And there’s the problem. America’s toxic politics, our culture war, the profound alienation between regions, between classes, between left and right, or city and country — these divisions have devoured our sense of the common good, and made it extraordinarily difficult to work together even when faced with the most dire circumstances. Indeed, even in the absence of those divisions, we see the unedifying spectacle of large egos simply refusing to consider the greater good. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) goes to the Senate gym while waiting for his coronavirus test results (which turned out to be positive), and New York’s Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) similarly heads to his favorite gym in Brooklyn for one last turn on the treadmill before announcing that the city’s gyms will be shut. The symbolism of such behavior is unmissable: In a time of need, take what you can while you can.
Compare the appalling failure of the self-styled world’s greatest deliberative body to pass a plan to cushion the economy from what amounts to an asteroid strike, to the situation in Denmark, where the government has basically stepped in to freeze the economy in place, guaranteeing 75 percent of virtually everyone’s salaries so as to prevent any layoffs while people are forbidden from working. This is obviously an absolutely insane way to run an economy — which is the point: The economy is largely going to stop for a short time, and the government is temporarily stepping in to make sure existing arrangements are still in place when it’s time to restart. It’s a solution optimized to solve this particular crisis, not to change things for the long term. And for that reason, it has overwhelming support. As Flemming Larsen, a professor at the Center for Labor Market Research at Denmark’s Aalborg University, reported in an interview with The Atlantic: “We have 10 parties in Parliament. From the very left-wing to the really, really right-wing. And they all agree.”