Never in our lifetimes has it been more obvious that politics, as we’ve shaped it, involves the administration of life, sickness, and the end of life. This realization, new to some who have never had to worry about health care, cuts against a longstanding media narrative about politics “as usual,” or politics as something that happens in the capitol, or even the idea that a political representative could be an outsider: there is no outside to the administration of death, and so there is nothing that can reasonably be said to be outside of politics. It’s an epiphany worthy of a global crisis, and as Asad Haider reminds us in the opening essay of Issue 52, the word crisis has, in part, a medical origin, meaning “both the condition itself and a judgment on a patient’s fate.” It’s up to us, Haider argues, to determine who makes the judgment, and whether we avoid “epochal failure.”
Though this crisis is global, it is not universal. “Like cholera and poverty,” Ann Neumann writes, “Covid-19 is not the crisis; it’s a disease that feeds on our racialized inequalities.” The lifetime of our country, its pretenses to democracy, liberalism itself: all of these are premised on the administration of death to black and brown people. That is the root of the American crisis. And so appeals to liberalism and to its supposed “illiberal” opposite begin to sound curiously similar. “The absence of a coherent response to the public health crisis is an inevitable outcome of the bipartisan commitment to neoliberal governance and the maintenance of U.S. empire,” Brendan O’Connor asserts in his anatomy of the contemporary right. “Protect private property, the fascist says. The liberal and conservative nod in agreement. Which rightly belongs to white men, the fascist adds. The liberal stammers; the conservative pretends not to hear.”
Nick Estes explores the colonial myths that leave Indigenous people and lands more vulnerable to the ravages of disease, incarceration, and war. And Alexander Clapp reports from North Kosovo, where after decades of ethnic conflict, “all it’s taken for Serb and Albanian politicians to finally put aside their ancient resentments is the prospect of getting rich.” Of course, high-tech predation like this abounds the world over, and Patrick McGinty takes on driverless car industry, whose head honchos are “laughably, embarrassingly, nowhere close to delivering on the pie-in-the-sky promises they began making years ago,” and the cottage industry of authors who refuse to expose these snake oil salesmen.
Admittedly, The Baffler is not especially disposed to offering cures, but, hey, some would argue that we’re living in a state of exception. In this spirit, Adam Gaffney, a doctor, proposes that we overhaul the medical system to achieve the “full public financing of hospitals, not as commodity-producing factories, but as social institutions” without preference for a medical-technological supremacy reserved for the rich and the white. And Dave Denison peeks under the hood of Modern Monetary Theory, which offers an antidote to the bullshit of Federal Reserve policy that “relies on human suffering to fight inflation,” in the words of MMT evangelist Stephanie Kelton. As Denison reminds us, “The decisions we make as a nation about who prospers and who fails do not derive from some immutable economic law. There is, of course, no economic theory that can justify a federal response to rescue a banking behemoth, but not a group of rural hospitals.”
“Cinema does not currently exist, or if it does exist, it’s in the form of videos from the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, shot on smartphones and put on Twitter, which viewers can watch from anywhere,” writes film critic A.S. Hamrah. “These videos, hundreds of them from all over the United States, record rioting police officers dressed in warzone military gear lashing out at peaceful protesters, beating them with batons, shooting them with rubber bullets, firing tear gas canisters in their faces, and plowing into them with police cars and trucks.” And in the end, there is no political cure more powerful than an intervention in the police order, a crisis of its own visited on the bureaucrats of death. Elias Rodriques, in an act of militant nostalgia, recalls the Black Power movements “that worked to free incarcerated people where governments will not, even as local police respond to nationwide protests against their brutality by incarcerating demonstrators in jails made even more lethal by Covid-19.” These initiatives, he writes, remind us that “when governments neglect or purposefully persecute their people’s welfare, local organizing may be the most viable means of survival.” It is only because of these revolutionary protests that we might find a paradise in place of a ghastly prison or begin to recognize the promised world.