How It Happened

How the Pandemic Defeated America (Ed Yong)

 A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID‑19. The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.

Working Hours

The Pandemic Isn’t Forcing Moms Out of the Workforce — Dads Are (Jessica Valenti)

The truth, though, is that most of this is preventable. The danger to women’s workplace progress isn’t unstoppable; men simply need to make the same kind of sacrifices that women have been making since the pandemic started. (And for years before that.)

Saving women’s careers isn’t just about ensuring that individual men step up. The way we talk about the childcare crisis solely as a women’s issue is self-fulfilling — and it’s irresponsible.

Built-In Oppression

America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress (Bryan Lee Jr.)

For nearly every injustice in the world, there is an architecture that has been planned and designed to perpetuate it.

Rebellion is a response to a prolonged dehumanization of a people unwilling to be participants in their own demise; it is often the soft power of the built environment that provides the preconditions for that dehumanization and the atrocities that follow.

Looking Forward

How the Pandemic Will End (Ed Yong)

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared.

It’s likely, then, that the new coronavirus will be a lingering part of American life for at least a year, if not much longer. If the current round of social-distancing measures works, the pandemic may ebb enough for things to return to a semblance of normalcy.

Veterans of past epidemics have long warned that American society is trapped in a cycle of panic and neglect. After every crisis—anthrax, SARS, flu, Ebola—attention is paid and investments are made. But after short periods of peacetime, memories fade and budgets dwindle. This trend transcends red and blue administrations. When a new normal sets in, the abnormal once again becomes unimaginable. But there is reason to think that COVID-19 might be a disaster that leads to more radical and lasting change.

A Problem Avoiding Being Solved

Shell is Looking Forward (Malcolm Harris)

From a certain vantage, the momentum looks almost definitive, as though nothing could stand in the way of a renewable future. But unlike coal, oil and gas companies are still definitely profitable, even investable, and more oil and gas are being produced, and used, every year — which helps explain why carbon emissions keep rising too. There’s little doubt that fossil-fuels are, culturally speaking, on the wrong side of history. But there is still a lot more money to extract from those wells, and the fossil-fuel businesses are intent on extracting as much as they can.

These companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution. In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved.

In the corporate sector, there’s still faith at the top that economic incentives and profit-seeking behavior can manage the crisis that capitalism has wrought. In such thinking, climate change is like a redux of the hole in the ozone layer: potentially bad but solvable with the tools on hand and without real changes to our lifestyles.

The Authoritarian Stamp of Jim Crow

The Authoritarian Stamp of Jim Crow (Jamelle Bouie)

Southern conservatives beat back Populism and biracial democracy to build a one-party state and ensure cheap labor, low taxes, white supremacy and a starkly unequal distribution of wealth. It took two decades of disruption — the Great Depression, the Great Migration and the Second World War — to even make change possible, and then another decade of fierce struggle to bring democracy back to the South.

If we look at the actions of the political party and president now in power, if we think of how they would behave with even more control over the levers of the state, then we might be on a path that ends in something that is familiar from our past — authoritarian government with a democratic facade.

The Billionaire Election

The Billionaire Election (Anand Giridharadas)

The debate is testing abiding American assumptions. A country more ardently capitalist than most is asking itself, as seriously as at any time in the modern era, whether the ultrarich, just because they are ultrarich, endanger democracy. And a country just as committed, contrarily, to its founding ideal of equality is asking whether to resign itself to a gilded revolving door in which you unseat billionaire leaders you hate by electing billionaires you don’t mind.

Do we wish to be a society in which wealth purchases fealty? Are we cool with plutocrats taking advantage of a cash-starved state to run their own private policy machinery, thus cultivating the networks required to take over the state from time to time, and run it in ways that further entrench wealth?

Six Decades After the Civil Rights Act

Nearly Six Decades after the Civil Rights Act, Why do Black Works Still Have to Hustle? (Tressie McMillan Cottom)

The hustle is an idea, a discourse and a survival strategy often glorified as economic opportunity. It is an ode to a type of capitalism that cannot secure the futures of anyone but the wealthiest. But its popularity lies in how hustling can feel like an equal-opportunity strategy. The term originated as a code for illegal activities, but according to Lester Spence, author of Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics, today we have all been turned into hustlers, trying to monetize our “human capital” for economic advancement.

While we do not think of the middle-class pitch and the low-wage hustle as the same thing, they are responding to the same reality. For black Americans, achieving upward mobility, even in thriving cities that compete for tech jobs, private capital and national recognition, is as complicated as it was in 1963.

Reading Colonialism in Parasite

Reading Colonialism in Parasite (Ju-Hyun Park)

Division and war are not Korea’s destiny, and the path to reunification and peace will only become clearer the further we walk it. If we take anything from Parasite, it should be that the liberation of Korea flows through the liberation of all peoples from capitalism and colonialism. For settlers, this especially means struggling with Indigenous peoples for the decolonization of the land beneath our feet.

Singling Out Homeless Status

Singling Out Homeless Status is a Double Standard that Unjustly Penalizes the Poor (Adam H. Johnson)

Leading with housing status for homeless people is a common trope in the news reporting business and one in urgent need of re-examining. In many cases, it is used as a rhetorical device to depict people experiencing homelessness as a threat to public safety, a common right-wing canard used to justify virulently anti-homeless policies and harsh policing of people perceived to be poor.