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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

COVID-19, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Depravity

There are two realities that the present pandemic has made abundantly clear: 1. The environmental destructiveness of our current political and economic system and 2. the psychopathic and utter morally depravity of the current POTUS and anyone who continues to support him.

First, neoliberalism, the environment and the spread of a viral pandemic. Neoliberalism is a political worldview that is realized through the economics of unregulated or laissez-faire capitalism. Its goal is to privatize losses and socialize costs, to enrich the opulent class of owners by imposing austerity on the poor and working class. It thrives best in regimes where democracy has been compromised or survives in name only—in corporatocracies, plutocracies, oligarchies or state-led authoritarian regimes. As long as it can commodify, extract and exploit the earth and whatever lives or breathes for profit, it will continue unchecked. It knows no economic, cultural, ethical or environmental boundaries. When the rich develop a taste for rare and exotic foods our neoliberal capitalist system caters to their desires, even if this means encroaching on and disturbing wild animal habitats and spreading virulent pathogens. That insatiable desire for the rare and exotic is likely what gave rise to COVID-19. We should not have any illusions that COVID-19 is some sort of rare one-off phenomenon. Given the way corporate agriculture and deregulated extractive capitalism presently operates there will be a COVID-20. Viruses mutate. That is just what they do. They need a host to replicate, but when they are not in us (and other critters) they just hang around as inanimate matter--for thousands, even millions of years. Many of these viruses circulate through different wildlife habitats and don't necessarily pose any threat to humans. However, as we encroach upon wildlife habitats they crossover and find their way into human hosts (Ebola, Bird Flu, SARS, Zika, West Nile for example).

People speak of this virus as nature 'revenging' itself. Nature, however, is indifferent to human desires, emotions or moral injunctions. COVID-19 is not nature’s revenge, but the very predictable result of human arrogance, irresponsibility and greed enabled and legitimated by a neoliberal economic system that caters to the indulgences of the wealthy who have increasingly been allowed to consume rare and endangered animals. It is human intervention and destruction of biodiversity that created the condition for the present viral pandemic. We destroy wetlands and rain forests, we kill and cage rare animals for food and pleasure, we encroach upon and disrupt ecosystems bringing ourselves into contact with animal species who carry virulent pathogens. Pathogens do not respect either geographical borders or species boundaries. Think about that every time a politician talks about economic resource development and deregulation as 'essential' for human health and prosperity.

It is not nature we should hold accountable but human psychopathy—those in power who actually made this situation worse—those who should be found guilty of negligent homicide because they refused to act in ways that would have mitigated human suffering and death. That brings us to Trump.

The United States has, by far, the highest number of cases of COVID-19 (1,826,085 as of May 31) and the highest number of deaths at 105,873. If they had acted responsibly and followed scientific and medical advice far fewer Americans would be suffering and dying. They did not. The present pandemic has revealed Donald Trump (and no few Republican senators and governors) not just as incompetent, uncaring and racist, but as psychopathic.

Psychopaths are defined as those who are socially irresponsible, disregard or violate the rights of others, cannot distinguish between right and wrong, have little or no capacity for remorse or empathy, lie on a regular basis and manipulate and exploit other people to achieve personal goals. That pretty much describes Trump and the Republicans that aid and abet him. The politician as psychopath has been normalized by Mitch McConnell, Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani, and a Republican Party that Noam Chomsky rightly describes as the most dangerous organization in human history”. That is why in the midst of a pandemic they can say without a hint of remorse that people should simply die in order to 'save the economy'.

In COVID-19 we are witness to a perfectly lethal combination: unregulated neoliberal economics and the psychopathological politics of Donald Trump. The Atlantic's Adam Serwer is dead-on when he says that ‘cruelty is the point’—that President Trump and others like him find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear.

Four years ago, many on the right (and left) argued that Trump won the presidency not because a ‘basket of deplorables’ voted for him, but because the Democrats and their chosen candidate Hilary Clinton had zero to offer, while Trump spoke to the economic precarity of a large swath of voters who were marginalized by a neoliberal economic system that left them behind. However, these excuses will no longer suffice in 2020 for the simple reason that Trump has proven again and again that his real base is not working Americans wearing MAGA caps, but corporations and the rich. In hindsight and in the aftermath of COVID-19 it turns out that 62,979,879 Americans voted for a psychopath and narcissist who really does not give a shit whether they live or die.

The inescapable conclusion we must now come to is that anyone who votes for Trump in 2020 is a person who does indeed rejoice in hatred, racism and the suffering of others—someone who, in other words, is so morally depraved to be beyond any hope of redemption.

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