A few weeks ago, we received in the mail an unsolicited sample copy of a newspaper called The Epoch Times, subtitled “Truth and Tradition” and billing itself as “A Factual and Honest Newspaper” that is “dedicated to seeking the truth through insightful and independent journalism.” The entire issue (a “special report”) was dedicated to lashing out at “How the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] Endangered the World” through concealing the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, undermining the World Health Organization and seeking to shift blame for the pandemic to the United States. It encouraged us, in light of this, to rename the disease “the CCP virus.”
The more I read, the more suspicious I became that despite its claims, this publication was part of the far-right’s anti-Chinese drumbeat that President Trump began last March. Recall that after dismissing the looming crisis as a liberal hoax, then downplaying its seriousness and then lying about our level of national preparedness (all of which led to fatal delays in responding to the situation), he resorted to his usual finger-pointing and blame-shifting in an effort to label it “the Chinese Virus” and so deflect attention from his own willful ignorance, mismanagement and indifference to human life. My suspicion that an orchestrated campaign was in progress was confirmed a week or so later when the president threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the WHO at the peak of the outbreak. And why? Because of its deference to the Chinese. Perhaps he hoped that our hatred of China would be at such a fever pitch by then as to make that move — absurd as it might seem at such a time — appear to be a reasonable policy decision.
That brings us to the real story that The Epoch Times failed to address. The response of the Trump administration to the COVID-19 pandemic has been virtually identical in its general shape to the response of the CCP; the paper’s heated rhetoric was merely a distraction calculated to prevent us from noticing the close similarity. This eerily resembles the situation that Alexander Solzhenitsyn described exactly 42 years ago (June 8, 1978) in his commencement address at Harvard University. At that time, the world was “split apart” by the ideological chasm between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But as Solzhenitsyn astutely observed, “We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. It is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West. This is the essence of the crisis: The split in the world is less terrifying than the similarity of the disease afflicting its main sections.”
Today, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, these two “mobs” have converged into a tightly interlocked global economic system where, as David Bollier puts it, “an incestuous Market/State alliance — not ‘free markets’ — is the order of the day,” where growth and profit rule, and where our common humanity is still being trampled underfoot in the U.S. and China alike. Here again, Solzhenitsyn provides clarity. Four years before the Harvard address, in his “Letter to the Soviet Leaders” (1974), he described the “disease” affecting the world, warning that “We must renounce, as a matter of urgency, the gigantic scale of modern technology in industry, agriculture and urban development.” Unless we did so, he said, all indicators “pointed ominously to the catastrophic destruction of mankind sometime between the years 2020 and 2070 if it did not relinquish economic progress.” This year we have entered the “window” that Solzhenitsyn predicted decades ago. Just look around. Growing numbers of people everywhere are beginning to feel more and more acutely the urgency to which he referred. There were the international climate strikes last year, for example, and the birth of a movement called “Extinction Rebellion” (XR), which is becoming more widespread and radical as the possibility daily becomes increasingly real.
The COVID pandemic gives the whole world a precious opportunity not to cast blame but to jolt awake from this culturally induced nightmare. Life-centered alternatives like Commoning, Permaculture and Transition Towns already exist to our death-oriented social system that neither Trump nor Biden (nor Sanders!) can fix. A penetrating article (“The Light at the End” by Nafeez Ahmed) in the summer 2020 issue of Yes! Magazine (from David Korten’s Positive Futures Network) brings Solzhenitsyn’s sobering assessment into our present. “The pandemic,” Ahmed writes, “has emerged as a long-predicted symptom of a system in slow collapse. … It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. … it is futile to expect that the neoliberal ‘normality’ of endless growth from which the pandemic erupted can simply continue unimpeded. It cannot, and efforts to revive it will be systemically self-defeating.” And he concludes with a challenge to people in leadership positions: “Can they steer the systems they are connected with into a life-supporting configuration? Or will they remain hell-bent on protecting narrow, dislocated systems of self-maximization and material accumulation? … You and I are now faced with a pivotal life choice for what comes next. … This choice will make history.” The urgency of the choice is intensified because this pandemic is only a prelude to the disastrous effects of ongoing climate change now sweeping forward. If we are to survive, we must quickly chart a new course beyond the market/state ideology that is destroying us, a different way of being human on this earth beyond today’s dysfunctional and outmoded political labels, whether conservative, liberal or socialist.
Judging by his performance in office so far, it is difficult — impossible, really — to imagine Donald Trump as a man equal to the challenge of this epochal time in history. He has left no doubt that he is a “leader” of Ahmed’s second type, without the slightest understanding of what this moment requires or of what is at stake. Those who still “proudly” support his reelection might reconsider before it really is too late — for all of us.
John Radigan lives in Saranac Lake.