COVID-19 and the progressive dream: Yeah, sorry, but it’s dead

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Universal healthcare will not happen in my lifetime.

I don’t know why, but that realization hit me the other night, and it sent me into a funk.

Because it’s clear to me, after doing an analysis of universal healthcare, and then the other things that have mattered to me in terms of public policy, that it’s all over – that the progressive dream is dead.

Let’s start with universal healthcare, for which I’ve been making the economic case for years, with a study funded by the Koch Brothers at George Mason University helping me make my case.

The study, of course, was supposed to scare us all straight, telling us that Medicare for All would cost taxpayers $3.2 trillion a year, which, whoa, seriously, come on, $3.2 trillion a year, no way we can afford that, right?

Except that the study also tells us that we’re already spending, between our hodgepodge of public and private healthcare, in the area of $5 trillion a year.

So, see, savings, bottom line.

Studies are a wonderful thing.

The problem hasn’t been that we don’t have the money to things like universal healthcare that will make us all better off; it’s that we’ve been doling it out wrong, giving more of it out as tax breaks to the 1 percent than we should, if we were thinking about the greater good of society over the narrow, greedy interests of billionaires, that is.

Ahem, well, now, we don’t have the money, and won’t, for the foreseeable.

President Trump, never one to not eff a good thing up, presented Congress with a $4.8 trillion budget for fiscal year 2021 that was somehow just under a trillion dollars short of being in balance.

This, in a relative economic boom – GDP growing 2.1 percent in 2019, unemployment at 3.5 percent in February, which seems an eternity ago.

Throw all of that out the window now.

The CARES Act was $2.2 trillion.

Congress is getting ready to pass another $484 billion stimulus.

And even if governors start to wisen up to the researchers telling us that COVID-19 is much more widespread and much less deadly than we thought it was six weeks ago, I don’t think they can reopen the economy soon enough to save us from the inevitable.

Even if this somehow ends up only impacting us for a single quarter, this is going to be a $3 trillion hit, easy, and you know that it’s going to take a lot more than what we’ve already committed to dig us out of the whole that we’ve created for ourselves.

Which gets me back to universal healthcare, and it not happening in my lifetime.

Not even assuming that we don’t lose hospitals to the financial realities of the ongoing lockdown, which we will, assuredly, our trillion-dollar deficit is at the least a $4 trillion deficit now, and we’re going to need to run massive deficits out years into the future to provide even a thin cushion to the economic calamity that we’ve done to ourselves.

And that’s just keeping things where they are now.

State and local governments are going to have a tough time trying to keep from having to roll back in key areas – the most expensive line items being the ones that matter most to progressives like me, like Medicaid expansion, K-12 education.

It’s almost guaranteed that we’re going to see cuts in public health, public education, affordable housing initiatives that had been gaining steam in recent months, but are going to come to feel like luxuries, considering the fiscal state that we’re about to see is our new reality.

This all felt well within reach when the calendar turned from 2019 to 2020.

Democrats have been steadily making gains in Congress, taking the House in the 2018 midterms, with a 2020 map in the Senate that seemed to portend a Democratic majority in the offing in November.

The presidential race that ended with former vice president Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee looks good in the here and now in terms of the chances for Democrats to defeat Trump, but even if he does, and even if Democrats gain control in the Senate and maintain the House, it’s not going to mean a thing.

America is officially broke, and from your own experience managing your house, when you’re broke, you don’t work off your wish list – central air, all new appliances, finally build that swimming pool that we’d always wanted!

You put buckets under the hole in the ceiling when it rains a quarter-inch, stock up on Spaghetti-Os and Kraft mac and cheese, and hope you can pay the mortgage on the 23rd.

Twenty-six million Americans have gone on the unemployment rolls in the past five weeks, and that curve is barely flattening, with a second wave already here, and now starting to take out white-collar workers.

Any realistic notion of a V-shaped recovery slips away literally every day we remain on lockdown.

The frustrating thing for me is the realization that COVID-19 didn’t do this to us.

COVID didn’t put us on lockdown; we put ourselves on lockdown, based on information that was presented in good faith, but turned out to be way, way off, and despite that becoming more and more clear practically every hour of every day, here we still are.

The exponential growth we were told would come is now evident, sadly, in millions upon millions of individual cases of economic devastation, and we know from previous downturns that it takes 10-15 years for a person who loses a job in a recession to make up for the lost wages, wealth and life status.

It’s at least that long before we get our country back to where it was six weeks ago – on the verge of political change that would usher in progressive ideals in healthcare, education, racial and LGBTQ+ equality.

A generation.

We were thisclose.

For me, personally, it’s sobering.

I’ve run for local public office, which means, when I say it that way, that I of course lost, but give me credit, I threw my hat into the ring, stood up and made myself be counted.

And then when I lost, I rolled up my sleeves and volunteered with the 2008 Barack Obama campaign, and the 2009 Creigh Deeds Virginia gubernatorial campaign.

I’ve served since on the boards of several local non-profits, given my time to review budgets for public service organizations, editorialized like mad to try to advocate for a better world.

It all means nothing now.

None of it is going to happen.

What bothers me most is that no one seems to care.

The thrust of what passes for public discourse anymore has us competing for who can virtue signal the best and brightest and loudest over how guilty we need to feel because we dare to leave our homes once a week to buy groceries.

The more rabbit holes I dive into trying to make sense of how this is happening, the more I realize it doesn’t make any sense, and find myself edging closer to the precipice of none of it mattering anymore.

I’ll go ahead and make it official.

It doesn’t matter anymore.

Progressivism is dead.

Time to find meaning somewhere else.

Story by Chris Graham

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