Come to Thanos: How I learned to stop worrying and love the coronavirus.
As perennial nincompoop and walking case study for the Dunning- Kruger Effect Donald Trump is just now discovering — that ‘rona is nothing to fuck with.
As of this writing, the global case count (that we even know about) is just north of 304,000, with 14,573 deaths. The absolute ineptitude of the Trump administration to deploy any sort of comprehensive testing probably means at least the first number is significantly, if not exponentially higher.
As the life on earth comes to a screeching halt in response to this global pandemic — a whole host of unintended positive consequences has arisen as well. Call it the Thanos Effect, after the brutalist environmentalism of the Marvel comics supervillain of the same name. Ironically enough — this deadly disease has presented jarring solutions to some of society’s most irretractable problems.
For starters — the mitigation on air pollution is literally visible from space. Satellite photos over the hardest hit areas of China and Italy have shown that nitrogen dioxide emissions have been cut nearly IN HALF over a mere 4 months as a result of the shuttering of factories and sudden absence of cars on the road. The waters in the Venice canals have run clear for the first time in 60 years and marine life is returning to places it hasn’t been seen in years. In the major American cities in lock down, pollution is also plummeting.
The impact of this disease has been felt by both the rich and poor. Turns out germs don’t give a fuck about your money, and as a result, the rich are learning some hard lessons. As the stock market burns off nearly a third of its value and business come to a grinding halt — The great vacuuming of the wealth of the poor to the rich has almost stopped cold. In an economy almost exclusively driven by small bore consumer spending and the leveraging of debt — shutting everyone in at home is bringing big business to its knees. The effects of this have been no more pronounced than watching the modern Republican party do 180 degree turns on the rugged individualist bootstraps orthodoxy that has been the religion of supply siders since 1980. Turns out that shrinking the federal government down to something you could drown in a bath tub leaves it ill equipped to solve a problem of this scale. What no one realized fully was how much of the Republican vision of society relied on a sustained and unbroken chain of good luck. It could be a result of something as simple as never having had a world war fought in your homeland requiring a massive collective national effort to rebuild.
Like it or not — we’re all socialists now. Suddenly you see the ideas of Universal Basic Income and no-strings-attached direct cash to citizens coming from even die hard capitalists in the GOP. Ideas that we considered too radical for even the Democratic party as little as 3 months ago are now being soberly discussed in even the far right as possibly not being radical enough to solve this problem. The collection of debts has all but stopped in some corners. Evictions have been halted. Unpaid utilities remain on. It’s as if every progressive solution to the crisis of poverty is holding sway at once with bipartisan support — an idea that would have been categorically unthinkable as recently as a month ago.
One thing this moment has categorically revealed is that literally NONE of the very few skill sets Donald Trump possess is actually useful in a crisis situation. Every day has been punctuated with some new eye popping verbal atrocity, if not explicit abdication of even the most fundamental governmental accountability from the White House. Trump fails daily at even the most rudimentary parts of the job of being president in a situation like this. When NBC reporter Peter Alexander lobbed one of the softest of softball questions to Trump last week (“What would you say to Americans right now who are scared?”), Trump’s immediate response was “That you’re a terrible reporter”. In other words, Trumps clear message to his country in a time of existential crisis is that we will never, ever be as important to him as his petty grievance. For three years now, we have been wondering where rock bottom would be for America’s relationship with Trump, and we may have actually found it. In a manner of speaking — the fever might have finally broken. It’s hard to imagine Trump coming out of this incident unscathed, which is ironic considering that if he was capable of displaying even the faintest outer contours of human empathy, this incident could have absolutely reassured him re-election in November. Instead, all its done is remind the world on an almost hourly basis what an incredibly small and shitty human being Trump is.
Perhaps this is what it took to destroy Trumpism once and for all. Literally every solution to any mechanical part of this epidemic can be solved by taking whatever Donald J. Trump’s reflexive instinct is in response to it and simply doing the exact opposite.
For the most part, our own online behavior has even gotten better, and the neighborhood of the internet more closely resembles the one that the most optimistic digital futurists projected in the 90s. Those that can have shifted out of cubicles and into the comfort of their own homes to work. (thus proving what disabled rights activists have been trying to say all along). We’ve substituted yelling at each other in comment threads to drunken zoom parties that devolve into who can make the worst virtual backgrounds. In short, the concept of the sudden loss of IRL human contact has made us much more conscientious of how we connect online.
In Italy — heartwarming stories of people singing and playing music from their porches fill the headlines (although, not everyone is good at it). We have come away with a whole new respect for our health care workers and delivery folks. In essence — we all have gotten a crash course in what is really important in our lives. It’s as if the whole planet is having a transformative near-death experience at once.
Corona virus has exposed and laid bare so many of the lies and fantastical thinking of capitalism. For maybe the first time in their adult lives, red state, low income republican voters have finally learned what radicals have been trying to tell them for years — that the amount of paychecks separating you from poverty are far fewer than those standing between you and being rich. Unlike the rest of the civilized world — we had no standing mechanism in place to do widespread testing because nothing in our system can function without the the first order priority being how everyone in the supply chain gets paid.
It’s taught us that nothing about the American for-profit health system was at all designed to deal with a crisis like this. For those that thought health care was a privilege as opposed to a right now can see the clear results of rationing health care to only those who can afford it. When it comes to contagion, we are all only as safe as the least cared for person in our society. For maybe the first time ever, people are able to see how much of our own health counts on the health of others.
In the vacuum of leadership on the federal level, state and local groups have sprung into action and mutual aid networks have been popping up overnight. We are finally able to see in bright lights how precarious an economy built off of service industry and gig workers really is. Relief funds have grown like weeds around the internet as we all become more holistically aware of how thin the ice was underneath so many of us to levels we were previously selfishly unaware.
More than anything else, this crisis has forced us all to confront how completely selfish and self-centered we had all become. (By the way — if you are looking for an indicator of when we finally have absorbed that lesson — keep an eye on the shelf the toilet paper usually lives on in your local grocery store. When that shelf starts to look normal again — you’ll know that either we figured out how to leave enough for the next person, or at least that one of the side effects of covid -19 does not involve your ass suddenly growing teeth).
As of this writing, it’s hard to say how long this is going to drag on, or how many more lives it will claim, but we know that this is a transformative event on the scale of a world war, only this time — the entire world shares a common enemy.
In the midst of this unspooling crisis lies a set of once in a lifetime opportunities to fix, well, almost everything.
It’s a chance for us to be better. A chance to avoid the iceberg of irreversible climate change. A chance to understand how connected all of our fates are, and how the bigness of our shared reality can overcome the smallness of our politics. We have been presented with a simple task. Just stay home and do nothing, and you can literally fix everything. It seems like a task even we are up to. There can be no going back to what it was like before this, and we shouldn’t want to.
In the center of this uncertain darkness, we have been handed an incredible gift. It’s up to us to not let it go to waste.