The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The coronavirus shows Bernie Sanders won

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gives a thumbs up while arriving at the Senate chamber at Capitol Hill in Washington on March 25. (Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

HILLSBORO, Ohio — Pundits are speculating on what impact the novel coronavirus pandemic will have on the presidential race, but we know the answer. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), or at least his philosophy, has won.

Our march toward socialism began incrementally decades ago. But our response to the coronavirus will lead to its permanent implementation after elected officials of both parties shuttered businesses, ordered citizens not to go to work and made clear that there would be more draconian measures to come. The delicate balance between freedom and risk was less than an afterthought as our economy was gutted in a matter of days.

More coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Most disappointing of all has been President Trump, who — after initially trying, rightfully, to calm the population and the markets — fell into line after a few days of attacks. Trump turned the country over to health professionals, who were understandably focused solely on the best medical remedies. Sadly, no one seemed to worry much about protecting the economy or ensuring civil liberties, which, yes, must be protected even in the face of a communicable disease.

The cause of all this upheaval was a virus that, according to Johns Hopkins, so far has killed no one under 10 and has a case mortality rate of 0.2 to 0.4 percent for people age 10-49, rising with age as people develop more underlying medical conditions — all the way up to 14.8 percent for people 80 and older. We were told that the closings and restrictions were the only way to protect the most vulnerable among us. It would be interesting to poll the “most vulnerable” to determine whether they agree with wrecking the economy.

But the snowball started rolling, state by state. One directive led to the next. Millions were ordered home, where they wait for their government to tell them it’s okay to come out. Without a doubt, some parts of the country were hit harder and needed to take stronger measures. But a one-size-fits-all mentality was disastrous, and we are only beginning to explore more nuanced ideas for mitigating the risk to seniors and others who are at heightened risk. In recent days, Trump has indicated he might soon reverse course and lift federal restrictions. It’s already too late. The economy can’t be turned on and off like a light switch.

We live in a world where politicians of both parties promise no pain and no consequences. That includes the president. As the push for a big intervention began, Trump vowed that hourly wage workers were “not going to miss a paycheck” and “don’t get penalized for something that’s not their fault.”

In real life, bad things happen to us that aren’t our fault, but we still have to find a way, usually on our own, to cope and recover. Only in the land of make-believe that is our government would anyone think that no one would miss a paycheck no matter how many businesses were closed or jobs were lost. Airlines and the hospitality industry can be rescued. Businesses large and small can get bailouts or low-interest loans. Millions of Americans will receive $1,200 checks, maybe multiple times.

Without having every reason to believe that Uncle Sam would step in, perhaps governors around the nation would have hesitated to close business and industry. We’ll never know. Instead, they felt empowered to act with impunity, safe in the knowledge that no matter how many businesses were forced to close and people thrown out of work in the name of public safety, there would be a federal bailout.

And so they were right. This week, our leaders agreed to devote trillions of dollars to respond to this economic calamity of our own creation, spending at levels that will make the 2008-09 bailouts and stimulus package look like testaments to frugality. It will be what we do from now on.

In his State of the Union address in February 2019, Trump said: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country." So much for that.

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We have crossed the Rubicon. When historians record the moment that the U.S. economy transitioned from free-market capitalism to democratic socialism, they will point to this week. Watching it all unfold has been like witnessing a plane crash in slow motion. When the smoke clears, what’s left will be a feeble relic of the United States we once knew.

For months, the rising influence of big-government liberals such as Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has caused many Democrats to worry that their nominee would be vulnerable to the label “socialist.” They should no longer be concerned. We are all socialists now.

Read more:

Henry Olsen: We’re not killing the economy over the coronavirus. We’re putting it into a coma.

The Post’s View: Trump’s goal of sending people back to work early is reckless

The Post’s View: Why easing off social distancing soon would be a huge mistake

Megan McArdle: Are young people doomed to a repeat of the Great Recession?

Fareed Zakaria: To solve the economic crisis, we will have to solve the health-care crisis

David Von Drehle: I probably have a ‘mild to moderate’ case of covid-19. I don’t think I could survive worse.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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