COVID-19, Politics

Yes, People Are Dying. But It’s Still Okay to Worry About Your Job

Amanda Marcotte is a political writer for the left-leaning website Salon, and the author of Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself. On March 24th, in the midst of national and international discussions about what governments should be doing to manage the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, she tweeted as follows:

I don’t want people to die. But liberals are not helping by pressuring young people to give up jobs, savings and hope of a brighter future as if it’s a sacrifice they should make without complaint or any expectation of repayment, just because it’s the right thing to do.

The conversation should solely be framed as this, “We are asking young people to give up a lot, and to save mostly older people. So how are we going to pay them back? What sacrifice will be demanded to make them whole?”

I appreciate how people want to seem moral and righteous. But I want to underline the “contract” part of “social contract.” It is not justice to make young people give up their futures. We need to repay them, with interest.

People’s fears about losing jobs, losing houses, and watching retirement savings disappear are not minor. And if we fail to take them seriously, they will start to listen to Trump and others who say we have to re-open the economy.

Getting trolled from the Right is all in a day’s work for Marcotte. But following her publication of this thread, members of her own tribe rose to shout her down, calling her: twisted, disturbed, crazy, narcissistic, sociopathic, entitled, privileged, murderous, stupid, ageist, moronic, callous, reckless, selfish, repulsive, ghoulish, and disgusting. It did not take long for Godwin’s Law to take effect.

Some of this vitriol can be attributed to Marcotte’s unfortunate timing, coming amidst a parallel discussion among conservatives about whether the (economic) costs of pandemic mitigation were worse than the (health) costs of doing nothing—a discussion that included such infamous gems as this one from a San Diego lawyer: “The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population, which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive.

In this context, it was clumsy of Marcotte to start with “I don’t want people to die, but…” Even a charitable reader had to wait until the thread finale to learn that she actually does support pandemic control measures designed to minimize mortality.

Amanda Marcotte, photographed in 2009.

Some commenters were confused as to why Marcotte would pit young against old, given that the novel coronavirus can also endanger younger people, and that old people will share the economic suffering caused by the pandemic. One wonders whether the intergenerational blame game that characterizes climate-change politics has made progressive writers think that boomer-bashing will always be treated as an acceptable tactic.

Such is the topsy-turvy world of hyper-polarization: As soon as even a few conservatives started openly discussing whether saving old people was worth the price, progressives reflexively rose to senior citizens’ defence. Marcotte apparently did not get the memo.

Marcotte’s alleged ageism wasn’t the only thing that provoked widespread ire, though. Her demand that younger workers need to be repaid “with interest” was also a target for criticism. The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique challenge to humanity, and the outcome depends on our collective willingness to put the greater good before individual interests. When people are dying horrible deaths in isolation from loved ones, and essential workers are putting themselves and their families at risk by going into danger zones, this isn’t the time to focus on how much we’ll “repay” young, healthy people who, though worried and unemployed, are safe at home.

Yet there is also something unfair about the way Marcotte was treated. She was hardly the only public figure fretting about COVID-19’s economic fallout. The leaders of all OECD nations are, on some level, starting to think about the best way to un-thaw their economies once the pandemic has been suppressed, or at least controlled. Certainly, many figures on the Right had few qualms about defending corporate interests amid the economic tumult, and Donald Trump himself often has seemed more concerned with the stock market than the supply of respirators.

This is about more than Marcotte: As lobbyists of all stripes have sought to claim a piece of the US government’s massive relief package, wasn’t it the Left’s role to defend the interests of those whose fortunes are precarious?

Marcotte was directly addressing those on the Left who were failing to take seriously “people’s fears about losing jobs, losing houses, and watching retirement savings disappear.” While it sounds odd that anyone on the Left would need such a reprimand, Marcotte perhaps knew that such a reminder was necessary. Many activists on the Left (and Right) are now more energized by the hashtag culture wars than traditional class warfare.

This is partly because many of the most vigorous culture warriors on the Left are members of the chattering class rather than the working class. Moreover, progressives have been instilled with knee-jerk habits designed to enforce privilege checking. They fear a collective background admonition that goes, in effect: There is always someone who has had it worse than you, therefore you have no right to complain about your own situation. And if you do complain, you are worse than selfish. You are actively harming those who have had it worse than you. This is basically the edict that Marcotte violated—even though the victims here are the same older Americans who’ve been reviled by progressives for putting Trump into office (among various other crimes).

Marcotte may well be vindicated somewhat in coming months, as the economic consequences of the pandemic catch up with the health consequences. Many people of all stripes will suffer. Current estimates suggest that the unemployment rate could climb above 30 percent in the United States—higher than the Depression-era peak.

Even the Financial Times, hardly the Daily Worker, recently editorialized its concerns on this issue. Ironically, this conservative publication received little blowback (to my knowledge) for raising the same concerns about young workers that had gotten the progressive Marcotte into hot water:

The way we wage war on the virus benefits some at the expense of others. The victims of Covid-19 are overwhelmingly the old. But the biggest victims of the lockdowns are the young and active, who are asked to suspend their education and forgo precious income. Sacrifices are inevitable, but every society must demonstrate how it will offer restitution to those who bear the heaviest burden of national efforts. Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table.

* * *

Once the negative replies started rolling in, Marcotte tried to redirect people to the political argument she was trying to make:

Anyway, I’m thinking about not just being decent and kind to young people, but also strategically: A message of “you will give up your futures so others can live” is not a winning one. “We will fight like hell so you can be repaid for this sacrifice” is a winning one.

“Tough” and “too bad” continue not to be sufficient answers from so-called liberals when people worry about losing income and homes. Thank god the Democrats in Congress see this, but that liberals on Twitter don’t is mind-boggling.

“Tough” is not the answer when people say they are scared of losing a job, losing savings, losing a home. That so many liberals said otherwise is heartbreaking. It also makes me afraid that we’re going to lose to Trump.

I’m not here to defend Marcotte’s broader political agenda. But on these points, she is correct. Sucks-to-be-you generally isn’t a winning message in a democratic country. And Trump, for all his failures, is smart enough to avoid chastising his supporters for self-pity. Nor does he hesitate to echo their economic concerns. As Bret Stephens of the New York Times recently opined:

One reason I suspect Trump is benefiting politically from the pandemic is that he’s been talking about minimizing the economic fallout and getting the country back to work. That might be irresponsible from a medical and epidemiological point of view. But it resonates with millions of Americans, especially small business owners and their employees faced with complete financial ruin if the shutdowns carry on for months.

As Marcotte points out, the Democrats take people’s economic concerns seriously. Senator Bernie Sanders, a (now long-shot) presidential candidate, fought hard to maximize the unemployment benefits included in the massive economic stimulus package, rather than telling those losing their jobs that things could be worse. Voters want to be represented by someone who will fight for their interests, and there should be no shame in that. That “liberals on Twitter” (as Marcotte calls them) disagree is, indeed, “mind-boggling.”

We are all afraid for our health right now, but some are at greater risk. And the same is true of our economic fortunes. One wonders whether those who would shame Marcotte have things a little better than others. Just because death is the worst fate of all should not preclude us from articulating all-too-justified fears about unemployment and poverty.

 

Dan Meegan (@DanMeeganJr) is associate professor of psychology at the University of Guelph, and the author of America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation, published by Cornell University Press.

Featured image: Photo by Phil Campbell, 2011.

Comments

  1. There are tough times ahead, but my sense is that the pandemic also represents an unprecedented economic opportunity.

    Before the crisis, the US was already waking to the problems with China’s rise. The subordination of rule of law to the authoritarian government and the intellectual property theft were already good reasons to avoid business in China, now it is clear we also have to worry about supply chains being disrupted because a new deadly virus is coming out of China every few years. The corruption of the CCP is not just deadly for people, it is deadly for the world economy to count on China.

    As the world awakens to the scale and severity of the problem with China, I expect the coming years will see Western countries, particularly the US, move manufacturing home or to other Asian or possibly African countries, and develop the natural resource potential of their own countries. Countries fighting for masks now means smart governments will encourage home businesses to develop the capacity to produce essential goods. As China ramps up its aggression in the South China sea, and possibly interferes in the upcoming South Korean election, this will mean not just masks but all essentials will need to be able to be made at home for national security reasons.

    We can moan about how the government ought to give us money to make up for the lockdown, or we can see this as an opportunity to unlock American (and Australian, and Canadian, ect) potential. We have vast resources that are greatly underutilized because we’ve let the watermelons outsource all the dirty work to China and other countries whose environments they don’t care about. Now is the time to cut regulations and create a mining and manufacturing boom at home, to secure ourselves against the next inevitable CCP disaster.

    With super-low interest rates, it is time to think of starting businesses. Not look to the government to supply us with a universal basic income. Which path Westerners choose to go down will be the judge of what kind of people we are. It’s time to show we deserve our freedom.

  2. People’s fears about losing jobs, losing houses, and watching retirement savings disappear are not minor. And if we fail to take them seriously, they will start to listen to Trump and others who say we have to re-open the economy.

    Well, this is Marcotte’s bottom line, isn’t it. Addressing people’s fears, not because we should care about the terrible things that are going to happen to them, but because they may turn to Trump and the capitalists for help.

  3. Yes, Marcotte is always guaranteed to be wrong. I like reading her stuff sometimes on Salon, just to see how thick and illogical lefties can be.

    I often wonder if people like that go home and have a good laugh about how they make a salary pandering to the idiocy of the average progressive.

  4. Yes, but it’s not free trade that’s the issue, it’s China. Supply chains running through China are unwise, as is relying on them for essential resources and commodities. Free trade does not mean we shouldn’t develop domestic capacity, it is the watermelons that make every attempt at a mining project a nightmare that is standing in the way of this vital national security interest.

    Mining is not inherently poisonous, it can be done responsibly.

  5. There is some space between “no free trade” and “nothing made here”. In fact, we could continue to be as “free trade” as ever, policy-wise, over the next few years, and we’d still see a lot of manufacturing pulled out of China.

    Why? Because this experience is teaching people that China is unreliable, and because the backlash against “made in China” is going to grow. It won’t be “send our jobs overseas” motivating it this time. It will be “they’re f%&$ing evil”. And that will be broad consensus.

    Markets work.

  6. Is anyone else completely bored of this debate? I could not care less. I’m worried about people’s lives and I’m worried about the economy and I’m utterly baffled why i’m told I must choose. I also believe I don’t have a goddam clue how to fix either problem and it’s strange how many people seem to think they do (I suspect they don’t). They think they do so much they’re getting angry at people with different solutions or who are trying to solve different parts of the problem.

    I’m just so bored of the whole damn thing.

    I understand this comment is pointless, just felt like saying it. I’m getting increasingly cranky with every day I’m stuck at home.

  7. If I were working in a restaurant as I was at 25, I’d have very little savings to rely on to get through this crisis. Getting through to file for unemployment in the US is a full-time job. However, these funds are being extended to sectors previously marginalized: restaurant workers, freelancers, etc. And the amount, while not great, is probably enough to get by. When I lost a job during the Bush downturn, I lived frugally on unemployment, working on art and writing projects quite happily.

    This is not to downplay the economic consequences that we will all be facing – young and old – in the future. Things will not be the same. But would I be wrong to assume Marcotte as a shill to “tear down the patriarchy/capitalism bad”? In which case, here’s her revolution, brought to her from a wet market in Wuhan, with all the medieval potential for increased opportunity, given the loss of so many people previously in her (morally righteous) way?

    After all, the earth is shaking less. The air is cleaner. People are reconnecting. Planting seeds. Baking. Buying less crap. Isn’t this the life a morally pure lefty wants?

    And what’s this slippery slope about her future being destroyed, by the very generation who brought her here, to whom SHE should spare some compassion – given her superior morality. And does an older generation OWE a younger one? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? You pay back what they gave you?

    If anything, this perspective rats out the tribalism of that mindset. Us against them. It’s ugly. That this is a common belief in people her age makes me feel very uncomfortable getting old around them. I hope she licks a subway pole…

  8. This “pandemic” has already proved to be many times less severe than was hyped by the media only two weeks ago, where 2 million American dead and two years of lockdown were seriously bandied about by the people on TV. To their credit, many on the right cautioned restraint. Now, worst case scenarios are 60 thousand dead in the USA, and the media refuses to acknowledge the co-morbidity or age factor. Most of the deaths are being attributed to the Wuhan virus without waiting for the post mortem test results, which can take up to 8 weeks. Curiously, deaths attributed to pneumonia have all but ceased during this period of high death caused by Wuhan.

    Mass hysteria and panic were intentionally created by a self-interested media and blogosphere, comprised of wealthy people who were never in danger of missing a paycheck. This was 25% driven by genuine fear of the virus and 75% hope to somehow hurt Donald Trump’s reelection chances.

    These limousine liberals were not looking out for the vulnerable elderly. Much better strategies would have been followed had that been the case. The ruling class liberals worried about getting the virus themselves.

    To this date it is impossible to get critical demographic data about the victims. This is telling. The media and state governments prefer to trumpet the rare instances when someone who is relatively healthy nearly died. They refuse to mention it is rare for the young and healthy to die.

  9. “Ironically, this conservative publication received little blowback (to my knowledge) for raising the same concerns about young workers that had gotten the progressive Marcotte into hot water.”

    Is it really ironic, though? First, by using trolling titles such as her book, Marcotte is inviting attack on a different level. Second, Marcotte is on the Left, where any contrary sentiment can be expected to be pounded into oblivion by those who are sure of the truth. On the Right, one is more likely to see people give an argument a fair chance.

  10. One thing I find so confusing about the left is how the militant advocacy of abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide sits comfortably beside a fanatical obsession against the transmission of this disease. What they object to with the Chinese virus is that it is a natural process, not a controlled process. They prefer to have direct control over life and death. They want the power to decide life and death itself. You might say that they want to control the life and death narrative. So they compensate by advocating totalitarian measures designed to exercise total control over something that is unquestionably a natural phenomenon. The policy advocates have gradually shifted from a mitigation strategy, on which everyone can agree, to an eradication strategy, which is highly unlikely to succeed without killing the society patient. Even conservative governments have been swept up in the hysteria, although at least those governments have expresses some weak public doubts.

    One other comment, when the 18 year olds hit the Normandy beaches, they did not petulantly demand compensation.

  11. The problem is that most of the narratives emerging from the media don’t compare Trumps response to Democratic Leaders like Nancy Pelosi or Andrew Cuomo, or indeed to other World Leaders on the subject. Plus, however harsh it may seem, in crises such as these, it is important to downplay fears during the initial phases, in order to prevent vital supply systems from being undermined- whether it be maintaining the security of the food and household consumables supply chains, or indeed ensuring that vital PPE gets to key workers such as medical staff, instead of ordinary members of the public.

    Most people completely underestimate the extent to which the OECD countries, and even the WHO itself, have had to keep their own citizens in the dark, in order to plan the response and prevent the complete collapse of the World’s supply systems. After all, however bad the current situation might seem, it is infinitely preferable to seeing citizens congregate and riot outside food stores, as has been seen in Sicily. In the UK panic buying, with crowds massing outside supermarkets, in a systemic, but at least more orderly manner, after social distancing was introduced, probably extended close proximity contacts for a matter of at least four days, and doubled total coronavirus cases in the UK.

    Trump had to downplay the virus, as a matter of National Security and in order to save lives. It’s just a shame that the vast majority of people will never realise it.

  12. Trump is not the one who’s going to be trying to erase the history of these months as the election approaches. Between disparaging the China travel ban as racism, cheering for the stock market to fall, egregiously overhyping the pandemic, disparaging hydroxychloroquine, and trying to pack emergency legislation with airline fuel restrictions, they’re going to have a lot to cover up.

    As for politicization, we all know what started it:

    Democrats are driving themselves off a cliff.

    Partisan denial is to be expected, as usual, but this is probably not the forum to try to trick into believing it.

  13. That’s just “sour grapes,” Kurt, however understandable.

    I beg to disagree. Some of the most erudite commenters have presented strong defenses of their conclusions and have given you, their incontrovertibly erudite momentary adversary, an excellent “run for your money.”

    That’s because you’re a fundamentally decent fellow that reciprocates good will.

    Only you can determine that, so I’ll just say that it’s been useful, thought-provoking and pleasant having you as part of the community. Your contributions will be missed. All the best to you.

  14. Instead of continuing this back-and-forth, let’s agree that both Antifa and the Alt-Right are beyond the pale and should be condemned insofar as they commit or encourage acts of violence. We disagree about the degree to which people on the left and right (respectively) have distanced themselves from these extremists, but that’s an empirical question which is difficult to resolve without a systematic study. Reliance on acecdotes and subjective impressions leaves us vulnerable to confirmation bias.

    I also condemn (unequivocably) atrocities committed by leftist extremists in the 20th century and freely acknowledge that they caused far more deaths than right-wing equivalents.

  15. And this is exactly what has driven me inevitably Trump-wards. I detest being told that I am racist sexist and bigoted because I disagree with a progressive talking point, and the person holds that definition of racism that @K_Dershem uses and is willing to weaponize it.

    It is weird. People used to try to convince people they needed to vote with them. Now it’s condemnation.

    I have to give @K_Dershem credit, though, for keeping it clean and polite. He is living up to the best of what I used to see from the Left.

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