Here is a head of government speaking to the people she supposedly governs, in terms that could not be clearer:
That lays it all out on the table, doesn’t it? This tweet from San Francisco Mayor London Breed is almost a week old but it has bounced around in my mind ever since, because it is such a pure and chilling distillation of the message coming from governments at every level in this country: we’re done trying to do all that much for you, go and figure it out yourselves.
The pandemic has been crazy-making ever since it started, but the current disorientation has a particularly malevolent tenor. I think that is because we are experiencing, en masse, what happens when the state and its ideological outriders decide that the people have to be brought into line again. We have come to expect too much from our leaders over these past nearly two years, and, now that any efforts to control the pandemic have failed, they see an urgent need to remind us how little we should be demanding. The powerful in this society are trying very forcibly to discipline us, to turn us against each other, to tamp down any sign of workers’ revolts, and to keep the engines of capital flowing come what may. And if you’ve been feeling especially shitty recently, that might be because living through this whiplash really sucks—or because, like so very many people, you have COVID, which also really sucks.
You can see this ideological war—because that is what it comes down to—being waged through all of the actions of the federal government over the past week, as summed up so expertly by Jack Crosbie. They are bewildering if you think that the goal of the government right now is to keep everyone safe and supported during Omicron, but they make a lot of sense if you think that the goal of the government right now is to give up, get everyone to go back to work, and hope we all shut the hell up for a while.
You can also see the battle lines being drawn in the creepy messaging about the economy coming out of the White House:
And you can especially see it in the discourse around school closures, which has so broken pundit brains that Nate Silver actually compared the act of sending children home during a raging COVID outbreak to the Iraq War. That comment is mostly too stupid to tussle with, but it is a tidy example of the places this conversation can go. Nobody is saying that schools should be permanently shut, just as nobody is calling for 2020-style mass lockdowns. But even suggesting that keeping schools fully open right now is perhaps unwise is akin to a child murderer. Never mind what is actually happening in the schools:
Presumably, Nate Silver would say that all of this is an example of things working well.
The schools debate is also a perfect chance for elites to chide us for daring to expect too much. Nobody has been doing this more than Leana Wen, the short-lived former president of Planned Parenthood who has now become a frequent COVID medical talking head:
Would it be ideal if school facilities had, y’know, the bare minimum of protection against COVID? Sure, yes, but they don’t, so oh well. If restaurant employees have to be forced back into work, why shouldn’t teachers suffer the same fate? (Crazy thought: what if everyone had the rights at work that teachers do?) It would be easier to dismiss Wen and Silver as mere outriders if it wasn’t so obvious that the government agrees with them.
I want free tests on demand, generous sick pay and unemployment insurance, and a pool of aid that can be tapped if businesses need to be paid to be shut. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. But the message is clear: none of that will be coming. Schools and hospitals are buckling, but whatever. As London Breed said, it’s up to us to just “do our best” to dodge COVID. We’re being shoved into the pandemic machine, and if we get caught in the works, I guess that’s our problem.