The Double Standard
One rule for thee, and one rule for me. That sort of hypocrisy has been baked into human power relations, since, well, forever. As the Greek historian Thucydides wrote 2,500 years ago, “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”
Today, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing power-hypocrisy once again, as politicians and plutocrats live one way, while telling everyone else to live another way.
A case in point is California’s oh-so-chic governor, Gavin Newsom. The handsome darling of billionaires, a man on everyone’s shortlist of future Democratic presidential hopefuls, Newsom got caught with his mask down at The French Laundry, a Michelin three-star restaurant in the Golden State’s posh Napa Valley.
EXCLUSIVE: We've obtained photos of Governor Gavin Newsom at the Napa dinner party he's in hot water over. The photos call into question just how outdoors the dinner was. A witness who took photos tells us his group was so loud, the sliding doors had to be closed. 10pm on @FOXLA pic.twitter.com/gtOVEwa864
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) November 18, 2020
In that incident, Newsom was photographed, maskless, in close proximity to a dozen or so donors and lobbyists in a private room at the restaurant. In response, Miriam Paweł, a longtime chronicler of California Democratic politics, penned a fiery op-ed in the New York Times, headlined, “Gavin Newsom, What Were You Thinking?” As she wrote, “It is hard to say which was more astounding, the hypocrisy or the hubris.” That is, Newsom was partying, even as he was ordering lockdowns for the masses—who, of course, hadn’t been invited to his soirée.
Continuing, Paweł added:
The party at a restaurant where dinner for two costs more than many people earn in a week reinforced a fundamental schism between those who value government as a force for good and those who resent it as the bastion of an out-of-touch elite oblivious to peoples’ needs.
A Tea Partier couldn’t have said it any better.
It’s inarguable that we need strong—as well as, of course, smart—measures to stop the virus, and yet such measures can be credibly imposed only by leaders who are willing to abide by the same standards themselves, and further possessing, meanwhile, a sense of a common destiny with the populace. Thus, President Theodore Roosevelt, who had fought and ranched alongside ordinary Americans earlier in his life, was able to say to an audience of Kansans in 1903:
Townsman and farmer, employer and employed, we must make up our minds that we shall rise or fall together.
People will put up with a lot of privation if they know that the burden is being fairly shared by all, according to a single standard—no special privileges for anyone.
By contrast, Newsom and his fellow elitists seem to be offering nothing but special deals to their cronies—and bad deals to everyone else. That unfair reality is made clear by the fate of another California restaurant, the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles. Local authorities ordered that restaurant—boasting zero Michelin stars and no glittering customers—to be closed, including its new tented outdoor seating area. And yet at the same time, a Hollywood production company was allowed to set up its commissary facility—including its own tented area for eating—just a few feet away. In other words, while one tent was closed, another tent was allowed to open, right there for local-news TV cameras to see.
It was a shocking juxtaposition, showing power on the one hand and powerlessness on the other. The well-connected Hollywood types, officially deemed an “essential industry,” can operate freely, while mere ordinary restaurants are closed down. Breitbart News and many other sites highlighted the pleas of restaurateur Angela Marsden, now sadly facing financial ruin.
Bar owner in Los Angeles CA is livid to see that mayor Garcetti has approved an outdoor dining area for a movie company directly across from her outdoor dining area (which was shut down) pic.twitter.com/jkUP2CWg35
— Jake Coco 💙🇺🇸🎶🐻 (@jakecoco) December 4, 2020
Interestingly, on December 7, a top Department of Health and Human Services official Brett Giroir–an M.D., as well as a four-star admiral–was emphatic that shutdown-prone authorities were making a mistake: “The evidence clearly does not support limitations on things like outdoor dining, particularly that are spaced, outdoor bars. ” He added, “We could be causing a lot more harm by overly restrictive recommendations that are not supported by the science.”
Moreover, on December 8, a Los Angeles judge ruled that LA County had badly overreached. Yes, there’s a public purpose in stopping the virus, Judge James Chalfant declared, but there are other public purposes, too, such as freedom and the ability to make a living; and so health officials needed to take costs as well as benefits into account.
In the meantime, comedian Whitney Cummings daringly tweeted about Newsom’s smugly elite friends in the entertainment world, heedless of the pain their political pals are causing, thinking only of their own convenience:
It’s amazing how wealthy hollywood people want everyone to say home except grocery workers and Postmates and Amazon delivery people and nannies
— Whitney Cummings (@WhitneyCummings) December 5, 2020
So this is Gavin Newsom’s stratified state of California, where the powerful do as they please, as the weak suffer as they must. Interestingly, just a day after Newsom’s visit to The French Laundry, the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, made the same culinary pilgrimage to that Michelin-starred mecca.
Yes, both Newsom and Breed later apologized for their actions, and so now it is up to us, we the people, to ask: Did they apologize out of genuine remorse? Or was it only because they got caught? In other words, would they do it again, if they thought they could get away with it?
Indeed, this Covid close-down double-standard is a national phenomenon. That was the takeaway from a December 4 cover headline from the New York Post, which blared, in all caps, “DO AS THEY SAY NOT AS THEY DO.” As the article detailed, politicians from coast to coast (they all seem to be Democrats) have been flouting their own rules.
— New York Post (@nypost) December 4, 2020
We might observe that there’s a kind of ultra-cynical logic to this sort of elite behavior: That is, if the powerful have the clout to control their own personal environment, then they can make sure that anyone in their zone is Covid-negative, as well as being certain that all the air and surfaces are being kept clean. And if all that is taken care of by aides and flunkies, then sure, it’s safe for bigshots go maskless. It’s the same as with any form of security for a VIP: If those around you are taking care of you, then you yourself can be defenseless. Indeed, such defenselessness becomes a status symbol: You are so rich and powerful that within your own sanctum, you can be completely carefree. Too bad we all can’t live like that. (Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, the newly elected George Soros-funded district attorney, George Gascon, has announced a slew of crimes that won’t be prosecuted, including trespassing, disturbing the peace, driving without a license, and resisting arrest–but that’s a tale for another time.)
Indeed, as we descend from the protected Mt. Olympus to the unprotected lesser world below, we see that the shutdown standards themselves are proving to be arbitrary and capricious. Typical is Toledo, OH, where the schools are closed, and the casinos are open. And in Chicago, city leaders eat in restaurants, anyway. Does any of this seem just?
Oh, and then we come to churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions, which, in the eyes of many authorities, are deemed to be less privileged than liquor stores and strip clubs. Fortunately, thanks to the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court—recently bolstered by its newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett—the houses of worship can stay open, at least in New York State.
The point here is not to minimize the danger of the virus—especially to certain sectors of the population, most notably, the elderly; in fact, a greater focus on the elderly, early on, would have saved many lives. As Kevin Pham, a healthcare analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has argued, the specific focus all along should have been on insulating nursing homes.
It was precisely the failure of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to so focus and insulate that led to the huge spike in deaths in his state, such that New York suffers the second highest Covid death rate in the U.S., behind only New Jersey—which, under its Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, adopted a similarly disastrous policy of packing Covid patients into nursing homes.
Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-fourths of all Covid deaths come to those over age 65. By contrast, less than one percent of Covid deaths come to those under 35. In other words, the young are at virtually no risk of dying from the disease, and the middle-aged are at relatively little risk. To be sure, death isn’t the only danger from Covid, and yet at the same time, people need, and will demand, the freedom to make these choices for themselves.
These age-variable risks argue for an appropriately nuanced mitigation strategy, not “one size fits all.” And yet many powerful people don’t seem interested in doing nuance. They have their preferences and their prejudices, and that’s that.
Yes, the current lockdown rules are exactly what they appear to be: a clear expression of Establishment values—that is, if you’re in with the elite, you get one standard, and if you’re not, you get another.
And that’s why, of course, the riots and protests of Antifa and Black Lives Matter have been exempt from restrictions in liberal areas; as the public-health authorities said at the time, the “mostly peaceful” types—sharply mocked by Breitbart News’ John Nolte—and rioters were doing such important work, fighting “institutional racism,” that the Covid rules should not apply to them.
So we can see the full picture: It’s the familiar high-low pincer on the middle. That is, it’s the rich and the mob, both squeezing hard on ordinary Americans.
The Covid Class War: Parallels from the Past
We can observe, too, a strong class-bias in the economic arrangements, and rearrangements, stemming from the Covid crisis. It’s long been recognized that the lockdown has had profound repercussions for the business sector; for instance, if people can’t go shopping, they will have to order products online, and that’s good news for Amazon. Indeed, that’s why Amazon’s stock price has nearly doubled in the last year, and why CEO Jeff Bezos’s net worth has soared to $184 billion.
In the meantime, at a lesser, but still lofty level, most white-collar employees have done well during the Covid-crisis; they do their work now online, from a home office. Speaking of these new work patterns, Philip Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, told The Christian Science Monitor, “There is a very straight class hierarchy. The higher-paid white-collar-job people are working from home.”
In the meantime, what happens to everybody else? What happens to those who work with their hands? And to those who must still commute to a workplace—if they are allowed to work at all? Angela Marsden of the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, joined by many other food-servicers sharing her predicament, will no doubt continue to provide pungent answers to these questions.
It could be argued, of course, that some of this disparate impact is simply the result of the changing nature of the economy, and that different categories of workers will inevitably be affected differently.
And while that is no doubt true, it’s also true that recent federal policy has exaggerated these differentials. Most obviously, we can look to the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion national bailout that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. Most of that money went to businesses and governments; that is, it went to intermediary institutions, as opposed to going directly to people in need.
At the time, a few leaders argued that Uncle Sam should be helping people, not businesses or bureaucracies. One such leader was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who warned that the CARES formula was the ultimate expression of what another Midwestern populist from an earlier era, William Jennings Bryan, derided as “trickle-down” economics.
Yet such was the rush to get money out the door this spring that Hawley’s warning was ignored. Only later did we start to see the income-distributional consequences: As the headline of one study put it, “The CARES Act Sent You a $1,200 Check but Gave Millionaires and Billionaires Far More.” And according to another study, CARES “transferred on average $1.6 million each to 43,000 wealthy Americans whose income was already over $1 million.”
Indeed, as we think about these bailouts that inordinately aided the wealthy, we might think back to another bailout that also went mostly to the rich: the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
You remember TARP. That was when Uncle Sam spent zillions to buy up “troubled assets” held by the likes of Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and many other of the largest and wealthiest financial institutions in the U.S. Thus the fat cats’ bad bets were made good by Uncle Sugar.
Many say that TARP was necessary to stop a possible 1929-type Depression. And that’s quite possibly true. Yet even so, the program should have been substantially modified; it should have included, for example, onerous conditions on those individuals and firms getting the bailouts, such as clawbacks for salaries, bonuses, and profits. In addition, a better TARP bill would have called for the receivership of the bailed-out companies, until better, and perhaps all-new, management could be installed. Since TARP had none of those redeeming features, it should be remembered as at best a necessary evil—and more likely, as being way more evil than was necessary.
Moreover, TARP was not the full extent of the government’s bailout for Wall Street and economy; the total value, including the monetary actions of the Federal Reserve, has been variously estimated as being anywhere between $7.7 and $29 trillion.
By any measure, the quantities of bailout money going to the very rich were extreme, even obscene.
And not surprisingly, there was a populist backlash, on both ideological wings; that is, Occupy Wall Street, on the left, and the Tea Party, on the right, emerged at the beginning of the last decade—and from there, the respective movements led to the 2016 presidential candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Yet interestingly, for all their obvious overlap on populist economic issues, the Sanders and Trump forces could never forge an alliance. Evidently, factors of personality and other issues kept the populists from finding common ground. And both factions, left and right, were weaker as a result.
Indeed, that split helps explain how Sanders lost in the 2016 and 2020 presidential primaries, and how Trump lost the popular balloting this year, by some seven million votes.
The Horseshoe Prospect
Still, populist strategists continue to dream of uniting left and right insurgents. This is the so-called Horseshoe Theory, a joining of the two populist wings against a common foe: the establishment middle. (Breitbart News’ John Binder recently analyzed some of the polling data from 2020 that further bolster the Horseshoe argument.)
After all, as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee always liked to say, the real split in American politics isn’t left and right, it’s top and bottom. That is, who’s on top, giving orders and who’s on the bottom, taking orders.
In this, the Covidean Era, the top vs. bottom Horseshoe is getting another opportunity to be forged together. That is, the Covid lockdowns (hypocritical as they often are) and the CARES Act (upwardly redistributionist as it often is) are likely to get people at the bottom thinking that they’re getting a raw deal—and thinking that they should do something to save themselves.
Such thoughts of populist potential came to mind on December 4, when CNBC’s Rick Santelli, commenting on the latest Covid lockdowns, found himself in a shouting match with one of the network’s liberal anchormen. Quoth Santelli: “It’s not science! Five hundred people at a Lowe’s aren’t any safer than 150 people in a restaurant that holds 600! I don’t believe it! Sorry, don’t believe it!”
Those with long memories will recall that back in 2009, the same Rick Santelli let loose a viral rant that helped strike the spark of the Tea Party.
So now, can Santelli strike twice? We’ll have to see. Yet in the meantime, there’s plenty of evidence that a new populist movement is already gaining force. And every time a smug liberal is proven to be a hypocrite, the populists gain power.
To cite some almost random examples, a recent report from Steamboat, CO, tells us that energized anti-lockdown protestors brandished signs offering clever spins on protest slogans of the past year, including, “Unemployment is a public health crisis,” “All jobs are essential,” “Defund Routt County Commissioners,” and “Restaurant lives matter too.” Meanwhile, in Burbank, CA, the Tinhorn Flats establishment has declared itself to be a “peaceful protest zone.” We’ll see how far it gets with that self-designation–maybe it would be left alone if it called itself a violent protest zone.
The protestors’ argument was simple yet powerful: Yes, the threat from the virus is real, and yet at the same time, the threats from the social consequences of shutdowns, including unemployment, depression, and suicide are also real.
Indeed, restaurants across the nation are developing various political and legal strategies for their own defense, such as declaring themselves to be “autonomous zones”–that being an ironic nod to the Antifa “autonomous zone” that existed for a brief time this spring in Seattle. Admittedly, that autonomous zone didn’t work out well, and yet other counter-strategies are being seen across the nation, from Louisville, KY, to Beverly Hills, CA.
So can the Horseshoe come together? Can Covid populism finally unite the proletarian left and the proletarian right? Could there be, someday, a Worker-Soldier Party? A coalition that truly unites the hard-working left and the hard-working right? We can’t know the future, of course, and the polling data are spotty, but we do see some signs that ordinary people are organizing in their own defense.
For instance, last month Gallup found that 82 percent of Americans are confident that they can protect themselves from the virus. And since part of any strategy, of course, is wearing a mask, it’s good to know that the same poll found that 88 percent of Americans are supportive of masks.
From these numbers, we can conclude that the American people are ready to take a firm stand. That is, they are ready to demand that they be treated as adults, that they be allowed to to make their own decisions about their own lives and livelihoods—and that they not be subject to what Breitbart News calls “Covid-1984.” And just on December 10, the same Sen. Hawley was actively teaming up with Sen. Bernie Sanders to craft a “trickle up” Covid relief plan. That’s some serious populist realignment.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo) takes the Senate floor with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) to introduce amendment demanding $1,200 stimulus checks, slams colleagues for prioritizing the demands of business instead of working families. pic.twitter.com/EkhIkBdDTz
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 10, 2020
Of course, there is an alternative to populist power. And that alternative is submission. Submission to the elites, even when they are remote and thus clueless about the specific needs and circumstances of diverse places and people.
After all, as Thucydides explained those 2,500 years ago, the powerful are always happy to do as they please—and they’re also happy to tell the masses to shut up and hop to it.
Oh, and there’s one last thing: The political struggle over Covid—including the stark hypocrisy of the elite—is just a practice-run for the struggle over climate change.