness of Trump’s demagogy. Great men and bad men alike seek attention as a means of getting power, but our president is interested in power only as a means of getting attention. Which is why, tellingly, his most important virus-related power grab to date has been the airtime grab of his daily news conferences — a temporary coup against the cable television schedule, a ruthless imposition (at least until the reviews turned bad) of presidential reality TV.”

The more important aspects of his character are a “fear of claiming any power that might lead to responsibility and someday blame, a showman’s preference for performance over rule, a media addict’s preference for bluster over deeds.”

The “great crisis of his presidency has revealed the vast gulf that separates him . . . from almost every statesman ever considered uniquely dangerous or uniquely skilled.”

“In the fourth year of this presidency the black comedy has finally given way to tragedy. But not because Trump suddenly discovered how to use his authority for dictatorial or democracy-defying purpose. Rather, because in this dark spring America needed a president capable of exercising power and found that it had only a television star, a shirker and a clown.”

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[1] Douthat, Donald Trump Doesn’t Want Authority, N.Y. Times (May 19, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920

Several; other references to the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918-20 have surfaced that remind me of my original post on that horrendous event.

First, Jill Burcum, an editorial writer for the StarTribune, tells us that this prior pandemic was called, in a well-known journal article at the time, as “The Mother of All Pandemics” with an estimated one-third of the world’s population infected and estimated deaths of 50 to 100 million, that it came “in three waves—the spring of 2018, the fall of that year, and then again in the winter of 2019” and that “healthy adults ages 20-40 were particularly at risk of severe disease and death.” She also mentions that in Iowa, her home state, the flu was resurging in October-November 2018, and especially “hard-hit is Camp Dodge, a military training center near Des Moines.” [1]

Burcum then made her research more personal by doing digital research of newspapers for the period in her father’s county in Iowa (Butler County in the north central part of the state) to see how it coped with the Great Flu Epidemic. She discovered to her surprise that her Great-Grandfather George, then a 27-year-old farmer, married with two young boys, became critically ill in December 2018 with what the newspaper said was “pneumonia,” but that the next month was recovering after being critically ill for three weeks. Thereafter he continued farming and with his wife had two more children. Over 40 years ago, Burchum as a young girl knew Great-Grandfather George, “then gray-haired and in failing health,” and would love to have asked him how he endured this, but she was too young to have such a conversation before he died.

This personal discovery, Burcum says, is “a warning about prematurely letting down our collective guard against infectious diseases. Pathogens can go quiet for a few months after an early strike, then come roaring back.”

The second recent mention of the Great Flu Pandemic is an article in The New York Times by David Segal. After noting the above statistics of the Great flu with 675,000 American deaths, Segal reports that “after the slaughter ended, and for decades after, the pandemic somehow vanished from the public imagination. With rare exceptions, it didn’t crop up in novels, paintings, plays or movies. Even scholars overlooked the subject. The first major account of the flu, Epidemic and Peace — later reissued as America’s Forgotten Pandemic — was published in 1976 by Alfred Crosby, who was baffled by the absence of any impression left by the disaster.”[2]

Historians, according to Segal, “say the pandemic sank into oblivion largely because of World War I, the very cataclysm that hastened the spread of the virus, via millions of moving troops. The war and its aftermath overshadowed the disease, too. For the Allies, there was a victory to celebrate, in November 1918, and triumphalism was the mood of the era.” Even then President Woodrow Wilson, “eager to focus on and sustain the war effort . . .  rarely mentioned the virus, even though he nearly died of it [in 1919] during negotiations in France” of what became the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I.

In addition, Segal claims, ignoring the Great Flu Pandemic could be attirbuted to the widespread belief that “dying from flu was considered unmanly.” According to Catharine  Arnold in her book Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts From the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History, “To die in a firefight . . .reflected well on your family. But to die in a hospital bed, turning blue, puking, beset by diarrhea — that was difficult for loved ones to accept. There was a mass decision to forget.”

Yet another reason for amnesia about the Great Flu, said Segal, was “by 1920, isolationism had regained its prewar popularity, and the flu was regarded as just another malignant foreign force, both in the United States and elsewhere.”

Apparently the only U.S. memorial for the Great Flu is a “five-ton granite bench . . .five feet high and three feet deep in a cemetery in Barre, Vermont.

Third, an article entitled, “Pandemic Notebook,” in the New York Times Book Review, mainly discusses contemporary New York City with passing references to fiction and nonfiction books, old movies and TV series about past plagues and mishaps. Its only reference to the Great Flu is the following: “The main lesson of the 1918 flu pandemic (which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide), the historian John M. Barry wrote in The Great Influenzais that ‘those in authority must retain the public’s trust’ and ‘the way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.’”[3]

Conclusion

John M. BarryAs mentioned in this blog’s Pandemic Journal (# 3), my Father as a high school senior and Army trainee at Iowa’s Camp Dodge in 1917-18 lived through the Great Flu pandemic as did my younger Mother, but I never heard about their experiences of living through that pandemic. Therefore, I have concluded to write about my living through the coronavirus pandemic for my own edification and for that of my relatives and descendants.I encourage others to do likewise.

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[1]  Burcum, My great-grandfather wasn/t hit by the first wave of the ‘Spanish flu,’ but the second, StarTribune (May 15, 2020).

[2]  Segal, A Pandemic Barely Etched in Granite Memorials, N.Y. Times–Sunday Business (May 17, 2020).

[3] Kakutani, Pandemic Notebook: Finding Solace and Connection, in Classic Books,  New York Times-Book Review (May17, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic         

Pandemic Journal # 19 set forth Fareed Zakaria’s analysis of the U.S. class conflict over responses to the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis is shared by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.[1]

Stephens’ terms for the two classes are “Remote”  and “Exposed.” “The Remote are, disproportionately, knowledge workers, mostly well educated, generally well paid. Their professional networks, and many of their personal ones, too, are with people who also work remotely” or roughly 37 percent of American workers. The other two-thirds, the Exposed, “include everyone — shop owner, waiter, cabdriver, sales associate, factory worker, nanny, flight attendant, and so on — for whom physical presence is a job requirement. They are, typically, less well educated, less well paid.”

“For the Remote, the lockdowns of the past two months have been stressful. For the Exposed, they have been catastrophic. For the Remote, another few weeks of lockdown is an irritant. For the Exposed, whose jobs are disappearing by the millions every week, it is a terror. For the Remote, Covid-19 is the grave new risk. For the exposed, it’s one of several. For the Remote, an image on the news of cars forming long lines at food banks is disconcerting. For the Exposed, that image is — or may very soon be — the rear bumper in front of you.”

Says Stephens, “The 2020 election will hinge on who decisively wins the vote of the Exposed.” Although the Democrats’ emphasis on containing the virus seems to have more support than the “open up” strategy, Stephens expresses some skepticism. One  assumption of the containment argument is “that Covid-19 is containable and will eventually be curable. If it isn’t, what are the lockdowns really achieving, other than delaying the march toward herd immunity while imposing ruinous costs on those least able to afford them?” Another assumption of the containment argument is “that the lockdowns are the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma. But what if they’re really a form of politically induced necrosis, killing jobs and businesses that will never come back?” The third assumption of the containment strategy is “that the balance of public sympathy will rest with the comparatively small numbers of acute Covid-19 sufferers. But what happens when their numbers are dwarfed by those suffering from awful personal hardship?”

Yes, many Democrats believe that they will win the November election because of “Trump’s catastrophic failures in managing the crisis. But Trump’s political stock-in-trade is resentment, above all toward those who mistake their good luck for superior merit, or confuse virtue signaling with wise policy, or who impose policies on others without fully feeling the effects themselves.”

Stephens finds this analysis presciently discussed in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, who  “made the distinction between two classes of people: the ‘protected’ — that is, the well-off, the connected, the comfortably insulated — and the ‘unprotected’ — everyone else.” She added, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.” This larger point, said Stephens, was that Trump was going to win the 2016 election, which was “unfathomable to so many people at the time (including me).” [2]

Conclusion

I am a Democrat who fervently wants Trump to lose the November election. Yet, Stephens, Zakaria and Noonan make persuasive points that need to influence Democratic strategy in the upcoming election.

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[1] Stephens, In this Election, It’s the Remote Against the Exposed, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Noonan, Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected, W.S.J. (Feb. 25, 2016).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 20): Oprah Winfrey’s Challenge to the Pandemic Classes of 2020   

On May 15, Oprah Winfrey gave an inspiring online commencement address to all graduating high school and college members of the classes of 2020, the pandemic classes. Here is what she said.[1]

“[N]ever has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion, and energy and hope.”

“Every one of us is now being called to graduate, to step toward something, even though we don’t know what. Every one of us is likewise now being called to temper the parts of ourselves that must fall away, to refine who we are, how we define success and what is genuinely meaningful. And you, the real graduates on this day, you will lead us.”

“It’s vital that you learn, and we all learn, to be at peace with the discomfort of stepping into the unknown. It’s really OK to not have all the answers. The answers will come for sure, if you can accept not knowing long enough to get still and stay still long enough for new thoughts to take root in your more quiet, deeper, truer self. The noise of the world drowns out the sound of you. You have to get still to listen.”

“Can you, the class of 2020, show us not how to put the pieces back together again, but how to create a new and more evolved normal, a world more just, kind, beautiful, tender, luminous, creative, whole? We need you to do this, because the pandemic has illuminated the vast systemic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long. For poor communities without adequate access to health care, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For immigrant communities forced to hide in the shadows, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For incarcerated people, with no ability to social distance, inequality is a pre-existing condition. For every person burdened by bias and bigotry, for every black man and woman living in their American skin, fearful to even go for a jog, inequality is a pre-existing condition.”

“You have the power to stand for, to fight for, and vote for healthier conditions that will create a healthier society. This moment is your invitation to use your education to begin to heal our afflictions by applying the best of what you’ve learned in your head, and felt in your heart. This moment has shown us what Dr. King tried to tell us. Decades ago, he understood that ‘we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.’”

“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. If humanity is a global body, every soul is a cell in that body, and we are being challenged like never before to keep the global body healthy by keeping ourselves healthy in mind and body and spirit. As all the traditions affirm, the deepest self-care is at once caring for the human family.”

We “see this so clearly with essential workers. Look who turns out to be essential: teachers — your teachers, health care workers, of course, the people stocking grocery shelves, the cashiers, the truck drivers, food providers, those who are caring for your grandparents, those who clean the places where we work and shop and carry out our daily lives. We are all here because they, at great and profound risk, are still providing their essential service.”

“What will your essential service be? What really matters to you? The fact that you’re alive means you’ve been given a reprieve to think deeply about that question. How will you use what matters in service to yourself, your community and the world?”

Comments

I concur that “the pandemic has illuminated the vast systemic inequities that have defined life for too many for too long.”

It also has illuminated the many antiquated aspects of the American government that need to be eliminated or substantially reformed—the Electoral College, the U.S. Senate in which every state has two senators regardless of population, the Senate’s filibuster rule, the needlessly complex structure for voting that allows some states to suppress voting by minorities or citizens who favor the other political party from those in charge. The more specific need this year is prevent the re-election of Donald Trump and any attempt by him and his allies to subvert the election.

So too there are many aspects of the American economy that need to be substantially reformed, such as the immense differences in compensation of corporate CEO’s and the essential hourly employees. For example, the CEO of Target Corporation had total compensation of $21.6 million for fiscal 2019-20 while “essential” employees in its stores in April 2019 had their hourly wage boosted to $13 with the goal of reaching $15 by the end of 2020 and on March 22, 2020, were advised that they would receive an additional $2 per hour through at least May 2. [2]

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[1] Winfrey, Virtual Commencement Address, Facebook (May 15, 2020); Bogei-Burroughs, Oprah to Class of 2020: ‘What Will Your Essential Service Be?’, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Kennedy, CEO Pay Watch: Target’s Brian Cornell made $21.6 million last fiscal year, StarTribune (April 23, 2020); Reagan, Target raises its minimum wage to $13 per hour, with goal of reaching $15 by end of 2020, CNBC (April 4, 2019); Wilson, Target gives raises, bonuses to employees during coronavirus pandemic, WTHR 13 (Mar. 24, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 19): Class Conflict in Responses to Coronavirus Pandemic       

Fareed Zakaria, a noted political commentator, sees class conflict in different responses to the coronavirus pandemic.[1]

He starts by noting that today many “wonder why partisanship has become so strong in the United States that people will not listen to experts, even at the risk of their own health.” This observation, however, obscures a broader distrust.

That broader distrust, says Zakaria, is illuminated by a book, The New Class War, by Michael Lind, an author and professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of PUblic Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the U.S. today, according to Lind, there is an “overclass” that dominates “government, the economy, and the culture.” The members of this overclass “tend to be urban, college-educated professionals, often with a postgraduate degree. That makes them quite distinct from much of the rest of the country. Only 36 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree, and only 13 percent have a master’s or more. And yet, the top echelons everywhere are filled with this ‘credentialed overclass.’”

“For many non-college-educated people, especially those living in rural areas, there is a deep alienation from this new elite. They see the overclass as enacting policies that are presented as good for the whole country but really mostly benefit people from the ruling class, whose lives have gotten better over the past few decades while the rest are left behind. In this view, trade and immigration help college-educated professionals who work for multinational companies but hurt blue-collar workers. So when they hear from ‘experts’ about the inevitability of globalization and technological change and the need to accept it, they resist. It does not resonate with their lived experience.”

This especially is true now during the pandemic, writes Zakaria. ‘Imagine you are an American who works with his hands — a truck driver, a construction worker, an oil rig mechanic — and you have just lost your job because of the lockdowns, as have more than 36 million people. You turn on the television and hear medical experts, academics, technocrats and journalists explain that we must keep the economy closed — in other words, keep you unemployed — because public health is important. All these people making the case have jobs, have maintained their standards of living and in fact are now in greater demand. They feel as though they are doing important work. You, on the other hand, have lost your job. You feel a sense of worthlessness, and you’re terrified about your family’s day-to-day survival. Is it so hard to understand why people like this might be skeptical of the experts?”

This class divide is also seen in the differing “job flexibilities” of U.S. employees. “Of the top 25 percent of income earners, more than 60 percent can stay home and still do their jobs. Of the bottom 25 percent, fewer than 10 percent can do the same.” The latter know that “it is a luxury to be able to work from home.”

Therefore, Zakaria concludes “we need to hear many voices as we make these difficult decisions [about responding to the pandemic], and that those making the decisions need to have empathy for all Americans — those whose lives are at risk, but also those whose lives have been turned upside down in other ways by this horrible disease.”

Conclusion

The Michael Lind book was also cited before the pandemic by Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist, as seeing the current polarization as “the consolidation of economic power by a ‘managerial’ upper class’” and the resulting weakening of “any institution — from churches and families to union shops and local industries — that might grant real power to groups outside the gilded city, the Silicon Valley bubble, the Ivy League gate.” This phenomenon coupled with libertarianism of Regan and Thatcher promoted “economic and social permissiveness . . . [and] a new class divide, between thriving meritocratic hubs and a declining and demoralized heartland, . . . [that] explains both the frequency of populist irruptions and their consistent futility.”[2]

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[1]  Zakaria, Experts have jobs. They need to understand those who don’t, Wash. Post (May 14, 2020).

[2] Douthat, The Many Polarizations of America, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2020);  Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 15, 2020).