There is No “We” in American

To understand American society and culture, you have realize that the secret to the country is revealed in the anagram buried in its name.

Unscrambled, the word “American” decomposes neatly to “I can ream.”

A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, with over half a million Americans dead, you’ll get more truth from an anagram than out of any thousand of the sociopaths calling themselves “leaders” in this broken nation.

The American people have no idea how badly they have been lied to by these leaders since the pandemic began.

First off — let’s establish what about the past year hasn’t been a lie:

Truth: Covid-19 — is a deadly disease caused by a virus that kills around 1 in every 100 people who catches it, a rate that goes up to 1 in 10 for older folks and up to 50% in the very elderly.

Truth: It spreads by jumping from person to person, usually when droplets we always exhale while breathing and talking are inhaled by others, sometimes by being exposed to lingering virus in stale air, rarely from a surface like a door handle. The fewer droplets exchanged, the lower the chances of transmission and the harder it is for the virus to spread.

Truth: To stop any pandemic, there is one simple goal: keep the virus from spreading. You accomplish this by keeping people apart as much as possible, however that can best be done.

Responding on a national or global level obviously poses a problem — how can this be accomplished when you are talking about a country with hundreds of millions and a world with billions of people?

The only viable answer humanity has ever been able to come up with — and it took centuries for most of us to figure this out in the first place — is to segment the population to the degree you can to keep infected from non-infected until the virus burns itself out wherever it has taken hold.

Naturally this requires a tremendous amount of cooperation between people and deliberate actions by anyone in a position of influence or ability to do their bit in fighting the plague. Fighting a pandemic is war, and like all wars it ultimately comes down to a question of resources: if the enemy cannot get what it requires to survive (our bodies, in the case of Covid-19) it will perish.

In the United States, we are taught from a young age that our government is supposed to handle coordinating huge efforts like these.

What we are not taught is that our governing institutions are fundamentally broken, hollowed out by a generation of neglect, and are in fact responsible for accelerating the spread of a virus many other less developed countries have been able to beat.

We’re not talking just authoritarian dictatorships — free democratic nations have been able to defeat Covid-19 while the United States has not only lost over half a million people and counting but is also, like other laggards like Brazil and the United Kingdom, managed to give the virus perfect conditions to evolve into more efficiently-spreading and deadly forms.

From day one, going back to February of 2020, American leaders of all political stripes actively downplayed the risks posed by the emerging pandemic. They only locked down, despite weeks of warnings from scientists working wherever the virus had taken hold, once New York City began to see caseloads that threatened to overwhelm hospitals and death tolls that left morgues overflowing.

New York City and many of its wealthy residents see themselves as America’s upper crust, an educated and esteemed elite who like to believe they are the vital guardians of American democracy and society. While Spain and Italy saw horrific first waves they wrote somber warnings in the New York Times and Atlantic encouraging Americans to wash their hands, but when their home city was struck in its turn then the nation’s entire attention was finally fixed on Covid-19.

The irony being that the mayor of New York City, de Blasio, and the governor of New York State — both men who aspire to even higher offices — were encouraging people to believe, against all emerging evidence and warnings, that the subways were safe, asymptomatic spread was no big deal, that masks were unnecessary for the general population, and everything was be under control.

New York City is also home to many of the biggest national media organizations. So naturally, as reporters and editors began to watch neighbors die, Covid-19 got their full attention. The nation was forcibly transfixed, states finally locking down in an act of national solidarity that the government initially said would only last for a few weeks — long enough to get testing and contact tracing systems in place so that less-harsh quarantines could be enacted to deal with out breaks. Then, after a crash vaccine development program — that thankfully paid off, the one glimmer of hope in all of this — life would go back to normal.

But they lied.

Truth: American politicians, thanks to the evil two-party system, are generally able to escape being held responsible for failures in office. As a result of this lack of accountability, a hard basic fact of American life is that all our politicians lie.

Everyone knows the 45th President was a compulsive liar. But he was only carrying on an old American tradition. Just like FDR, Johnson, and Nixon, Joe Biden lies, Mitch McConnell lies, Bernie Sanders lies, Nancy Pelosi lies, and AoC lies. They do it because the two-party system has so completely destroyed Americans’ collective ability to conceive of a better world that all but the 30% who have given up on voting feel compelled to ignore the lies told by their side because they are so committed to keeping the other side from winning.

The fight is all that remains: an endless conflict that has consumed America.

Truth: People with power lie to protect it. The smart ones wrap their lies in pretty speech hoping no one will look too closely at what they’re really saying and doing. But power breeds lies and liars, which is why real democracy is so critically important — not this sham-democracy we call a “Republic” founded, as the ancient Greece and Rome it apes, on slavery and genocide.

Democracy — real, multi-party democracy with universal voting — works because so long as no one can hold power for too long, the political system always has a chance of shifting with time to more closely match the will of the people. Politics will never be perfect, but it can function under the right conditions.

But in the United States, where only 10%-20% of seats in Congress are even competitive and the majority of states are now permanently and totally under the control Democrats or Republicans, there can be no true democratic accountability.

What this twisted oligarchic nightmare has produced is a situation where both parties are locked in a competition for donor dollars using a complex game of theatrics to obscure the truth of the business. Each party operates what scholars researching other countries would immediately label patronage networks if political science as a discipline weren’t so intrinsically racist.

In the United States, business groups lobby for favorable tax laws and regulations in order to lower their costs of doing business. They are supported in this by their shareholders and workers employed in the industry, who know their livelihoods are on the line and in the two-party system know which side is likely to advance their interests.

The banking lobby, energy lobby, union groups, and special interest groups are all engaged in a perpetual negotiation with politicians hoping to minimize their own tax burden by shoving it onto other sectors of the economy. When Republicans get power they reduce taxes on allied companies and loosen regulations, shifting the relative burden onto those that support Democrats. Many companies try to play both sides, but ultimately are dragged along by the trends in their industry.

Republicans are typically backed by companies who gain revenues from Evangelical Christians, America-Firsters, and fossil fuel extraction. Democrats tend to be backed by unions, social justice groups, and green industry. During elections both use rhetorical statements to signal affiliation with groups in hopes of winning donations and votes.

In a post-Citizens United World, this is simply how American government works. Everything politicians say and media outlets cover plugs in somewhere.

In the end, American politicians were never going to do what was necessary to beat Covid-19. Because true policy innovations, like those put in place in countries have have largely defeated the pandemic, are beyond the imagination of most American leaders because the industries that fund them are anxious about change, crude limits on social interactions were the only way to stop hospitals from being overrun with patients.

That mattered to politicians — in truth, it’s the only health metric they ever chose to give a damn about — because overflowing ICUs and morgues were what triggered the initial lockdown. Images first from Italy, then the UK, then New York City shocked Americans — who, in fact, began social distancing before the government got involved, if you look at mobility data.

In March, it was no longer possible for governments to pretend that Covid-19 was only going to affect foreign places. In panic the politicians belatedly took the right steps — and in less than a month were fighting to roll back as many restrictions as they could.

In March and April of 2020 quality science, ever so briefly, became politically relevant. Suddenly everyone was seeing the same charts everywhere, “flattening the curve” became a national slogan, and finally we accepted the evidence that even basic masks were key in cutting transmission rates. Politicians began to promise to “follow the science” even as they began taking premature moves to “reopen the economy.”

But they lied. They all lied. The revelations that governor after governor either falsified information or refused to follow their own public health guidelines that have trickled out over the past year are compelling proof of their true concern from day one:

The health of the economy, particularly their donor base.

When the images out of New York City were scaring everyone, even Republican politicians were forced to take action. Stimulus funding passed with ridiculous speed compared to the drawn-out negotiations later where everyone tried to score political points because money was being shoveled out fairly evenly across the country, despite some places not even being strongly impacted yet.

But as soon as the pandemic began to wane in the Northeast — even as it took off in Florida and Texas — there came a marked shift in coverage. Soon after that, politicians began to focus on the economy, not the vulnerable being killed by this vicious new virus.

Media outlets in the United States are directly tied to the business ecosystem through their dependence on advertising. And despite receiving enormous, unprecedented bailouts from the federal government, smaller businesses across the country bore the brunt of the economic pain because of how ineptly the support was distributed. They demanded action — but now political trends were visible, and the American political nightmare went to work.

Once reporters and editors stopped fearing for their loved ones’ lives, coverage began to shift. Fears of the economic impacts of the pandemic began to be voiced as often as concerns about rising death tolls. People who never cared for an instant about children’s mental health a year before began demanding schools reopen because few state systems managed to get distance learning right. And, being an election year, it took only weeks for the pandemic to become just another source of grist for the partisan mill.

The politicization of the pandemic response was a national scandal and tragedy — and both sides played their wicked part. Democrats were more than happy to blame the inept federal response, ignoring the failures of numerous state governors, and as election day approached a consistent meme emerged blaming the federal government for everything. Only a change of Presidency could save us, they warned.

And because no one on the Democratic side wanted to damage Biden’s chances of unseating the incumbent in what turned out to be a dangerously near-run thing, media failed to properly excoriate the many Democratic governors who were quietly lifting restrictions too soon just like their Republican counterparts. Throughout 2020 a clear pattern emerges, where Democrats do exactly what Republicans do — after scoring a few cheap political points by portraying the latter as callous and heartless.

But in the end, the two parties are simply flip sides of the same weighted coin that has caused the deaths of so many Americans, each seeking a perpetual escalation in their contest over donor dollars that now seems likely to lead to a second civil war. Politicians on both sides deliberately chose to abdicate as much responsibility as they could get away with to local governments that were simply not equipped to handle the challenge and themselves were closely tied to the business community.

Politicians of both parties were content with public messaging putting the onus for stopping Covid on individuals and restrictions on certain classes of business. For a year Americans were told to wash their hands and keep their distance because stopping Covid-19 was on us, not them.

They embraced a pernicious and deadly mythology unique to America — that every individual is responsible for their condition, and that is it an educated citizen’s responsibility to manage their own risk. Those who fail have only themselves to blame — they should have chosen better schools or careers if they wanted to get ahead.

Both conservatives and liberals in the United States implicitly adopt this stance — the key difference is that liberals feel a moral imperative to help anyone in need, while conservatives believe it is better to let them help themselves. But the liberal position is simply a secular re-statement of the old White Savior complex, which perversely requires a permanent class of downtrodden whose condition never markedly improves.

That’s why Democrats, for all their talk about social justice and equality, don’t ever seem to accomplish all that much — though they and their media allies will happily pretend otherwise whenever a tiny bit of insufficient progress is made. This is because they can always get away with blaming any failures on the opposition, happily fundraising whenever a Republican says or does something morally outrageous. Which, of course, is exactly what Republicans do in return — they simply operate under a different vision of morality.

The truth is that you can never rely on individuals to self-police to the degree necessary to stop a pandemic. If you look at the pattern of the different waves of Covid-19, there are 3–4 months between each peak.

This is because people have limited attention spans — even more so when the media constantly shifts public attention in pursuit of higher profit margins. When people are sick and dying around us, it is easier to remember how important it is for everyone that we fight the virus. When the numbers go down, we return to our normal behavior — and the virus has more opportunities to transmit and grow stronger.

That’s why in a pandemic you have to knock the virus out fast and hard. Every day of delay guarantees an exponential increase in cases down the line. This is the lesson Australia and New Zealand and Malaysia and Singapore and South Korea and Denmark have taught the world — not that American media cares to pass on the message.

You have to do a lockdown of sufficient length to reduce caseloads to the point that contact tracing and testing can identify new outbreaks in local areas before they widely spread.

What this means is a deliberate segmentation of the physical parts of the country to create Covid-free zones. A true national lockdown, lifted one region at a time, with regions defined by actual patterns of movement, not arbitrary county or state boundaries.

Anyone with the slightest shred of training in systems science, geography, public health, or epidemiology could tell you this. It is precisely because people get lockdown fatigue that you have to do it right the first time. A real, competent government would have figured out to do this.

Decrepit, self-delusional America never did— and after spending a year savagely criticizing the former administration for failing to contain Covid-19, the Biden administration is doing exactly the same thing.

Sooner or later, some clever graduate student is going to perform a content analysis of media coverage of the pandemic before and after the 2020 Elections. And what they will discover is that the moment Joe Biden was elected, most media outlets began to push the pandemic off the front pages.

Tracking projects established to help Americans visualize the spread of Covid-19 have gone offline. Politicians are trumpeting a reduction in case numbers back to a level considered astonishingly and dangerously high back in October of 2020. No longer are state estimates of Covid-19 reproduction rates tracked and discussed.

The brutal truth of Covid-19 is that rich, wealthy Americans no longer fear it. And so, like anything else that disproportionately impacts the poor, the pandemic is being pushed out of the public consciousness, the thousands still dying every day largely ignored by people who are more concerned with being able to visit their friends than keep the elderly from dying.

Vaccines will reduce this death rate — but Covid-19 is now looking to be the kind of virus that flares up every year, new variants evolving to partially evade the prior year’s vaccine and, as always, leaving poorer Americans taking the worst hits. So thanks to the criminal incompetence of America’s “leaders” Americans will continue dying from this plague for years to come.

And it looks like Americans may let it happen. With half a million dead, at least half and probably 90% of those deaths completely preventable, we ought to be rioting in the streets to demand accountability.

There ought to be a Covid Justice party demanding a total reform of this broken country so this never happens again.

But not in America. There is no we in American — only I, and those I can ream.

Remember — there are a huge number of people in this pandemic who have not been allowed to shelter in place. Essential workers of every stripe have been risking their lives day in and day out with little thanks.

These are not politicians or children of politicians and many don’t have college degrees, so American society undervalues them. While California governor Gavin Newsom is out doing multi-hundred dollar a plate dinners and New York governor Andrew Cuomo is covering up nursing home deaths, essential workers and their families — disproportionately Latino or Black — are losing the pandemic lottery and picking up infections they carry home to family members. Many are elderly, because people with less income are more likely to live in multi-generational households.

America’s politicians — progressives like The Squad included — are leaving them to die by failing to demand a real fight against Covid-19 from the geriatric-in-chief. They’re all talk, no action — and this is why the progressive movement is doomed.

One would think now is the time a Progressive party free from the ever-more-centrist Democrats would take off, powered by a grassroots donor base. And in truth a silent conflict is underway within the Democratic Party that aims to prevent this from happening.

Democrats have used the pandemic and Capitol attack as an excuse to portray themselves as the only American political party that cares about democracy. It is now expressly moving to cater to a wealthy suburban base while counting on urban progressives — disproportionately younger people of color, to turn out every election out of fear of what happens if the crazy Republicans are back in charge.

They’re sowing the seeds of their own destruction, because so many Americans have given up on the system. People have a sense of when they’re being lied to — it creates the kind of cognitive dissonance that has led to so many people turning their backs on masks and vaccines.

And the catastrophic impacts of Covid-19 have only just begun to be felt. When people begin to think about what has happened, anger at the establishment will rise — and this at a moment where people are already turning against the status quo on the left and the right.

A tipping point has been reached, a threshold crossed, where “Burn it all Down” becomes the default position of a huge number of people at a moment Democrats are in control of the Legislative and Executive Branches. Trying to hold big-business centrists, liberal social justice seekers, and progressive populists in the same organization can only lead to two outcomes: division, or suppression of one of the wings.

Meanwhile the Republicans become the default anti-establishment option — a development which will probably prove fatal to the Republic in a matter of years.

The Democrats will almost certainly lose the House thanks to Republican control of redistricting in about half the states. They are likely to lose the Senate unless all goes well. Biden’s first term will end in early 2023, soon after he will be forced to announce he is not running for re-election in order to let the Democrats focus on 2024, when it is very likely we will see a familiar Republican face return to settle grievances from 2020.

There are three basic outcomes to this scenario:

  1. Anti-establishment feelings co-opted by the hard right coupled to voter suppression in a few key states put the Republican in office amid widespread protests.
  2. A Progressive takeover of the Democratic party leads centrists to defect to a third party in hopes of stopping the Republican winning enough electoral votes to win, forcing a contingent election where the House selects the Centrist candidate.
  3. A new, non-partisan third party emerges and forces a Contingent Election, securing the Presidency by consensus as a result of the hostility between the remaining Democrats and Republicans.

Option 3 is as close as you get to burning it all down without a civil war. 1 leads to the country splitting and maybe fighting over which side gets to be in charge. 2 leads to the hard-right conservatives going absolutely crazy and a tenuous alliance between centrists and progressives that might survive long enough for tensions to fall.

I prefer 3 because it actually takes America where it needs to be — down the path of real democracy and accountable leaders.

Because whatever you may feel about the future of the country, one thing is certain:

Our current political leaders have betrayed us. They have chosen to allow hundreds of thousands of needless deaths because they lacked the courage and ingenuity to lead.

And so millions of Americans get to experience the kind of loss and angst that until now was the province of those who served in the military, like I did — during the Iraq War.

Iraq — the whole Global War on Terror, in truth — was a similarly preventable tragedy that many politicians of both parties similarly failed to stop. Joe Biden voted for the war — Nancy Pelosi refused to impeach George Bush for lying about it, then had the gall to impeach 45 over meddling with Biden’s election odds.

And despite the deaths of thousands of American soldiers — heroes, the media calls them every Veterans Day before promptly forgetting them for another year — no one was ever held accountable.

History is set to repeat itself on a larger scale. Now tens of millions of Americans understand what it is like to be abandoned and betrayed by their elected leaders.

Time’s up, America.

Time to burn it all down.

Author of Bringing Ragnarok and Bivrost Nine. Rogue Analyst, Cat Devotee. Autistic True Neutral Pro-Science Anti-Authoritarian Rural Pacific American. He/Him.