10/7/20

Late yesterday, Trump pulled the plug on negotiations with Democrats on Covid-19 aid until after the election, directing the Senate to give full and complete attention to confirming his Supreme Court nominee. Hours later, the original tweet was somewhat recanted, although not entirely. Regardless, under the McConnell leadership in the Senate, the prospect for any imminent enactment of additional federal aid still seems dim.

The callousness of the posture on the parts of both the president and the Republican senators is breathtaking. They just don’t get it. Rather than addressing the immeasurable harm currently or soon to be affecting those who are directly affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic, Republicans seems poised to turn a blind eye. Instead, their energies are being directed at greasing the wheels on reversing Roe v. Wade and dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

The dire straits faced by those who’ve left the labor force seemed to have fallen from the front pages of our nation’s newspapers shortly before this latest Trump message bumbling. This lack of attention may have been a consequence the guarded Mnuchin/Pelosi negotiation that were underway in connection with a new aid package, but it probably also had to do with the happy talk by the Trump administration, saying how great the recovery has been and implying that the economic problems stemming from the pandemic were yesterday’s news. Tell that to the millions who are still waiting to get back to work.

If you’ve managed to function above the fray, where the economic costs of the Coronavirus have largely left you unscathed, count yourself lucky; but don’t let your good luck and Republican talking points lull you into thinking all is okay. It’s not. Many suffer, and I ask you to think of those who are trying to get by with no means of support and little or no savings. What would you do in that situation?

I’ve been going through this exercise in my head, and the options are frightening. For those individuals who’ve depleted their personal savings, reducing spending becomes imperative; but at some point, substituting pasta for beef just won’t cut it. Without a paycheck, those without resources will inevitably have to try to negotiate with landlords or mortgagors to adjust the terms of their commitments. This remedy, however, will probably save only a minority. More than likely, it will be the failure to amend those contracts — or failure to amend them enough — that will force those who’ve lost their income to seek new accommodations.

Prospects for making new housing arrangements for these people seem insurmountable given their lack of income or their incapacity to meet their current financial requirements. They’re likely to be shut out of traditional markets for housing. The growing number of evictions will inevitably lead to more doubling up, more overcrowding, and more homelessness. (Did I mention that we happen to be in the midst of a Coronavirus pandemic, where social distancing is an imperative for containment? Who knew?!)

I haven’t even gotten to food. If it got to the point where I couldn’t afford to feed myself or my family, I’d certainly seek out food pantries; I’d sign up for food stamps if not already receiving them; I’d panhandle; and if desperate enough, I’m pretty sure I’d steal. I don’t think I’d do anything that would endanger other people, but who knows? People do that, and I expect more do it out of desperation, rather than because they’re bad people. Given the cutoff of federal aid, growing numbers of people are facing these… “choices.”

Trump’s mixed messaging leaves the issue squarely in the hands of the Republican-controlled Senate; and in response to this challenge, its prescription is to ask those in need financial need to suck it up — a posture that’s guaranteed to deepen the crisis. Rather than addressing these needs, Republicans in the Senate are prioritizing the installation of a Supreme Court justice who is on record favoring the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the cancellation of the Affordable Care Act — two actions lauded by Republicans that will inflict great suffering and anguish for people facing desperate situations.

Thomas Friedman got it right when he wrote in today’s NY Times Op Ed (October 7, 2020), “To reelect him (Trump) would be an act of collective madness.” [Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/06/opinion/trump-coronavirus-superspreader.html?searchResultPosition=1.] Actually, he only got it half right. The same can be said of electing a Republican-dominated Congress.

Kawaller holds a Ph.D. in economics from Purdue University.