By Larry Levine –
You Bet Your Life was a TV quiz program hosted by Groucho Marx from 1950 to 1961.
It’s being revived now with a new title – You Bet MY Life. The star is reality television personality Donald Trump, with a supporting cast of governors in states across the nation, street thugs with assault rifles, sign-waving right-wing political activists and anti-vaxxers, and business owners.
Together they form a perfect fit of complacency, denial, fear and greed.
I had to make a short trip out of the house this morning. As has been the case for the last four weeks, I noticed more traffic on the streets and freeways then the week before. I wondered if there that many more essential workers out and about now than there were before? Or is it complacency?
As I drove, I saw most retail stores and office buildings still closed. Then there was the luggage store that was opened along with the store selling sheepskin car seats, the Bazaar selling dresses, and the store with a line of bra and panty clad mannequins lining the sidewalk. All these defying an order to stay close on a major boulevard within a few blocks of a police station. Enforcement? Non-existent. Or complacent? The shop owners? Denial? Fear? Greed?
This morning’s news carried several notable stories of happenings in the last 36 hours:
• A United Air Lines flight from New York to San Francisco, was packed after the airline broke a promise to keep middle seats vacant for separation. What would you have done if you showed up expecting social separation? (Hint: you would have no recourse.) What if you were offered one of those middle seats? Are the people who flew in that plane complacent or in denial? Is the airline driven by greed?
• Manufacturing plants will reopen in Michigan even as growing numbers of workers at meat processing and packing plants are becoming ill and dying. Trump orders the meat plants to remain open, risking the health of more workers and we learn most of the meat is being exported to China. Greed? Denial?
• An ice cream store opened in Massachusetts with published rules: must order in advance and come only to pickup those orders; limits on the number of customers in the store; social distancing in the store. But customers showed up without ordering in advance and demanded immediate service. They overran the store and ignored social distancing requirements. Abuse of workers became so great that one employee quit on the spot and the owner decided to shut down. Denial?
These things happened in the last 36 hours, the latest consequence of the bungled federal government handling of this grave threat to the public health. A lack of leadership drove businesses to desperate ends and stretched the economic well-being of working people to frightening levels.
The majority of Americans, as reflected in public opinion polling, support continuation of restrictions aimed at limiting the number or people exposed. But sign-waving and armed demonstrators make good visuals for TV. They become the focus in newspaper coverage. That ups the pressure on state and local officials to “reopen” while the majority stay quietly at home telling pollsters they don’t agree. And the president who said he would leave things up to the states cheers on the reopeners and scorns those who are more cautious.
In the face of a resurgence of the virus after reopenings caused Germany, South Korea and China to close down again, governors of American states are announcing plans to reopen. A federal judge blocks a Kentucky ban on gatherings for church services. Restaurants, bars, breweries, barber shops, hair and nail salons, gyms, and beaches are opening across the U.S. All with separation requirements but no enforcement mechanism. A Colorado restaurant defied a state order and reopened for Mothers’ Day. Crowds jammed the place and lined up outside to get in. Few wore masks. Tables were crammed together and the owner took to Facebook to thank everyone for the support. Fear? Greed? Denial? No enforcement.
The message from America’s governors appears to be: “What we have been doing so far works, so let’s stop doing it.” At the same time, researchers announce they are discovering new ways in which the virus attacks the human body and the number of infections and deaths continue to mount. Denial?
Governors, under pressure from the White House and media coverage of street demonstrations, are deciding what they want to do. They want to silence the demonstrators and get off the political hook by reopening. Then they create the facts to justify reopening, all the while claiming to have the advice of medical professionals to guide them and at the same time saying they can’t let the medical professionals make public policy without considering the needs of the economy.
So, they let businesses open and tell employees they must return to work or lose their unemployment payments. The entire medical community says stepped up testing is one of the keys to being able to reopen. The president says, “Testing makes us look bad” and does nothing to help states increase testing.
All this – the lack of enforcement, the brushing aside of medical advice, the reopening of things that can by no stretch be deemed essential, a president who refuses to set an example by wearing a mask and tells the public it’s OK to shun masks – these create an atmosphere of relaxed caution in which defiance bests compliance. Denial?
The “you’re on your own” attitude from the president and shamefully inadequate economic support for businesses and workers from the federal government create an atmosphere of fear? For the average working person, it isn’t greed that drives them to want to ignore health risks and return to work. It’s fear of economic ruin. The same probably is true of most small business owners. Both the worker and the business owner are caught in a financial vice created by the federal government.
Let’s look at what happened in South Korea through the prism of the drive for reopening in the U.S. For weeks that nation was praised for having acted quickly to get ahead of the virus. Infection and death rates were low and appeared to be under control. Regulations were relaxed or dropped and reopening became the norm. Announcements were made that schools would reopen this week.
Then one infected man, who may not have known he was infected, went to five clubs in a night. An estimated 1,500 other people at those clubs. Each of those people then went home and out into the community and interacted with untold numbers of others. There was a resurgence. Plans to reopen schools are cancelled. Stay-at-home regulations are reimposed.
So, all you governors who are reopening everything, do the math. Every person at every tattoo parlor, beach, nail salon, restaurant, etc. may be infected. Those with whom that person comes in contact will go forth and mingle with others. The false sense of security – complacency? denial? – will lead to the abandonment of masks and the relaxing of distancing. And we will have the revived television show with a new name – You Bet MY Life.
The solution? There is no good one. We can’t reset the clock, go back six months, and treat this with the seriousness it deserved. We can’t hope a federal administration set on cheerleading a dangerous reopening will earmark the resources to relieve the financial pressures on working people and their employers and thus relieve some of the pressure to reopen. We can’t expect the media to ignore the street demonstrators and leave government leaders free to ignore the artificial political pressure and act on the best science and best medical advice.
So, what can we do? It seems we’ll have to exercise our own individual cautions and watch as they roll the dice with our lives, remembering snake eyes and box cars come up as often as seven or eleven but with far more dire consequences.