April will be the most devastating month our country has suffered in decades. Tens of thousands of Americans will die in the coming weeks and there’s very little we can do about it. We’ll read stories of hospitals overwhelmed, people dying alone on stretchers in hallways, and shortages of ventilators and basic medical supplies like masks and gloves. Through it all, Donald Trump will tell us what a great job he’s done and that nobody could have seen it coming. It’s the Big Lie.
The pandemic we face was not only predictable, globalization made it virtually inevitable. It was just ignored. The response by the United States will likely lag that of almost every other developed country. It will certainly fall woefully behind places like South Korea that not only recognized the threat, but prepared for it.
We got in this predicament because forty years ago Ronald Reagan and his free marketeers told us that government was the problem, not the solution. “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” he told the country. He began slashing government programs and demonizing anything designed to help the American people, regardless of its necessity or success.
Reagan and the free marketeers used poor people as scapegoats, deriding them as lazy and telling the American people that their tax dollars were going to support “welfare queens.” They crowed about tax cuts that gave hundreds of dollars a year to average families while taking billions out of the treasury to give millionaires. They restructured the tax code to protect people who make money from investments and shifted the tax burden onto people who make their living as wage earners. As the price of education and health care rose because of less government investment, Republicans told us we couldn’t afford to help people or prepare for disasters because we needed to live within our means.
As the Reagan Revolution gained steam and the free marketeers hawked their Randian view of the world, a right-wing media industry rose to promote it. Rush Limbaugh and talk radio kept the heat on godless liberals and worthless layabouts looking for a government handout. Republican political consultant Roger Ailes upped the distortion game with Fox News. Today, the network has morphed into the propaganda wing of the Trump administration, spreading disinformation and praising the president in ways that would make North Korean media blush.
The devastation awaiting us in the next few weeks was not only predictable but largely preventable. Countries that prepared for a pandemic are minimizing its impact. Here in America, we couldn’t afford to spend that type of money for something that hadn’t even happened. The market didn’t demand it, so the private sector didn’t prepare for it.
Trump didn’t systematically dismantle government. He slashed it with broad strokes and put political hacks in positions that demanded expertise. Republicans sat back and cheered, ignoring everything from his moral failings to his grifting family because the stock market kept going up. When the pandemic was looming and the impact became obvious, they claimed Democrats were irresponsibly hyping a crisis to hurt the president. Now that the looming disaster is upon us, they’re blaming Democrats for distracting the golf-playing president with impeachment hearings.
Today’s crisis wasn’t unexpected. It was forty years in the making. Demonizing government has left essential services from schools to hospitals pitifully underfunded. Our $20 trillion deficit is the result of underfunding government, not overfunding programs. In April, we’ll see the results of putting the efficiency of the market above the well-being of the people. It’s the rotten fruit of the Reagan Revolution.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >