American Individualism: A Most Dangerous Myth

Today we hand the baton to Heather Cox Richardson, who takes on a tour of who we have been, what we’ve become and — because of Covid — what we could be. Plus links to Playing for Change & to our Tuesday webinar.

Zoominar with Dahr Jamail & Greg Rogers Recording Available. If you missed our webinar on Tuesday, it is available on our Retake Zoominar Series page. In a poll of attendees, over 75% rated the Zoominar “excellent,” and from emails we received immediately after, it’s clearly worth your time. Here are a couple of comments:

“I thought the interview was especially clarifying and informative and both the questions and answers dealt with the deepest issues we face, personally, politically, and economically.”

and

“Last night Dahr and Greg were such strong voices. Your network for getting terrific speakers, your clear preparation, plus the agility with follow-up questions, the clarity of instructions about the Zoom process — so professionally and smoothly done. Thank you.”

Two attendees of the Zoominar, May 5 with Dahr Jamail & Greg Rogers

Retake Radio, Saturday, May 9, 8:30 – 9:00 am with The Green Amendment Founder Maya Van Rossum. (On KSFR, 101.1 FM, or streaming live via ksfr.org.) Talk about a bundle of knowledge and enthusiasm. If you are looking for hope and something to advocate for here in NM, you’ll want to catch Saturday’s Retake Radio show. We talked for a full hour, but KSFR airs only 30 minutes, so if you like what you heard, look for the full audio-video recording on our Retake Conversations page around 10 am, Saturday. That is where you can also find the interview with last week’s guest, author of “Normal Was Killing Us,” Cylvia Hayes, who is the former First Lady of Oregon, an author and trainer. She relates how we really must re-examine the neo-liberal “normal” that has been our lives for the past 50 years. We can do better and Hayes lays out how.

American Exceptionalism & Individualism Is Killing Us: With Trump, It’s Every Man for Himself

We are going through a tumultuous time. Every time you think our President couldn’t be even more brazen in his self-infatuation, his absorption in his re-election, and his willingness to sacrifice lives to achieve his self-aggrandizement….he sinks lower. In his race to reopen business in America, he is ignoring the data that indicate what happens if we reopen now. Consider for a moment the chart below.

Any questions why a caring Governor will keep us in shelter-in-place for as along as possible?

People do NOT desperately want to get back to work. Polls indicate clearly that 66% of Americans want to remain sheltered in place until it is truly safe. But Americans do desperately NEED to get back to work because the relief package passed to date protects industry and makes workers increasingly vulnerable financially, vulnerable enough so that they will risk their lives to sustain a livelihood. This is a bargain offered by the devil, one not offered to those living in Europe or the East. There, no one is losing their job or their income. They are sheltering in place until it is safe. Now take a look at this chart.

This takes a bit of explanation. The chart illustrates the trajectory of total confirmed cases of coronavirus since a nation first reached 100 cases. Notice how in every other country, the curve bends earlier than in the US. Indeed, in the US, thanks to our President and US exceptionalism (science applies to others, we Americans are above that), we have not implemented social distancing with consistency nationwide and our curve has not flattened.

In NM, and other states that have been strict — and a trip to the market will illustrate that we are not all that strict — even with some latitude in implementation, our curve is flattening. NY’s has flattened, California’s has flattened, etc. Now let’s return to the first graphic. It illustrates what happens if you return to “normal” too soon.

And the Trump Administration is pushing off responsibility for opening business on the states. Not only that, according to a U.S. News & World Report published this morning, the Center for Disease Control has created a 17-page report on how and when states should consider reopening, BUT THE WHITE HOUSE IS REFUSING TO ALLOW THE CDC TO PUBLISH IT. Essentially, this is a president who says the buck stops somewhere, just not here and wherever that buck stops, we’re not gonna help a bit. You’re on your own.

The lines in these charts are not just lines. The lines represent lives lost due to policy decisions made by leadership, and in America we are losing more lives than anywhere else; we are not flattening the curve; we do not have enough testing; and we should not be returning to restaurants, malls, bowling alleys, or joining friends for dinner and drinks. It is too soon. Yet, in countless states across the nation, fueled by the President’s sustained rhetoric about how the cure can’t be worse than the condition, we are about to experience a spike. And when that comes, no one can tell who he will blame next: China? Europe? Democrats? Fauci? WHO? Rest assured it will not be Trump, Pence or any of their corporate criminals.

Kim Stanley Robinson in The New Yorker: “The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imgaination” absolutely nailed the priorities being expressed in policy and press conferences under this administration.

“Right now we’re hearing two statements being made. One, from the President and his circle: we have to save money even if it costs lives. The other, from the Centers for Disease Control and similar organizations: we have to save lives even if it costs money. Which is more important, money or lives?”

The New Yorker: “The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imgaination”

To explore how we have come to this point, I turn the post over to Heather Cox Richardson, whose blog I read every morning. We will follow three days of her commentary with brief excerpts, links, and my added comments. Let’s begin with an excerpt from her May 2 post, as she lays out the kind of thinking — most often unspoken, but clear — that must guide any policymaker who would suggest people return to any semblance of “normal” interaction.

“The political conversation is shifting in a way that undermines our nation’s deepest principle. People are actually arguing about whether it might be a good thing to kill off society’s weakest members. A member of a planning commission from the San Francisco area took to Facebook to suggest we should just let coronavirus take its course. Lots of people would die, he wrote, primarily old and sick people, but that would take the pressure off Social Security and lower health care costs. There would be more jobs and housing available. And as for homeless people, when they died it would “fix what is a significant burden on our society….”

Heather Cox Richardson: May 2

Cox Richardson goes on to lay out the implications that flow from this kind of thinking.

“If we accept the idea that some of us matter more than others, we have given up the whole game. This country was—imperfectly, haltingly—formed on the principle that we are all created equal, and equally entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we are willing to admit that our founders were wrong, that we are not equal, that older Americans, Black Americans, Brown Americans, sick Americans, all matter less than healthy white Americans, we have admitted the principle that we are not all created equal, and that some of us are better than others.”

Heather Cox Richardson: May 2

Having exposed the underlying assumptions guiding today’s Covid-19 policy in all too many states and jurisdictions, she then turns to one of the root causes of our almost Darwinian survival of the fittest or the luckiest or, more accurately, the wealthiest cultural assumptions. She references the now famous American “patriot” who spat venom and quite possibly Covid-19 when thrusting his face inches from a state trooper protecting the Michigan legislature.

The masks on these troopers protect the “patriot” from them, but the masks can do nothing if our “patriot” has Covid. His action is akin to attempted murder and yet, our President found a way to tweet his understanding of these “good people” because their Governor is out of control. Out of control? She is trying to help Michigan flatten its curve, despite being undermined by the president.

The idea that such a man is an “American Patriot” is the perverted outcome of generations of political rhetoric that has celebrated a cartoon version of “individualism.” That rhetoric has served a purpose: to convince voters that an active government that regulates business, provides a basic social safety net, and promotes infrastructure—things most Americans actually like—is socialism”

Heather Cox Richardson: May 3

We’ve written about this dynamic many times. We can thank Ronald Reagan for popularizing the notion that the worst thing imaginable was to hear “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” In her May 3 piece, Cox Richardson details just how the media and the GOP branded individualism and stole imagery of the American cowboy as the penultimate American individual, out on the prairie without support from anyone, operating with his own skills and courage. No need for a helping hand. I highly recommend reading this May 3 piece, as Cox Richardson is not only a historian, but also a very skilled writer, and she lays out this dynamic compellingly.

Kim Stanley Robinson, cited above from The New Yorker offers reason for hope that we can overcome this predilection for individualism with government washing its hands off responsibility for the fate of its people. Robinson points to the lessons learned from Covid-19.

“The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.”

The New Yorker: “The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imgaination”

In a very moving and personal piece, Robinson goes on to point to how much we are changing. We are able to make collective sacrifice; we understand that we must trust science; we are learning what happens when we ignore science; and we are learning that we must trust each other. It is a collective lesson that should inform our future policy and our future choice of leaders. When the dust settles on this virus, we will see how many Americans have lost their lives, precisely because our leadership has refused to allow government to play its rightful role: to protect and support us all. We can only hope that the majority of American voters grasp this reality by Nov. 3. Click here to read the full New Yorker article from Robinson. It is a very well-written piece.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Playing for Change: A Gift from Cuba



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3 replies

  1. Paul and Roxanne, the two of you are so valuable for the development of critical thinking skills and learning the difference between fact and propaganda.

  2. After reading this excellent blog, Richard & I listened to the Playing for Change song. Oh my goodness. Each of the Playing for Change songs leaves me in tears. I am so moved to see all those beautiful musicians masterfully playing together all over the world. It illustrates the best that humans can be. Thanks.

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