Care beyond the means of all but the rich.
By Thomas Frank and cross-posted from Le Monde Diplomatique.
The great underlying political crisis of this plague year, it is often said, is the stubborn refusal of Americans to respect expert authority. There’s an epidemic raging… and just look at those people frolicking in a swimming pool at the Lake of the Ozarks, repeating stupid conspiracy theories, spreading non-peer-reviewed medical advice on social media, running errands without a mask on, setting off roman candles in the street. And just look at their idiot of a president, dismissing the advice of his own medical experts, blaming everyone but himself for the disaster, suggesting we inject ourselves with Clorox because it’s effective on countertops and toilet bowls.
In truth, this grand conflict between the ignorant and the enlightened has been a motif of our politics for years (1). Liberals, we believe, are uniquely attuned to objective reality; they dutifully heed the words of Nobel laureates and Genius Grant winners. But Republicans are different: they live in a world of myth and fable where the truth does not apply.
Ordinarily our punditburo plays this conflict for simple partisan point-scoring. Us: smart! Them: stupid!
But the pandemic has given the conflict an urgency we have not seen before. These days, right-thinking Americans are tearfully declaring their eternal and unswerving faith in science. Democratic leaders are urging our disease-stricken country to heed the findings of medical experts as though they were the word of God.
Our ‘thought leaders’, meanwhile, have developed a theory for understanding the crazy behaviour we see around us: these misguided people are not merely stupid, they are in the grip of a full-blown philosophy of anti-expertise called ‘populism’. These populists are the unlettered who resent the educated and sneer at the learned (2). They believe in hunches instead of scholarship; they flout the advice of the medical profession; they extol the wisdom of the mob. Populism is science’s enemy; it is at war with sound thinking. It is an enabler of disease, if not a disease itself.
So sweetly flattering, so gorgeously attractive is this tidy little syllogism that members of our country’s thinking class return to it again and again. Medical science is so obviously right and populism so obviously wrong that celebrating the one and deploring the other has become for them one of the great literary set pieces of the era, the raw material for endless columns and articles.
Crushing national failure
Unfortunately, it’s all a mistake. Donald Trump’s prodigious stupidity is not the sole cause of our crushing national failure to beat the coronavirus. Plenty of blame must also go to our screwed-up healthcare system, which scorns the very idea of public health and treats access to medical care as a private luxury that is rightfully available only to some. It is the healthcare system, not Trump, that routinely denies people treatment if they lack insurance; that bankrupts people for ordinary therapies; that strips people of their coverage when they lose their jobs — and millions of people are losing their jobs in this pandemic. It is the healthcare system that, when a Covid treatment finally arrives, will almost certainly charge Americans a hefty price to receive it (3).
And that system is the way it is because organised medicine has for almost a century used the prestige of expertise to keep it that way…