Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

US President Donald Trump tours a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks during his first trip since widespread COVID-19 related lockdowns went into effect May 5, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump tours a Honeywell International Inc. factory producing N95 masks during his first trip since widespread COVID-19 related lockdowns went into effect May 5, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Stop Blaming Individuals for the Spread of Covid and Start Blaming the Government Response

By presenting collective, structural crises as separate, individual problems with separate, individualized solutions, the government abdicates its responsibility to meaningfully intervene.

Joel Blei­fuss

 by In These Times

Future his­to­ri­ans will study how the Trump admin­is­tra­tion failed to sum­mon the nation­al will to con­tain the pan­dem­ic, as done in oth­er, more func­tion­al democ­ra­cies. They will parse how the pres­i­dent, Repub­li­can gov­er­nors, and their bleat­ing friends at Fox News infect­ed the coun­try with mis­in­for­ma­tion about Covid-19. They will count the thou­sands of Amer­i­cans ush­ered into an ear­ly grave, and like­ly puz­zle over the debate about wear­ing a mask. Accord­ing to Robert Red­field, direc­tor of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, if every­one wore a mask, the virus would be con­tained in four to six weeks.

Anti-maskers wrap their rea­son­ing in a delu­sion­al web of indi­vid­ual rights, inde­pen­dence from the state, and the mag­i­cal pos­i­tive think­ing that any­one can tri­umph over adver­si­ty if they have the will. So how should we pro­tect our­selves from breath­ing the aerosolized spit­tle of these Typhoid Marys?

"Left out of this mask-wear­ing debate is a nod to the fact that the social and eco­nom­ic wreck­age the pan­dem­ic has wrought, along with oth­er plagues upon our house—inequal­i­ty, racism, and cli­mate change—can­not be con­tained by peo­ple act­ing alone." Appeals to per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty have proven not to work. States should man­date that peo­ple must wear masks in all build­ings and in out­door spaces that don’t per­mit social dis­tanc­ing. A July 22 Politico/​Morning Con­sult poll found that 86 per­cent of Democ­rats—but only 58 per­cent of Repub­li­cans—sup­port a mask-wear­ing mandate.

The dif­fer­ing atti­tudes toward masks reflect two world­views: one col­lec­tive, pro­tec­tive and gen­er­ous; the oth­er, more self-focused and suspicious.

Left out of this mask-wear­ing debate is a nod to the fact that the social and eco­nom­ic wreck­age the pan­dem­ic has wrought, along with oth­er plagues upon our house—inequal­i­ty, racism, and cli­mate change—can­not be con­tained by peo­ple act­ing alone. The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar to recy­cling, which, as cur­rent­ly prac­ticed, fails to address attacks on Earth’s envi­ron­ment in a sys­temic way: At best, recy­cling cre­ates envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness; at worst, it lulls us into a com­pla­cen­cy that pre­vents us from demand­ing nec­es­sary, large-scale pol­i­cy changes.

By pre­sent­ing col­lec­tive, struc­tur­al crises as sep­a­rate, indi­vid­ual prob­lems with sep­a­rate, indi­vid­u­al­ized solu­tions, the gov­ern­ment abdi­cates its respon­si­bil­i­ty to mean­ing­ful­ly intervene.

The pres­sure to reopen the econ­o­my comes from the busi­ness sec­tor and from work­ing peo­ple who face penury. Axios reports that Forbes Edi­tor-in-Chief Steve Forbes and Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore lob­bied Trump to reject any Covid-19 leg­is­la­tion that would extend CARES Act fed­er­al unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, which expired in July. Repub­li­cans are try­ing to lit­er­al­ly starve the Amer­i­can peo­ple into join­ing their push for a hasty (and dan­ger­ous) reopen­ing; hav­ing no alter­na­tive, many peo­ple are.

Coun­ter­ing this push is a patch­work of ever-chang­ing exec­u­tive orders from Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nors and may­ors try­ing to thread the nee­dle between eco­nom­ic ruin and viral spread. But what good is stay­ing home when your rent depends on you going to work?

In the same way we indi­vid­u­al­ly wear masks to pro­tect oth­ers, we can col­lec­tive­ly demand that our gov­ern­ment pro­vide high-qual­i­ty pub­lic goods to the Amer­i­can peo­ple. But today, because Democ­rats already con­trol the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, we must demand House lead­ers present to the Amer­i­can pub­lic what a capa­ble and active gov­ern­ment could look like. Democ­rats should use every ounce of their con­sid­er­able lever­age to ensure pan­dem­ic relief includes the pay­check guar­an­tees pro­posed by Rep. Prami­la Jaya­pal (D‑Wash.), a co-chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus; an exten­sion of enhanced unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits; resources for local test­ing and con­tact trac­ing; $2,000 per month for every per­son 16 and old­er as pro­posed by Reps. Tim Ryan (D‑Ohio) and Ro Khan­na (D‑Calif.); and evic­tion mora­to­ri­ums and rent can­cel­la­tion pro­grams to avoid up to 23mil­lion peo­ple los­ing their homes by Sep­tem­ber 30.

If their plans die in the Sen­ate, so be it. They will have at least shown what a capa­ble and active gov­ern­ment could look like—a gov­ern­ment that treats the indi­vid­ual crises faced by each of us as the urgent col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty of us all.


© 2021 In These Times

Joel Blei­fuss

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

... 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.

'Utterly Obscene': Just 8 Pfizer and Moderna Investors Became $10 Billion Richer After Omicron Emerged

"Pharma execs and shareholders are making a killing from a crisis they helped to create," said one justice campaigner.

Jon Queally ·


Ilhan Omar Calls Kevin McCarthy 'A Liar and a Coward' for Refusing to Condemn Boebert's Islamophobia

"This is who they are," said the Minnesota Democrat. "And we have to be able to stand up to them. And we have to push them to reckon with the fact their party right now is normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry."

Jon Queally ·


'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·

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