The Collegian
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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OPINION: Why Let a Good Crisis Stop Political Profiteering?

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

The average American is on life support and fading fast while the doctors we’ve been assigned are late for their tee times. 

I can think of no better metaphor for the absolute catastrophe that has been this country’s politicians, lobbyists and backroom bureaucrats’ response to COVID-19 and the resultant economic fallout. Let’s take a look at a general timeline of just how badly we have been failed by America’s elites: 

February: We were told by just about everyone in government that there was nothing to worry about. 

March: The citizens of New York were forced into their homes and their children out of school by government order in spite of assurances just days before that no such event would come to pass. 

April: A patchwork of solutions, including the Paycheck Protection Program, a one-time $1,200 stimulus check and $600 of weekly additional unemployment benefits that I wouldn’t trust to fix a blanket, let alone a catastrophic event on this scale, was put into place almost unanimously by two political parties that we are consistently led to believe are polarized to the point of inaction. 

The airline industry and companies owned, operated or tangentially related to someone on Capitol Hill (see those of the spouses of Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader McConnell) were bailed out while working-class Americans were handed a $1,200 check (if they actually got it) and placed on unemployment without even a “by your leave.”  

May: Rep. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) drafted and submitted legislation that would have led to the federal government more directly shielding average Americans from the fallout and was rejected by party leadership on both sides of the aisle.

June: Washington leadership takes no further action to prevent or ameliorate the economic ramifications of the pandemic.

July 17th: A November election means that legislative priorities outside of symbolic culture war victories lie dormant so that neither party can score points in the campaign season. 

My question: What exactly are we voting for in November if this is what we’ve gotten in July? 

Mainstream and partisan media alike continuously pump the news cycle full of culture war issues and partisan victories on masks and statues while nobody seems to have any desire to address the several titanic elephants in the room. Namely, why exactly are cultural, political and financial elites doing so well right now while everyone else has been left out to dry? The stock market tells us the economy is on the rebound, yet nearly 50 million Americans have applied for first time unemployment, 32% of homeowners were not able to make their July housing payment on time and in full and protections against eviction and foreclosure were set to expire on July 24.

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Our states are about to face some of the biggest budget shortfalls in our nation’s history, yet Congress seems content to go on break and let the country fix itself.

Ultimately, is there a savior in our midst? Well, our two options would say no. On the right, I think we can safely say the status quo speaks for itself at the moment. On the left, we’re looking at a candidate whose policy priorities change about as often as it rains in Florida and for whom we have a detailed legislative history. 

Joe Biden was placed in charge of the economic response in the wake of the Great Recession and frankly, it really wasn’t all that different from the response of today’s administration. 

In the grand scheme of things, the Obama administration’s response to the Great Recession can be summarized by: a poorly planned one-time stimulus package, a bailout of all the Wall Street firms that are supposedly “too big to fail” and a promise for a jobs program that nobody in Washington has the political will to gameplan for that culminated in the singular effect of increasing income inequality and furthering the neo-liberal corporate status quo. Sound familiar?

In the last weeks, Biden has signaled a willingness for a just barely populist “buy American” economic policy that was already killed in both the current and previous administrations. Honestly, though, why should anyone believe that a potential Biden administration would be any more resistant to bailing out international corporations than the Trump or Obama administrations have been? Even more, do we really expect that either candidate is likely to back away from the whims of the corporate class, whose contributions continually fund their campaign war chests and whose companies serve as stopgap employment for temporarily unemployed legislators and aides?

It is especially concerning that when you look at the staffing in both the Trump and Biden campaigns, you can see almost exact copies of the Obama and Bush administrations, whose policies placed this country in unending wars in the Middle East, led two of the worst economic recoveries in the nation’s lifetime and ensured that, for the first time in this country’s history, our generation cannot look forward to (let alone equivalent to) greater economic prosperity than that of our parents. 

Most often I am reminded about South Park’s commentary on the level of political choice in our system. Yet, I do see some hope. 

Our generation has a unique opportunity to start pushing for reforms that actually benefit us and not our corporate overlords by being diligent and ceasing to cast votes solely by the letter next to a candidate’s name, blind to the interests that actually control their votes. It’s time for us to make America a country for more than just the wealthiest and most empowered, a country that values its working-class citizens to the same extent as those most easily able to line the pockets of whoever happens to be in power.

Contact contributor Rob Papandrea at rob.papandrea@richmond.edu.

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