The formidable Jim Cramer, market analyst and commentator on CNBC, was very conflicted Wednesday morning in a manner totally unlike his usual strident and confident manner. It was in the context of interviewing U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin by phone. Cramer praised Mnuchin for working aggressively to get the Payroll Protection Program and other urgent federal relief elements of the $2 trillion federal response to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic up and running in short order.
Hanging up the phone, Cramer then said it is time to stop pointing fingers of blame for what has or hasn’t been done, and to focus on going forward with solutions from here, acknowledging that the enemy is not a political faction, but the virus, itself.
But he couldn’t help but express the same utter frustration of so many that so little preparation and such a tepid federal response to the killer pandemic has characterized the effort so far, and that includes huge hitches and obstacles in the execution of the PPP and related emergency financial relief programs. The frustration facing this writer’s small business — the “essential service” of a community newspaper, no less — is a testament to this, a frustration also shared by the person in charge of the local branch of the bank where we’ve been trying unsuccessfully to submit papers (the latest iteration requiring 160 pages of documents) for almost two weeks.
The plan was designed to keep small businesses in business even as 97 percent of the U.S. is in shutdown mode to stem the spread of the virus. The idea is that if these small businesses have to close under these conditions, that the feds will cover the cost of keeping their workers on payroll so that underneath the current crisis, a functioning economy can resume once the crisis is passed.
It’s a great idea, but there’s a big difference between talking and messaging and the nitty-gritty reality of whether millions upon millions of Americans have enough money for bare necessities or not. Already it is being reported that fully one third of rents due on April 1 were not paid. The ripple effect of all of this on the wider economy is impossible to fathom.
The same goes for the reports that a majority of the front-line workers in the war against this horrid virus barely make enough, themselves, to make ends meet as it is. Many don’t even have health insurance, if you can believe it.
It is going to be a long and tortured slog to get through this, to tame the virus, first of all, including as it takes aim in the developing sector where there are so few protections against it, and then to cope with the economic consequences of the shutdown that will ripple through the society for God knows how long.
This comes in the context of a society that has suffered from many years of an orgy of greed by the top one percent, leaving most of society living from paycheck to paycheck, one paycheck from homelessness.
We are now finding those who make up this significant majority of our society are being revealed our heroes — as health care workers, first responders and essential employees. They are the glue of our essential society.
If there was ever a moment in our history as a species when a revelation has been provided about the discrepancy between the core values of our human culture and the perversions caused by greed and cruelty, it is now.
While humanity has struggled daily over eons to elevate the good, especially among compassionate, empathetic and honest social servants, there is a class of persons who’ve exploited the good will of the rest of us to shamelessly cheat, brutalize and plunder to accumulate wealth to themselves. Their deceit is often aimed at increasing their power over others by securing political and military advantage.
Now we see who matters to our future, and who is a parasitic drag on it, almost like a deadly virus, ironically enough. In our democracy, now is the time to translate this revelation into passionate support for those who really do matter and for mobilizations to the electoral polls.