The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak is a global pandemic. While the US seems to be less affected than Europe, the Trump administration’s response has so far been almost comically inept. But having a semi-literate buffoon in the White House is not the only problem; the US has a structural problem that long predates Trump’s election to the presidency. And from beyond the grave, UK Labour Party legend Tony Benn hit the nail on the head – years before the outbreak even happened.
Fiddling while Rome burns…
On 9 March, a Twitter storm erupted when Trump retweeted an image posted by the White House’s social media manager Dan Scavino. The image depicts Trump playing the violin with the caption, “My next piece is called… Nothing can stop what’s coming.”:
Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me! https://t.co/rQVA4ER0PV
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2020
Both Trump and Scavino were apparently oblivious to the fact that the meme is a reference to the popular legend that the Roman Emperor Nero ‘fiddled while Rome burned’. Other social media users took to Twitter to mock them:
Your idiot social media manager tweeted a pic making fun of you- Nero fiddling while Rome is burning
Yet both of you are too stupid to get it
— Roland Scahill (@rolandscahill) March 8, 2020
It means that Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, but you play golf and post stupid memes while many Americans are at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
It means you are clueless.
It means you're an idiot.
It means November is coming.
— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) March 8, 2020
…but things go deeper
Clearly, if Trump can’t even see when he’s being mocked that speaks volumes. But even if there were a more competent person in the White House, the US would still be at a major disadvantage compared to other developed countries when it comes to dealing with the outbreak. This is because its private healthcare system is geared around making profits for health insurance companies and their shareholders and CEOs rather than fairly delivering care to the public.
And this highly individualistic system ends up being penny-wise and pound-foolish (or perhaps dollar-foolish!). Not least because the US spends roughly double that of other developed countries on healthcare as a percentage of GDP – yet largely ends up with worse public health outcomes. But there’s an even bigger reason why this system is ill-suited to dealing with the coronavirus: the rather obvious fact that each individual’s health is impacted by other people’s health.
Hitting the nail on the head – from beyond the grave
This point was summed up perfectly by the late Labour legend Tony Benn. In an interview with Michael Moore for his 2007 documentary film Sicko – a brutal exposé of the failures of the US healthcare system – Benn said:
A healthy nation is in the interests of all of us, just as an educated nation is in the interests of all of us. When I go to my doctor I benefit by her education. When I get in a bus, I benefit by the training of the bus driver. And if I go in the street and I find a lot of ill people, that might affect me. So I think there’s a common interest in this.
Benn added that in the “old days” even the fire service was privatized – yet, just as with healthcare, it made no sense because one burning house can mean that the house next to it catches fire as well. His words were echoed by Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in a public address about the coronavirus on 12 March. Sanders said:
If our neighbor or coworker gets sick, we have the potential to become sick. If our neighbor loses his or her job, then our local community suffers and we may lose our jobs. We are in this together.
Clearly, it’s high time that the US catches up with the rest of the world and adopts a publicly-funded universal healthcare system. Perhaps the coronavirus outbreak could have one silver lining insofar as it rams home to the US public just how inhuman and outdated the status quo really is.
Watch the full interview with Tony Benn here:
Watch Bernie Sanders’ full address here (begins at 12:13):
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?