Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
April 23: My friend Dave is a bartender in Detroit. He’s a hospitality labor union leader. He’s a family man with a wife and a couple of kids.
In the past year he has been planning to open his own neighborhood bar in Detroit and, to that end, has spent most of his time off building and painting and wiring and plumbing and everything else necessary to start his business. In this, Dave is the textbook definition of a small businessman. He’s doing the “work hard, save up, and then go out on your own, build something and give some jobs to people” thing that we’re so often told is the embodiment of the American Dream.
He had planned to open up at the end of March but, obviously, that’s all delayed. This morning he was part of a CNN feature on the challenges Detroit is facing due to the pandemic:
Detroit, Michigan, is one of the hard-hit cities by coronavirus and that's taken a toll on its economy as well. @OmarJimenez reports on what the city's officials are doing to ensure that the current climate doesn't become a permanent one.https://t.co/Z7npFLCHSj pic.twitter.com/STcIPbm3wX
— New Day (@NewDay) April 23, 2020
I’m not close enough with Dave to know what if any small business aid he’s applied or received for in all of this. My guess is none, since it’s not yet an open business. But either way, I bet he’s getting less help than millionaires and billion dollar companies are getting right now. Certainly less than well-connected Trump buddies who hired well-connected lobbyists.
It’s certainly not surprising that those in power are far more interested in helping the wealthy and the well-connected than in helping the needy or in backing up their grandstanding about how important actual small businesses are. It’s pathological with them.
As is their hypocrisy.
For example, the big talking point from conservatives for the past couple of days has been how Washington should not be helping states which are experiencing a budgetary crisis due to the shutdowns and the massive number of unemployment claims:
States should always plan for a rainy day just like any business. I disagree that states should take Fed money or be bailed out. This will lead to taxpayers paying for mismanagement of poorly run states. States need to tighten up, make some cuts, and manage.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) April 23, 2020
This is the same Nikki Haley who, when governor of South Carolina, presided over a state which received the highest ratio of federal funds given per dollar of income tax paid of any state in the entire country. And she certainly — and correctly — did not think it inappropriate to seek federal aid for her citizens when hurricanes struck. When she was actually in charge of something she understood that the federal government is the necessary backstop when disaster strikes.
Meanwhile Mitch McConnell — the singularly most odious and nihilistic political figure of our age, which is saying something — has taken to referring dismissively to aid as “Blue State Bailouts,” and said he thinks states should just go bankrupt. Which, at present, they cannot legally do. Unlike the federal government, most states are bound by tight budgetary constraints — Ohio is constitutionally prohibited from running a deficit — and they, unlike the federal government, can’t simply start borrowing money. And that’s before you get to the fact that it’s not just the “Blue States” who are facing a crunch. And before you acknowledge the utter repugnance of saying that states which favor you politically are somehow superior and more worthy of support than ones who don’t. A kid going to bed hungry because his parents can’t get unemployment in Big Stone Gap, Virginia — a blue state — is just as bad as a kid going to bed hungry in Harlan, Kentucky — a red state — 40 miles away.
The silver lining of this disingenuous budget talk from these people is that it suggests, pretty strongly, that they think Trump is going to lose in November.
The classic GOP tack is to spend like drunken sailors when they’re in power — doing things like giving a $1.5 trillion tax break to corporations and the wealthy while letting federal spending expand — and to immediately demagogue the national debt and the budget deficit when a Democrat takes office. To that end, I suspect that, at the moment, Nikki Hayley is just getting a jump start on a 2024 presidential run during which she’ll cynically blame President Joe Biden for all of the things Trump has mismanaged to date and all the costs that will be necessary to rebuild the country. I likewise suspect that Mitch McConnell is preparing for life as an opposition leader as well. They’re slipping back into their 2009-2016 selves in preparation for life out of power.
Trump losing power cannot come soon enough given that he’s likely to get someone killed by doing things such as musing during a news briefing that bleach or other household disinfectants could be injected into coronavirus patients’ bodies to kill the virus. Yes, really.
Immediately — and encouragingly — our nations’s most prestigious newspaper called for Trump’s resignation or removal pursuant to the 25th Amendment due to his incompetence and incapacity to hold office.
Haha, just kidding:
“In the view of some experts.” But not all experts, the New York Times implies, so this is now a topic for legitimate debate, apparently. Who are the other experts, The Dead Milkmen?
I picked up tacos tonight. The taco place is a local chain, with most locations in cool places but since we live out in the burbs, the closest location to us is at a place called Easton Town Center. It’s a mall. One of those outdoor malls that apes a cityscape, built on what used to be farmland out by the freeway outerbelt. There are storefronts and parking meters and sidewalks and all of that, but it’s all private property. Even if one of Easton’s most prominent tenants has taken to calling their store a “town hall” and “gathering place.”
I have a lot of problems with just how much places like Easton blur the lines between mall and city. While it’s a fake city, Easton and places like them hold the sorts of community events — Christmas caroling, arts fairs, outdoor performances and the like — that take place in real public spaces in real cities. Except they’re not truly community events at Easton given that no one has much business being there unless one is shopping or dining out at one of the luxury goods stores on its premises, and that’s obviously not for everyone. And given that, since Easton is private property, their security can kick out anyone they want to for basically any reason or for no reason whatsoever. Try to stage a protest on “main street” in a mall like Easton and see how long you last until you’re hauled away.
Last night, when I went to pick up my tacos I saw another way in which this fake city is troublesome: it’s way more unsettling during a lockdown.
While the actual city streets are pretty deserted, there’s at least some life on them. They carry through-traffic, and there are still people driving places. People actually live in and around them, so you see people walking or you see lights on in people’s houses or apartments. Easton, in contrast, is just dead apart from a couple of restaurants still offering carryout. It’s like someone detonated a neutron bomb, killing all the people and leaving all of the buildings behind.
Sometimes I worry that I’m just disappearing up my own asshole with these posts, but then I remember that it’s a diary, and that’s kinda what diaries are for. I also remember that at least as I’m disappearing up my own asshole I’m not going out into the world and risking the health and lives of others while smugly defending my irresponsible choices in confessional essay format. My God, read the room, people.
Some better reading: this GQ interview with Jason Isbell, one of my favorite artists. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, including a bit in which he acknowledges the longstanding joke about how he’s every baseball writer’s favorite singer. Maybe the best part, though, is not in anything specific he says, but something the reporter says about him in the intro:
Isbell is unnervingly candid—want to ask about his drinking, or what he talks about in therapy, or his marriage? Ask away. There are no guardrails. Or maybe his honesty is itself the guardrails.
This goes hand-in-hand with that thing Mark Twain said about how the best part of telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember anything. It’s amazing how liberating honesty is. It’s amazing how few people really understand and appreciate that. The truth cannot possibly hurt you if you live your life with truth.
(Featured Image: Fleischhauer, Carl. Zabala’s Bar. June 1978. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress)