The Daily Parker

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A tale of two realities

Indiana University history professor Rebecca Spang compares the world's response to Covid-19 to the conditions that led to the French Revolution in 1789:

Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.

This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious.

An urgent desire for stability—for a fast resolution to upheaval—is in fact absolutely characteristic of any revolutionary era. “I pray we will be finished by Christmas,” wrote one beleaguered member of the French Constituent Assembly to a good friend in October 1789. In reality, of course, the assembly took another two years to finish its tasks, after which another assembly was elected; a republic was declared; Louis XVI was put on trial and executed in January 1793; General Napoleon Bonaparte became “first consul” in 1799 and emperor in 1804; Europe found itself engulfed in wars from 1792 to 1815. In short, life never went back to how it had been before 1789.

People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.

Keep that in mind as you read these indications that Republicans have entirely incompatible views with the rest of the world about most things:

  • Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt yesterday, calling the CO he removed last week "stupid," among other things certain to endear him to everyone in the Navy.
  • Conservative propaganda news outlets continue to repeat the president's lie assertion that no one knew how bad the pandemic would get, despite ample evidence that it would.
  • It looks like the Federal government is seizing protective equipment en route to Democratic-leaning states, but no one seems to know (or will admit) why.
  • Three academics who specialize in health policy warn that when, not if, Covid-19 starts hitting rural areas in force, it will get much worse, owing to the older populations as well as a general lack of hospitals and supplies outside of cities.
  • This week's New Yorker takes a long look at Illinois' response to the crisis, which is different than, say, Georgia's.
  • Wisconsin governor Tony Evans issued an executive order earlier today postponing the state's primary election until June 9th. The state was to hold its primary election tomorrow, despite the Democratic governor and Democratic minority in the state legislature demanding postponement or universal mail-in ballots. The Republican-controlled legislature refused even to take up the proposal, perhaps because, as other Republicans have admitted, more votes means Republicans lose. The state's top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said the governor "cave[d] under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups" like, one must assume, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a known hotbed of partisan Democratic thought.

Finally, ever wonder about the origin of those creepy plague-doctor outfits from the 17th century?

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