Our preparation for being unprepared began a long time ago. (Part One)

"No state could have prepared fully for such a surge in applications," economists say, and thus they explain away why millions of Americans still have not received their first unemployment check.

But on the basis of the one economics course I took in college—and passed!—I disagree. We might not have been fully prepared, but we could have done better.

This criticism goes beyond the current administration’s failures to recognize the pandemic for what it was; this goes back to 1980 when conservative Republicans realized that they no longer had to nominate a person versed in government and policy, but simply one who promised to lower taxes.

It was Ronald Reagan who begat the evangelical right who begat the Tea Party who begat Donald Trump who begat the greatest disaster in the history of our country. Trump, of course, is still begetting.

How did we get from good and honest men (though hardly great leaders) like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to the venality and ignorance of Donald Trump? Easier than you might think. We didn’t want to pay for the best, so we settled.

Not consciously, of course. No one consciously takes the item of lesser quality unless there’s money involved, and in this case it was definitely involved: taxes. No one likes to pay them; everyone wants them reduced. Introduce into this simplistic philosophy a “businessman” like Trump and a promise to lower them, and suddenly everything else—competence, good sense, diplomacy, and empathy—becomes secondary. (Russian interference, Clinton's weak campaign, racism and bigotry—all influences for sure. But money wins.)

Of course a true businessman understands a basic principal: you may start a business to make money, but when you start a business, you spend it, and sometimes you spend quite a lot of ithiring a staff, providing for expansion, learning and following best practices. It's no different in government. But when you promise tax cuts, that usually precedes staff reductions. The resultant skeleton crews are suitable for most situations, but they stumble in difficult times and collapse in emergencies.


So here we are in the throes of an emergency—more like a catastrophe. The 2018 tax bill produced almost negligible relief for most Americans, left vital government offices understaffed, and reduced the Trump promise of rebuilding the infrastructure so far back on the back burner we can no longer see it. Of course those same Americans who bought his promise of tax relief—the mired middle classare the exact same people who cannot get an unemployment check because there's no one to do the paperwork, and there was no money to upgrade computer systems, and there were never any provisions made for a pandemic that experts everywhere knew was coming.


Today there's muted joy in Trumpville because he clawed back money from Harvard and Yale—$29 million—a pittance that would probably have been used to assist financially strapped students. The airlines meanwhile received $2.9 billion in aid despite the fact that only 1% of Americans take a fifth of all the flights. A matter for another day.


It's an over-simplification to claim that Reagan opened the door and Trump slithered in, but an obsessive fiscal conservatism has left us in need of common necessities, and, in retrospect, common sense.

 

Next, who can save us? The Republicans.





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