Covid In America and How We Got Here
The Cumulative Impacts of Cancer Treatment are Not Unlike those of the Reagan Revolution: Sickening
It’s a familiar refrain throughout this terrible, dystopian year so far: everything sucks. Everything.
I get it. It sucks for me, too. My career kind of fell apart at the beginning of the year. A new coronavirus emerged to challenge the world. The economy fell apart, too.
Worst of all, my spouse of 32 years, Arturo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. At the beginning of the year he was having trouble with swallowing and finally consulted his doctor about it. The tests were run and the results were clear: stage two cancer.
The relatively good news is that it was caught pretty early and the prognosis looks pretty good. Still: he faced a tough course of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments to unfold over a couple of months.
What has been most remarkable is the slow build of side effects and suffering. Early on, Arturo tolerated the chemo and radiation pretty well. He definitely felt side effects, but it wasn’t like what you see in Hollywood pictures about cancer. We both thought: we’ve got this! We’re going to get through this like champs!
But the effects of treatment are cumulative.
With each passing week, the side effects just kept piling on. He felt worse and worse, and by the end, he was just wrung out. There were definitely dark days. I was so worried, and also so proud of how hard he worked to endure the pain and discomfort. He has been brave and resilient. But he has suffered. Cruelly.
Throughout all of this, we’ve watched an explosion of social activism take to the streets in the U.S. and around the world in response to sustained police brutality. We’ve also watched in horror as the death toll from COVID–19 in the U.S. climbs past 120,000 lives and counting while the President chooses to basically ignore the whole thing in service to a cynical reelection campaign strategy.
My very first presidential election as a voting adult was when Ronald Reagan was running for reelection. I was just coming out of the closet, in college, and the AIDS epidemic was emerging as a global crisis. Given Reagan’s social conservatism, there was no way I could vote for him.
Beyond the fact that President Reagan decided his administration’s best response to the growing pandemic was to ignore it (what’s old is new again…), his doctrine that government is the problem to every problem America might face went against what I believed was the potential of government to do good in people’s lives. Reagan and his Republican Revolution had signed up for the Grover Norquist dictum that, with the exception of the military, the government should be shrunk until it was small enough to drown in a bathtub.
The GOP has been effective ever since in eroding public confidence in government. Together with their supporters in conservative media, the core Reagan thesis that government is the problem has led to the current disastrous moment.
All of which is to say, the cumulative impacts of cancer treatment are not unlike those of the Reagonomics. We’re seeing the results of it in particularly harsh light right now. Our government is uniquely unprepared and unable to do its most basic function: protecting its citizens. The Trump Administration response to COVID–19 when compared to those of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and much of Asia can only be described as criminal given the vast resources available to it.
Moreover, unemployment as a result of the pandemic is at Great Depression levels. Food banks and basic social services are overwhelmed. States and cities are teetering on the brink. And yet there is still no coherent Federal government response to any of this chaos, suffering, and death.
But it’s not just Trump and his cabal of sycophants presiding over this unfolding drama at the heart of the problem. That more than a third of all Americans buy into their cynicism; their rejection of basic science and even common sense; and their bogeyman tactics, which demand that you love America but hate your fellow and sister Americans, especially if they’re not straight and white, is the result of a decades-long campaign to sow division in our land. As a result, whole swaths of citizenry won’t do something as simple as wear masks when away from home to help prevent the spread of disease.
This is not a bug, as we say in software development, but a feature. The current state of things are exactly as designed. The architects of the Reagan Revolution wanted to concentrate unimaginable wealth in the hands of a relatively few. They wanted whole categories of humanity to be seen as less than… not as good as… not equal to those in power.
George Floyd’s death and every other death like his isn’t an accident. And the terrible fact that Black and brown people are getting sick and dying from coronavirus at disproportionate rates is by design.
The good news: a shift is upon us. Something big is happening in response.
Young people have found their voice. And they’ve taken to the streets, masks and all. Older folks like me are rediscovering their own voices and are adding to the chorus. The hope that flowered with the election of Barack Obama, only to be trampled with the rise of Donald Trump, is once again reemerging, but in new, more powerful ways.
Thanks in part to the passions activated by leaders like Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Americans are increasingly looking to Europe for examples of how we might define a whole new social contract in the U.S. Which is to say: one that is kinder, more human-centered, gentler, in service to true equality for all, with policies informed by science, and one that invites a way to be happier and more prosperous overall.
Much of the Reagan way of thinking and governing will have to be dismantled, beginning with the military and prison industrial complexes. Our way of thinking about taxes and tax policy itself will have to be reimagined. These took decades to construct so it will take time to dismantle them. But it can be done and I’m so glad a new generation is leading the way.
As for us? Arturo has a few more hurdles to overcome. There’s surgery and its aftermath ahead of us. But we’re very optimistic.
Recovery from the profound illness that plagues our land is possible, too. With resilience and hard work and determination — and yes, through voting — we can all find a new way to better days ahead.