American psycho. A nightmare in the United States that is threefold. Medically, the health care system is mostly privatized and excludes parts of the population. Economically, retail sales in March dropped by 9% and 17 million people filed for unemployment. And socially, ethnic minorities are the most affected.
On Feb. 29, a 58-year-old man died in Seattle due to COVID-19. Yesterday, April 15, at 5 p.m. Central European time, deaths in the United States surpassed 26,000: victims not of fate, or of an aggressive coronavirus, but of the incompetence, buffoonery and criminal negligence of Donald Trump’s administration.
In March he said repeatedly that the pandemic would be no more serious than the common cold. Tuesday night, in a misguided attempt to evade his own responsibility, Trump cut off funds to the World Health Organization, the U.N. agency that is helping every government in the world face the pandemic at this time.
Regardless of the excuses made by the American president to justify his decision (which was immediately condemned by all governments of the world and by American health authorities themselves), Trump’s action gives us a measure of how much blood and tears will flow before we emerge from this nightmare.
A nightmare that in the United States is threefold: medical, economic and social.
Medical because, as it is widely known, the health care system is mostly privatized, and therefore precludes the possibility of treating large sections of the population which cannot afford health insurance.
Economic because yesterday’s data from the Department of Commerce confirm the severity of the crisis: Retail sales in March dropped by 9% compared to February and, given that travel restrictions and other public health measures only went into effect at the end of March, April’s outcome will surely be worse.
Lastly, social because ethnic minorities are the most affected both by the coronavirus itself as well as the ongoing economic catastrophe, the magnitude of which has not yet been fully assessed.
Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, wrote a few days ago that the American economy is in “a medically induced coma;” that is, it is in some way being kept alive by the Federal Reserve, which is frantically printing money, but its demands cannot be met. Yesterday the New York Stock Exchange experienced a substantial drop again and today we’ll find out the new data on job losses, in addition to the 17 million lost jobs in the past three weeks. The prediction is that another 6 million unemployed individuals will be added to the long list of the unfortunate.
The $1,200 stimulus checks won’t do much either, which, signed personally by Trump in another display of his egotism, will arrive for American families in a few days. Whoever needs to pay rent, bills or work and school commute expenses will benefit the most from the checks until mid-May. Within 30 days, conditions throughout the country will be comparable to the Great Depression of 1930.
It is a disaster that has yet to find its John Steinbeck to write a novel like “The Grapes of Wrath.” Maybe, to find references, we will need to look at post-atomic science fiction literature of the 1950s, which pictured the life of the few survivors of a nuclear war, like “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute.
It’s not just people’s lives that are at risk, nor the recovery of the economy, which no one dares to predict, but American democracy itself, which is faced with a leader unanimously voted by 200 political scientists as the “worst president in U.S. history.”
Ironically, Trump could emerge from this disaster as a victor in a field of ruins, in a desert full of debris, with bodies buried in mass graves and devastated cities. Even though most Americans today disapprove of how he is handling the crisis, no one can say what will happen on Election Day.
Closer to a modern Caligula than a head of state, Trump can clear a room, as he fires independent experts, contributors and officials with a tweet.
On Nov. 3, everyone should vote (with an emphasis on “should,” given today’s situation), but in any case, Trump will remain in office until Jan. 20, 2021, nine very long months in which the world will have to count the cost of the 2016 presidential election in human lives.