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, though 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.
March 20: The governor has ordered all the barbershops and salons to close. Some people are less affected by these closures than others.
As bald as I am, I actually still do have someone cut my hair. Sure, I could very easily run clippers over the horseshoe around my head or shave it entirely, but there’s something I like about getting a haircut, even if it’s just a buzzcut that takes a couple of minutes. It makes me feel clean and sharp. Self-care, as the kids call it.
I’m wondering what people who actually need to take care of their hair are going to do. I keep thinking of the scene in the Michael Keaton “Batman” when Jack Nicholson’s Joker poisons all of the cosmetics and shampoo and hairspray and stuff, and the newscasters looked like this:
If my scant hair gets a little shaggy I’ll just buzz it myself or shave it off completely and it won’t matter. God only made so many perfect heads. The rest He covered up with hair. Good luck those of you with flaws.
Someone put this tweet in my timeline this morning:
Americans need to know date certain when this will end. The uncertainty for businesses, parents and kids is just not sustainable.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) March 20, 2020
My first thought was to dunk on it for being stupid — and it is stupid — but there’s an undercurrent here that I suspect, and I think Ingraham and these other people know, will start to resonate with people soon if it hasn’t already, and it’s very dark.
People will increasingly being to justify, consciously or otherwise, that they are OK with X+Y number of people dying instead of X number of people dying if it means that they can go out to bars and gyms and stuff and resume their normal lives. Certain politicians and media figures will, as here, leverage it, talking about how the economy is paramount. Talking about our mass “overreaction.”
There are always things we have to balance as a society — we could save lives by outlawing cars — but don’t because some measures are unreasonable. Here, however, I do not think we are engaging in much serious balancing at all and our leaders — at least on a national level –have done little to prepare people for any real sacrifice in the face of potentially millions of deaths. Most people think this is a 14-day snow day because that’s what they have basically been told it is. And about a week into it they’re getting antsy, only to have influential people say “yeah, maybe this is all too much.”
Meanwhile, to the extent people are uneasy or afraid, well, that’s being wholly discounted. At a news conference this afternoon an NBC News reporter asked the president, “what do you say to Americans who are scared right now?” Trump said, “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question, and I think that’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
There is nothing to worry about. We have no need to sacrifice. Anyone who suggests this is serious or worrisome is “terrible” and “nasty.”
Maybe it wouldn’t matter if the leaders had impressed upon the populace the seriousness of this. Maybe we simply do not have sacrifice, shared or otherwise, in us as a society anymore. Maybe that quality that got us through two world wars and a depression died with the people who lived through it. I mean, fuck it, we don’t even have basic empathy. We can’t even fake it.
Maybe those instances were the exception, not the rule.
I look at the whole of human history and weigh the number of times when the lives of mostly unseen or unacknowledged victims were seen as cheap vs. the times we’ve practiced mass selflessness, and I fear for what will happen. When there is a choice between money and personal comfort on the one hand, and care for fellow human beings on the other, the money and comfort always wins.
To that end: we learned last night that multiple U.S. Senators sold off millions in stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the coronavirus. At least one senator bought stock in a telework company, no doubt having been briefed that social distancing, lockdowns and quarantines were coming. All this while publicly claiming that there was nothing to be worried about or, in some cases, that the whole idea of a pandemic was a “hoax.” They should all go to prison. None of them will. When we go to war, the rich and powerful get more powerful and the poor and weak die. The same happens, apparently, when we’re attacked by viruses.
In related news, a person I know has a job in which he goes to people’s houses and offices in the course of his work. His company is still open and is still requiring that he and his coworkers go to work. His fiancé, meanwhile, was asked to self quarantine for two weeks by her employer — who is an actual medical doctor — because of a possible exposure she received. The decidedly non-medical company the guy I know works for says he’s fine, though, and that it’s super unlikely that the virus could pass through 2-3 people and affect anyone he comes into contact with. It’s madness, but there’s money to be made.
This evening United Airlines’ CEO threatened big job cuts if the company doesn’t receive “sufficient government support by the end of March.” He didn’t mention, of course, that his airline has spent $11 billion on stock buybacks in the past six years. And that the airline industry as a whole have spent 96% of their free cash flow on stock buybacks in the past decade. That’s money that could’ve been invested in the business. In employees. In rainy day funds which, in an industry particularly susceptible to catastrophic interruption — 9/11, weather events, natural disasters — would have been wise.
The argument for massive CEO salaries, the prioritization of stock price, deregulation, and gigantic tax breaks for businesses is that they “take all the risks” and thus should be rewarded for their bravery in walking out onto the tightrope that is the free market. Yet the moment risk materializes — the moment the slightest adversity presents itself, the moment they even think they might lose their balance — it’s “if you don’t bail us out we’re firing everyone to save our ass.” All of the rewards, none of the risk.
We should do absolutely everything to help workers — workers who are demonized as communists, wanting handouts, or worse when they say they should get any sort of support whatsoever — but to the extent the public has equated “helping workers” with “bailing out businesses that take no responsibility for themselves and their employees whatsoever,” they are are dead wrong. There are other ways to help workers than to give their CEOs bailouts.
Of course we’ll do it. Because America.