We are not yet halfway through our drama. We have barely reached the end of the first act, when we slowly wake up to the threat before us and realize that we have to take some kind of action. This action, for now, is just doing what we need to do to fight Covid-19 and survive as a weakened but alive country.
The halfway point only comes when the hero meets a worthy opponent – not a weak or marginal or different, but someone or something really monstrous. Covid-19, however terrible, is just a movie villain. Our real enemy does not come from outside, but from inside. Our real enemy is not the virus but our response to the virus – one that has been degraded and distorted by the structural inequalities of our society.
America has a history of colonization of the colonists and capitalism which has ruthlessly exploited natural resources and the people, generally the poor, the migrating, the blacks and the browns. This story manifests itself today in our desire to hoard, knowing that we live in an economy of self-sufficiency and scarcity; in our dependence on cheap labor for women and racial minorities; and in our lack of adequate health care, well-being, universal basic income and education to care for the poorest of us.
What this crisis has revealed is that, while we can all become vulnerable – even business and the wealthy – our government is putting the protection of the less vulnerable first.
If this were a classic Hollywood narrative, the exceptionally American superhero, reluctant and hesitant in the first act, would make the right choice at this turning point. The wicked Covid-19 would be defeated and order would be restored to a society that would resemble what it was before the wicked emerged.
But if our society looks the same after the defeat of Covid-19, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. We can expect a sequel, not just a sequel, but a lot, until we reach the final: the climate disaster. If our trial of coronavirus is a glimpse of how the United States will handle this disaster, we are doomed.
But in the middle of the abyss, there are signs of hope and courage: workers on strike on their farm; people who donate masks, money and time; medical workers and patients expressing outrage at our drained healthcare system; a Navy captain sacrificing his career to protect his sailors; even strangers who greet other strangers on the street, which in my city, Los Angeles, is an almost radical act of solidarity.