Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The smoldering wreckage of a former Chase Bank in La Mesa, California, May 31, 2020. (Photo: CC)

The smoldering wreckage of a former Chase Bank in La Mesa, California, May 31, 2020. (Photo: CC)

U.S. Capitalism Is in Total Meltdown

The COVID-19 pandemic is like Hurricane Katrina, but for the entire country. And things are only going to get worse.

Sarah Jaffe

 by The Progressive

The eviction crisis, where as many as twenty-three million renters may soon lose their homes, could make the previous ten years look quiet by comparison.

Somehow reporters could get in, and private security firms like Blackwater patrolled the streets, but the government could not or would not deliver relief to the mostly Black and poor residents who had been unable to evacuate before the storm. 

Many more cracks in capitalist realism—the name cultural theorist Mark Fisher memorably gave to the experience of living when it was easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism—sprouted during the 2008 financial crisis, when it could not be denied that capitalism itself was the problem, when even The Economist ran the headline “Capitalism at Bay.” 

Much of the decade after the crash was made up of less telegenic personal tragedies, rather than the spectacular collapse that Katrina had been. In that decade, ten million or so—no, we don’t have exact numbers—lost their homes to foreclosure. But for too many of those people, eviction was a private shame. And the movement that sprang up to fight them saved too few, even when it did manage to make one family’s loss into the community’s struggle. 

Nevertheless, capitalist realism held fast at the top layers of the ruling parties—yes, both of them—and still does, even as the meltdown proceeds apace. The COVID-19 pandemic is Katrina, but for the entire country, and its victims are also disproportionately Black and poor

The catastrophic unemployment numbers were bad enough, but with the end of the $600-a-week expanded pandemic unemployment insurance looming at the end of this week, things are most certainly going to get worse. The eviction crisis, where as many as twenty-three million renters may soon lose their homes, could make the previous ten years look quiet by comparison. 

It is no wonder that uprisings sprang up in this moment, and that they were led by Black youth, who have been America’s “canaries in the coal mine” for every crisis for more than a hundred years. And it is no surprise that our puffed-up President took the protests as a personal affront, and that he, as his compatriot Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton called for in an editorial in The New York Times, has sent in the troops. 

The fact that snatch and grabs are no longer only happening to immigrants, that police beatings are not just in the Black neighborhoods but are happening in the middle of downtown (very white) Portland, Oregon, to a self-proclaimed Moms Bloc, among others, is shocking but also predictable—especially for those of us who have followed the increasing militarization of policing. 

Fifty years ago, the Black Panthers were the target of the first big SWAT raid, and since then SWAT teams have spread into the suburbs. Time and again, state violence is first tested on troublemakers and in racialized communities, and then used on the rest of us.

Neither Trump nor the protesters intend to go down easily. But the organizations that blossomed from the last round of uprisings, from Ferguson to Baton Rouge, kept learning and building in the quieter times. And the mutual aid networks that have sprung up in the recent months threaded through the rebellions, providing care to the abandoned people in abandoned places. 

As the crisis continues to get worse, the rebellions will grow. What other choice do people have? The burning of a police headquarters in Minneapolis might only be the beginning. Trump is threatening to send more federal troops into Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia—cities bigger than Portland, with much larger Black populations, cities that Trump has used as a metonym for the disorder he claims to oppose.

Simply putting people back to work, when the pandemic is still rampant, is a recipe for mass death, and the protesters have already given their answer to that: hell no. 

The eyes of the world, however, are now open to the degree of instability in the heart of what was once a global superpower. American troops have failed to quell insurgencies in their most recent external adventures and, if Portland is anything to go by, they are unlikely to succeed at home. Chicago, in particular, is the city that turned away a Trump rally and, even though its protesters are already being brutalized by their homegrown cops, they remain in the streets.

This week’s Strike for Black Lives, a massive walk-out action spanning 160 cities and many thousands of workers, according to its organizers, was a shot across the bow. While many of the participants were not actually on strike, we should see it as what union organizer Jane McAlevey calls a structure test—a demonstration of the potential chaos to be caused if this many workers did, in fact, go out on strike. 

Unemployment has undoubtedly been one of the factors making this a season of unrest, and those supposedly in charge simply have no plan to do anything about it. The situation is more complicated than the last crisis, the Great Recession, for which the U.S. government had no plan—simply putting people back to work, when the pandemic is still rampant, is a recipe for mass death, and the protesters have already given their answer to that: hell no. 

Capitalist realism may, in the coming months, finally get the stake in its heart it so richly deserves. But we should be clear-eyed about the size of the crisis that is roaring toward us, and what we will need to build to weather the worst of it. We have lived through nearly fifty years of the stripping away of what little security the American working class ever had, in a system that was never built for us to thrive. 

We need to begin to construct what will replace it. 


© 2021 The Progressive
Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe is a reporting fellow at the Type Media Center, covering labor, economic justice, social movements, politics, gender, and pop culture. She is the author of the book, Necessary Trouble: America's New Radicals (Nation Books/2016).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Progressives Counter Cherry-Picked Quotes With MLK's True Legacy

Calling out those who have "weaponized" his words "to justify legislated white supremacy," Rep. Ayanna Pressley said King "was a radical dreamer with a bold vision for revolutionary change."

Jessica Corbett ·


'No Celebration Without Legislation': King Family Leads Voting Rights March

"I will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream," said Martin Luther King III.

Andrea Germanos ·


Lawmakers Seek to Weaken Ban on Surprise Medical Bills

According to new reporting, the effort to rein in price-gouging is facing pushback from Democratic and Republican members of Congress alike.

Kenny Stancil ·


Billionaires 'Had a Terrific Pandemic' While Inequality Killed Millions: Oxfam

A new report explains how inequality contributed to the death of 21,000 people each day of the pandemic while the wealthiest collectively got $1.2 billion richer every 24 hours.

Jon Queally ·


Biden Urged to Fire Covid Response Chief Over 'Damning' Failures

"Zients has failed to provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response, or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control," argued one critic.

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo