And in between, are the millions—27 million at last count—of people who have lost their jobs (and, because this is the United States, their employer-provided health insurance). The plans and ambitions of millions of real estate agents, retail clerks, store managers, construction workers, school aides, florists, hairdressers, architects, assembly line workers, actors, tour guides, restaurant waiters and hotel workers have been completely upended. They cannot pay their rent or make their mortgage payments, they have no health insurance, their suddenly unschooled children may go without food. Without warning, the aspiration to middle class comfort is beyond them. While it is not clear whether the recent spate of anti-quarantine protests on the steps of state capitols are genuine expressions of popular will or choreographed right-wing agitprop, there are certainly millions of Americans who, seeing their socioeconomic security evaporate overnight and expecting little support from their own government, have turned an anxious eye to "reopening the economy" in spite of the manifest risks.
As Anthony Cordesman once remarked of the states of the Middle East, the people of the United States "seem to have no greater enemy than their own government." The mismanagement of the crisis by the federal government has been widely chronicled; more worrisome is the extent to which increasing numbers of reports suggest Americans believe it is more than simple ineptitude. A recent report about federal government interference in deliveries of medical equipment procured by state and local governments concluded darkly that: "In the absence of an explanation, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that this is simply mafia government, exerting control for the sake of control, not in spite of but because of the crisis-led demand, and squeezing the American people, as they die in hospital beds and attend — with inadequate protection — to the sick and scared."
In the Middle East governments grew more beholden to international patrons, entangled in global supply chains and trade treaties, and correspondingly less responsive to their domestic populations. In the process, they increasingly relied, as Rami Khouri recently put it "on their main political constituents, leading them to retreat from their responsibility to serve all citizens." The Arab uprisings revealed not only accumulated rage on the part of neglected and resentful citizens but also deep cleavages produced by decades of governments that were more accountable to narrow domestic cliques than to the citizenry. A decade after the Arab spring, the Middle East is strewn with the shards of broken states. Actors as varied as tribes and gun runners, oil companies and religious sects, private equity investors and, sometimes, the remnants of the state elites themselves, try to salvage an advantage, perhaps even profit, from the region’s apparently permanent state of emergency. Any remnants of fidelity to institutions like the rule of law, formal procedure, meritocratic criteria -the bases of what the protestors called "bread, freedom, dignity and social justice"- have been swept away, superseded by states of emergency, in which the exception becomes the rule.
Could this happen here?
The state of emergency is already declared. Actors such as pharmaceutical companies, airline manufacturers accused of neglecting safety regulations, large manufacturers and construction firms with relatively low job losses, have all lobbied successfully for special subsidies and tax breaks. The fortune of Amazon CEO and entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, has increased by $24 billion since the outbreak of the pandemic. Amazon saw aroughly 20% increase over the last four months to $138 billion while its essential-but-dispensable warehouse workers who attempted to organize in protest at the lack of worker protections, were disparaged as "not smart" and their actions as "immoral and unacceptable" by Amazon’s corporate leadership. The Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods secretly deployed state of the art surveillance algorithms to predict and suppress union organizing activity before it began, suggesting they knew that their own essential-but-dispensable workforce, having requested hazard pay and workplace safety reforms, might be less than satisfied by a $2.00/hour raise and a new workplace uniform that brands them each a "hero."