Empty promises and half-measures: A sobering look at the government’s response to COVID-19


Photo courtesy of: AP

FILE – In this March 21, 2018, file photo Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., attend a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the Office of Strategic Services in Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pelosi and McConnell are coming together to see if a deal can be made to stop billions of dollars in government spending cuts. Failure to reach an agreement would usher in cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs of $125 billion next year _ a 10 percent drop from current levels.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Max Munoz


As of late Nov., numbers have shown that over 280,000 people have been killed by COVID-19 in the US. That’s more than two Vietnam wars. And just like the brutal war that plagued the sixties and seventies, our current battle with a faceless enemy has a more real and far more domestic perpetrator: our own government. Elected officials both red and blue have failed, and far too many lives and livelihoods have been lost. Here’s how.

 Public Health

Taking a look at solely the public health sector, the largest and most obvious offender is the President. Regardless of partisan inclinations, the facts show that his administration, while not alone in its ineptitude nor wilful ignorance, had the most legal capability and refused to use it. This is not an exoneration of the neoliberal Democrats or even progressive politicians at the federal level. Egregious and irresponsible mistakes were made across the board; President Trump just so happens to have made the worst ones.

Well into early 2020, President Trump publicly denied that the virus was a threat at all, insisting in February that it would one day simply disappear, “like a miracle.” While those illogical assertions on their own would have been incriminating enough, Trump’s private interactions at the time paint a far more malignant, even indictable, portrait of the president. By his own admission, Trump understood exactly the kind of threat the virus posed to the states and deliberately downplayed it early on.

In private conversations with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward, Trump acknowledged that the virus was more dangerous than the Flu, calling it a “killer” that you “don’t have a chance” with if you’re the wrong person. 

   “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down,” Trump said, in a conversation with Woodward

He had the facts, and he had the largest stockpile of resources in the world at his disposal. He just chose to let people die. Data shows that if he had acted just one week sooner than he did, 36,000 lives would have been spared.

Then, mid-March, when his administration finally publicly identified COVID-19 as dangerous, the actions, or rather, inactions taken had crippling effects. Trump, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rolled out an exceptionally pathetic response, a set of federal “solutions” characterized more by what wasn’t done rather than what was. 

Studies show that a federal mask mandate, like Japan enacted, would have cut our deaths to one-twelfth of our current numbers. No plan for that was put forward. De-privatization of healthcare, even temporary, would have guaranteed both diagnosis and treatment for all afflicted by the virus. Americans were eventually guaranteed diagnosis but not treatment, leaving a vast majority of low-income citizens vulnerable, untreated, and contagious. 

On both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans dropped the ball hard, allowing, unwittingly or not, the novel coronavirus to spread exponentially. And now, hundreds of thousands of everyday people are paying the price. Washington’s actions reflect a government that’s either too weak to protect its people or too unconcerned, though its economic response might reflect the latter more accurately.

The Economy

Following the national shutdown, the federal actions taken to “preserve” the economy were, for lack of a better word, disgusting, though it is one of the most revealing examples of where Washington’s loyalties really lie in recent years. 

Needless to say, shutting down the economy was a necessary but devastating measure. But as countless restaurants, retail stores, and more were forced to close their doors, working families nationwide were left with zero income. The U6 unemployment rate rose to upper levels of twenty-two percent, far surpassing the rate of the 2008 great recession and even dipping its toes into Great Depression territory. With nearly 80 percent of workers living paycheck-to-paycheck before the shutdown, the vast majority of Americans were in dire, life-threatening need of financial support.

Congress’ response? Bailing out corporations, the 1 percent, and the stock market. In other words, they put the rich on welfare. The 2.2 trillion dollar CARES Act, backed equally by Democrats and Republicans alike, rushed to federally subsidize major conglomerates while the Federal Reserve pumped as much as 1.5 trillion dollars a day into the stock market. So, as the rest of the American population, including small business owners, continued to struggle financially, the combined wealth of all 614 billionaires increased by 584 billion (more than half a trillion) dollars between Mar. 18 and Jun. 17. And for the people? A one-time 1,200-dollar payment with conditions, because nothing says “American Dream” quite like hanging everyday working families out to dry.

To add injury to insult, American workers now face an unprecedented eviction crisis. While early COVID-related state legislation included a temporary rent freeze and moratorium on evictions, that’s ending soon, if it hasn’t already. By some estimates, around 40 million Americans are in danger of losing their homes this year. For context, there were only 2.3 million evictions in 2016. And once again, our government’s response is what it’s been all through this year: inaction.

Let’s be clear: a Democratic administration would not have yielded a different or better response. Both parties are completely removed from the needs and experiences of everyday people; they have been for some time. Regardless of the winner of the Presidential election, keep in mind that, despite their posturing, both parties are two sides of the same corporatist coin. So while Biden and Trump trip over themselves to condemn socialism, remember that it was both of their parties that were putting the stock market and the corporations on welfare as everyday people got crumbs. That’s not a capitalist economy, that’s socialism – for the rich.