I feel no satisfaction for correctly predicting my country would be the worst at containing the coronavirus and absorbing its economic shock. When I began to see in early March that the virus was definitely coming to prey upon our chronically ill and elderly, my mind immediately considered the tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured people in the United States. I thought of all the people I’ve met in the past few years who’ve avoided seeking health care because it’s too damned expensive. My stomach turned at the thought of all those undiagnosed and untreated comorbidities that make people more susceptible to death by COVID-19. I considered how our federal government, malnourished by decades of neoliberal policy, had no safety net in place for this disaster. Safety nets are for unlucky people, and we can’t be bothered with taking care of them. In this society if you’re born into poverty, or you get seriously sick, or get laid off from your job, that’s your problem. We expect people in these situations to somehow pull together an income that covers food, childcare, health care, and housing expenses. Now, with a staggering 30 million unemployed, our unlucky population has grown tremendously. As far as oligarchs like Trump are concerned, that just means the losers have become more expensive.
In my young adulthood I wanted so badly to become an expatriate, to abandon my cruel and hateful imperialist homeland and move to a part of the world that took better care of its people. As the child of an airline worker, I had access to cheap tickets. So I knew how to get away but not how to reestablish myself. How does one start a new life in a place where you don’t know anyone? I wished I could be braver, like other expat Americans who’d managed to build a life abroad. (I didn’t understand then that trust funds often play a role in that life of daring adventure.) At the beginning of 2000, I dated a Swedish study abroad student and visited him in Stockholm after he moved back. When I returned home from that trip I told him I wanted to save up money and move across the world to be with him, but then he broke up with me. Alas, that was the closest I got to living under a social democracy.
Not long after that, I gave up on my expat dream and accepted that I was stuck with the USA for the foreseeable future. 9/11 happened. I knew the US would soon be ramping up for war with Iraq. It made no sense, except from a hawk profiteer’s point of view. So of course it would happen, just as sure as it would be a disaster. I felt no satisfaction in being right about that, either. But I longed for a reckoning. I hoped, at the very least, that idiot president W would lose his reelection bid. I thought the Abu Ghraib torture scandal would solidify that. But we all know what happened that general election night in 2004. I pretty much stopped paying attention to politics for the next ten years. That was how I could stand to live in the United States.
In 2014 I stopped giving up once I saw large numbers of young people filling streets to demand justice for black people who’d been murdered by cops. Spurred by their commitment to action, I got involved in reproductive rights work. But I still never thought much about electoral politics before Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run. Then I saw him win states on a platform that highlighted the kind of Nordic social programs I craved in my young adulthood. In 2017, when I saw people of all ages pushing hard for single-payer healthcare, I decided to join a rapidly growing socialist organization demanding Medicare for All. For the first time in my life, I saw an opportunity to actually make the United States better instead of just daydreaming about living somewhere else.
But I’m afraid this pandemic has viciously reignited my primal desire to escape. What a horrible country this is! Ultimately there is no getting away from the US horror show. Imperialism plus global capitalism means our policies taint the entire world. I feel a moral obligation to make us less awful. Now that we’ve tried and failed to put a decent social democrat in the White House, I’m pretty sure that building working class power through solidarity is our best strategy to weaken the oligarchs’ stranglehold on our government and economy. I would like someday to feel very satisfied in that prediction, instead of just being correct about imminent horror.