More originally French than American, the widely known and ecumenically plagiarized phrase, “from each according to ability, to each according to need”, is arguably shared by Marxian socialism and the Christian Bible but not by the U.S. Constitution. This omission helps to illustrate why during the mortally invasive coronavirus pandemic, America’s contradictory culture is capable of widespread noble public service volunteering to defend “the most secure election in its history” while socioeconomically failing so spectacularly to protect its people from each other.
Mathew Arnold’s anticipatory Civil War era poem, “Dover Beach (1851), requalifies as breaking news:
“Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night”.
Beleaguered American cities imperfectly intervene between militarized and racialized post-election opposing sides knifing the nation’s capital in its back. Above in the skies he still controls, an outgoing Commander-in-Chief orchestrates solidarity flyovers in Marine One directing his coup, amplifying his share of promised civic carnage wrought upon a stabbed, gasping for breath, infected, home evicted and starving, wintering people.
Upon confirmation by the Electoral College, his successor told the world that, “in America, politicians don’t take power, people grant power to them”. Comforting to know but in the dystopic present, half of a country steeped in “all you can eat” prosperity as divine gospel for an exceptional people also believes unlimited individualism passes for collective freedom.
What system will protect tomorrow’s “everyday Americans, our friends and our neighbors, often volunteers, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, demonstrating absolute courage”, showing “a deep and unwavering faith in and a commitment to the law” from the feral, feckless and faithless? Aided and abetted post 2020 election tribal partisan skirmishes divide the Republic’s house against itself to the point of existential risk, under attack from “enormous political pressure, verbal abuse, and even threats of physical violence”.
Somewhere between surging stock market animal spirits stampeding amok and desperate frontline healthcare workers braving hospital pandemic overflow fatigue, the sense of country got lost in alternate translation. Robbed of its truth and conned into willing suspension of belief, America’s badly unhinged, incoherent sense of self stares at an accusatory mirror imploding into victim shards of broken individual, family and community destinies wondering why they deserved so little from a nation with so much. For the watching, pitying and conniving world, the United States becomes the statistical opposite of a pandemic superpower in critical sense: bottom feeding on conspiracy theories and commoditizing its people; outsourcing food, clothing, shelter from the storm, health and safety, education, democracy, and civic decency to partisan whim.
Crowded out of emergency room care capacity for the most vulnerable by a pandemic created in its own cannibalistic image and likeness, America, never beautiful to those it marginalizes and arbitrages, sells unlimited tribalism ever cheaper by the dozen to culture-imperialists. Those choosing political party over country stamp out rule of law and societal cohesion oxygen from formerly spacious skies until representative democracy convolutes, withers, and dies from treasonous rejection and neglect.
Serpentine, Benedict Arnold elected officials sworn to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic starting with themselves, betray their oaths, enrich private portfolios, and shamelessly plug their constituencies on autopilot into opioid and coronavirus pandemic outrage and danger. Thrilling to staged, mask free coliseum rallies, movement faithful applaud the dangled bait and then disbelieve the switch even when carried into emergency rooms hooked into respirators.
Willingly tithing votes, coin, and destiny to the @real “art of the steal”, the latest “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) religious indulgence, “Save America PAC”, propositions online grievance porn ostensibly to turnaround newly “purple rained” voting districts. On cue, over $250 million flows vertically upwards fundraised from the faithful, weaponizing the outlines of an imminent shadow presidency newly greased by an unregulated slush fund ready to self-deal on behalf of its owner.
In silent parallel, bodies of the country’s coronavirus dead involuntarily matriculated from discretionary mask wearing to certain embalming pile high in unattended mass graves, in idling and parked refrigeration trucks with corpse overloads delivered to morgues unable to keep up. Undaunted, the politically invidious class seeds and nourishes America’s insatiable intestinal partisan plagues wire-guided by an outgoing presidential pilot (golden parachute locked and loaded) who tugs, pulls, and tweets at the umbilical constitutional rip cord hoping it springs loose.
Transmitting “Onward Christian Soldiers” command guidance to Proud Boys infantry via airborne vanity mirror, the country’s departing MAGA-mastermind draws and quarters the body politic during its descent into ungovernable hell as transition legacy. No Oval Office comfort comment on the mounting pandemic dead reflecting all else quiet on the White House Western front except for the unprecedented Putin hack against America heard round the world as parting gift, “the greatest intelligence failure of our time”. “A moment of reckoning”, warns Microsoft president Brad Smith, that uplifts the Mueller report to biblical Jeremiah’s Jerusalem prophecy proportions.
How best to stop the rest of the steal of the unreal from what’s left that’s still real? No longer a case of choosing whether to restructure, redistribute or reapportion in the face of same old same old going nowhere faster than pandemic death counts. Stale conventional neoliberalism wisdom in the time of coronavirus defies gravity like Shareholder Primacy “trickle-down” never reaching parched soil no matter how much socioeconomic inequality urine as manna pretends to baptize and fertilize precariat thirst for a living wage.
Massive ghost downtown vacancies attest that pre-pandemic aspirations have already left the built environment literal building never to return. Those who society refused to vest into anything profitable hope the times that are changing reconfigure into something survivable by the Deus ex Machina of curves that flatten.
Before our bleeding eyes, the State of the Union is physically and civically diseased. It can also be cured. Vaccines begin to proliferate but a lasting antidote to the country’s biological inequality culture pandemic will take longer, maybe generations to acknowledge, forgive, reengineer, heal and move on.
The rules of engagement to restart a new social compact are abundantly clear, “Listen with respect. Argue on substance. Work for achievable change (starting with shared values, equity, and mission). Reinvigorate people’s faith in democracy” and its equal opportunity DNA. Lead by direct example. Invest wholeheartedly into inclusive common good so that all of Mosaic America catching its reflection in the mirror of its civic soul likes what it sees and is willing to give, pay it forward, so as to receive in kind from a more grateful, fair and decent nation.