Viral Injustice: How the Pandemic is Unmasking the U.S. Economic, Racial, and Immigration Systems

Writer Zak Cheney-Rice and journalist John Washington are this week’s guests.

Photo Illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept; photos: Getty Images (2)

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The U.S. has now surpassed a million confirmed Covid-19 cases and is nearing a death toll of 60,000. This week on Intercepted: While the statistics are grim, the harsh reality is how the Trump administration — as well as some governors and mayors — handled this crisis made the situation much more deadly than it should have been. New York Magazine writer Zak Cheney-Rice discusses how the economic, social, racial, and gender injustices that predate this pandemic have impacted the most vulnerable people in the United States. He also discusses Trump’s incompetence, Joe Biden’s strategy of being seldom seen or heard, and how all of this might impact the 2020 presidential election. Trump and his radical anti-immigrant minion Stephen Miller are already exploiting the crisis to ram through radical measures aimed at immigrants, as ICE deports detainees infected with the coronavirus disease. John Washington, author of “The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the U.S.-Mexico Border and Beyond,” discusses the dueling messages to migrant workers from a White House that openly espouses hate and wants them deported while government agencies have categorized many as “essential workers.” Washington also discusses his latest piece for The Intercept, “We Need to Reverse the Damage Trump Has Done in Latin America. Biden’s Plans Don’t Cut It.” And Intercepted listeners share more of their stories of life during the pandemic.

If you or someone you know needs emotional support or is contemplating suicide, resources include the Crisis Text Line, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Trevor Project, or the International Association for Suicide Prevention.


Richard Kiley as Dr. Titan: You’ve been accused of practicing medicine without a license. It’s a very grave charge, son.

Donald J. Trump: I’m not a doctor, as you possibly have found out. 

RK: Are you aware that it’s unlawful to practice medicine without a medical license?

DJT: I’m not a doctor, but I’m a person with common sense.

RK: Are you aware that running a medical clinic without the proper licensing can place both you and the public in a great deal of danger?

DJT: Yeah, they say maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.

RK: Have you or have you not been treating patients at your ranch?

DJT: We hit the body with a tremendous — uh, whether it’s ultraviolet or it’s just very powerful light, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. 

RK: I’m sorry?

DJT: And then I see the disinfectant. It knocks it out in a minute by injection inside or almost a cleaning. 

RK: Did you consider the ramifications of your actions?

DJT: The possibility. And I say it, what do you have to lose? I’ll say it again — what do you have to lose? 

RK: What if one of your patients had died?

DJT: I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. Try it, if you’d like. 

RK: We’ll adjourn briefly.

DJT: Dickinson, Hologic, and Cephe — Cepheid.

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted. 

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from my basement in New York City. And this is episode 128 of Intercepted.

Olivia Nuzzi: If an American president loses more Americans over the course of six weeks than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, does he deserve to be reelected?

DJT: So, yeah, we’ve lost a lot of people. But if you look at what original projections were, 2.2 million — we’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000 — it’s far too many. One person is too many for this. And I think we’ve made a lot of really good decisions.

JS: The United States has now surpassed 1 million documented cases of coronavirus. The actual number is certainly much higher, and the death toll continues to mount. At present, it is nearing 60,000 fatalities in the United States alone from Covid-19. Globally, there are just over 3 million confirmed cases and roughly 214,000 deaths.

While the statistics paint a grim picture, the harsh reality is that this epidemic and the way it’s been handled by the Trump administration, as well as some governors and mayors, has made the situation worse — much worse — than it ever should have been. When we talk about the impact of the economic catastrophe being felt across this nation, it’s often framed as the markets and businesses taking a hit, which has then gushed downwards to impact the most vulnerable the hardest. But what gets lost in that narrative is the fact that our economic and social systems in this country were not built to protect the most vulnerable. They overwhelmingly exist to benefit the rich and the already comfortable.

We’ve seen this on a legislative level with the bipartisan bailout bill. The poorest and most economically disadvantaged people are being forced to wait on funds that are devastatingly insufficient to begin with, while big corporations know they can bank on getting their money. Some of the richest Americans — the billionaires — are making a killing while people are dying. That isn’t a flaw in the system — that is the system. We are heading toward 30 million unemployment claims in the U.S. in just the past month and a half. Lines at food banks are stretching for blocks on end, or they come in the form of intricately woven strings of vehicles in crowded parking lots.

Undocumented immigrants are facing dueling realities: a White House that openly hates them and wants them deported and government entities that have categorized many of them as essential workers. African Americans are dying in disproportionate numbers. Prisoners are being neglected or knowingly subjected to the virus spreading through their communal cages. Workers are being forced to labor in unsafe conditions while the corporations they serve rake in the disaster profits.

In many ways, it’s an appropriate metaphor that Donald Trump is the president of the United States during this pandemic. He did not create the frail — in some ways nonexistent — system of social and medical protections we have in this country. He didn’t create the bipartisan consensus on first helping big corporations and only then throw some scraps to ordinary people. He didn’t create the racial and economic disparities. But he’s a fitting public face for this national disgrace that we are living through, because he publicly stands for all of these things. Now, I have said many times on this program that Trump is a logical outcome of a failed state, and he’s a politician who proudly boasts the quiet parts of the vicious U.S. system out loud. His incompetence, his lies, his anti-science — at times dangerously anti-science — pronouncements, combined with the realities of our capitalist system that values profits over lives — it’s America unmasked.

Coming up on the show today, we are going to be talking about immigration, coronavirus, and the 2020 election with journalist John Washington. We’re also going to hear more stories from our listeners.

But we begin today by looking at how the economic, racial, social, and gender realities that have existed in this country long before this virus — how these have impacted some of the most vulnerable people and communities in the United States.

Zak Cheney-Rice on How Coronavirus Exposes Economic, Social, Racial, and Gender Injustices

I am joined now by Zak Cheney-Rice. He is a staff writer at New York Magazine where he covers race and inequality for Intelligencer. That’s the publication’s digital politics vertical. His analysis-based work focuses on how race affects elections, policy, and the criminal-legal system. His latest pieces are called “The Luxury of Irresponsibility” and “Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself: In a time of plague, willful blindness is a coping mechanism.” Zak Cheney-Rice, thank you so much for joining us on Intercepted.

Zak Cheney-Rice: Thanks so much for having me.

JS: So last week, members of the coronavirus task force discussed how UV rays and disinfectants kill the virus. And then Trump suggested that injecting disinfectant might actually be a cure.

DJT: Right, and then I see the disinfectant. It knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because, you see, it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. It’ll also be interesting to check that, so that you’re gonna have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.

JS: Then on Monday, when asked by a reporter if he takes any responsibility for alleged spikes in people using disinfectants after his comments —

Brian Karem: Maryland and other states, Governor Larry Hogan specifically said they’ve seen a spike in people using disinfectant after your comments last week. I know you said they were sarcastic, but do you take —

DJT: I can’t imagine why, I can’t imagine why, yeah. 

BK: Do you take any responsibility?

DJT: No, I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine that. 

JS: I’m just bringing this up as one example. But in the bigger picture, what do you make of Trump’s continuous recklessness and just blatant dodging of any accountability whatsoever in this crisis? 

ZCR: He’s congenitally unable and unwilling to take responsibility for anybody’s well-being but his own. Even the stuff that’s within his control — if it goes wrong, it’s somebody else’s fault. If it goes right, it’s attributable to his special genius. This is nothing new. This is nothing that we haven’t learned to expect from him as a person, and by extension, as a president. 

JS: For New York Magazine, you write, quote, “The GOP, more than any other political entity, has been the most strident proponent of the need for more personal responsibility in the U.S. But when confronted by a president whose literal job is to be responsible and take responsibility, but who couldn’t be less interested in either, they have dutifully advanced his policy agenda, defended his behavior and pandemic response, and dismissed concerns about his unhinged and often dangerous behavior.” 

Talk more about the politics of personal responsibility that you explore in that piece, which is called “The Luxury of Irresponsibility.”

ZCR: I kind of try to situate my perspective on Trump’s avoidance of personal responsibility and the GOP’s unwillingness to hold him responsible for really anything kind of in this longer history of the Republican Party in particular, but certainly not exclusively. I mean, this is rhetoric that we’ve seen espoused by members of all political parties. It’s kind of a trans-partisan consensus that people — who are especially poor people, especially poor black people — are poor and black because they are somehow pathologically unable to not be so. It’s because of something innate or intrinsic to them as human beings that’s holding them back from being able to prosper to the extent that other groups have. And this is a narrative that’s been seductive and widely disseminated for decades, and even centuries.

I mean, I actually have been corresponding with an African American history professor who was talking about, you know, kind of in the 18th century on slave plantations in the Caribbean, there was a common argument among slavers that black slaves were ruining their own health by attending funerals. So it was this institution that killed untold numbers of kidnapped Africans in the Caribbean and the United States. And something as simple as attending a funeral to commemorate the people who were killed by this institution is now being cast as the thing that is making people sick. So this is a very, very long-standing habit in kind of the colonial powers conception of black people and black people’s plight in kind of the Americas in the Caribbean. 

And it kind of became a lot more pointed with the Moynihan report and the Moynihan era. 

Ned Brooks: Our guest today on Meet the Press is the author of the controversial study, “The Negro Family,” Mr. Daniel P. Moynihan. His report, prepared when he was Assistant Secretary of Labor, at first was warmly praised. It has recently been sharply criticized. 

ZCR: LBJ was inspired to shape his “Great Society” and his response to urban poverty, especially urban black poverty in the 1960s — I mean, it was based on this conception of the sort of behaviors that black people were undertaking cast as the reasons for their plight, and it was kind of a very limited structural analysis of the different factors that might have contributed to the situation. 

So this was adopted, I think more stridently, by Republicans in the Reagan era, and was sort of very tightly intertwined with the boogeyman of the “welfare queen” that was sort of Reagan’s avatar for combating the expansion of social services. In fact, cutting back on social services — you know, his decisions to do so and the decisions of the Republican Party to pursue those policies were all justified under the auspices of black irresponsibility and black pathology. 

Ronald Reagan: In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers, to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent deceased veterans husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.

ZCR: And this has been something that’s been kind of parroted by liberal politicians as well. I mean, Bill Clinton’s welfare bill was was literally called —

Meg Goetz: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1995. 

ZCR: It’s something that’s been trans-partisan, but the Republican Party has been kind of the major proponent of this line of thinking. And it’s just ironic and at the same time unsurprising that this is something that they’re not willing to apply to one of their own, whose responsibility is kind of the deciding factor in the well-being of millions of people — they couldn’t be less interested in holding him responsible. 

JS: In your most recent piece you write about the unequal impact. Everyone likes to say, “Oh, the virus doesn’t discriminate.” Well, maybe that’s true on a scientific level, but the conditions that existed before the virus hit us certainly do discriminate, and the way that people are handled when they do become infected or at risk certainly does discriminate. And in your piece, you talk about this unequal impact that coronavirus is having, from the long lines — huge lines — that we’re seeing at food banks, to the disproportionately high rates of African Americans dying from the disease across the country. In some places, more than 70 percent of the deaths from coronavirus are African American. And you write, quote, “By almost every metric, those getting the sickest and dying most frequently, and being plunged into dire financial straits at disproportionate rates, are the same people who were vulnerable and marginalized before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.”

First, tell us about your conversation with Kyle Waide, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. And what did he describe, and is that food bank seeing spikes in demand for food?

ZCR: Lines are longer, on top of which, the precautions required to distribute food need to be a lot more strict to sort of prevent the spread of infection. It has both congested the process at the same time as the need has kind of exploded. Fear of the virus itself has also reduced the number of volunteers who are able to contribute, so they’re now working with lighter staff. But yeah, the demand has been tremendous. And it’s been compounded by the fact that a lot of first-time food bank users are now coming to these pantries and banks requiring food.

There was a pretty steady stream of people who needed them even before this, and now it’s them on top of people who have recently been laid off, have been furloughed or had their pay cut, hours cut. It’s a pretty tremendous difference, the before-after. 

JS: The New York Times reports that more than 10,500 people in state prisons have now been infected. More than 110 have died. The federal prison system has also been hit hard. At least 23 federal inmates with the virus have died, as has at least one federal prison worker. You spoke to someone held at Rikers Island in New York City who said, quote, “It’s like The Walking Dead in here.”

What are you hearing from people who are incarcerated at Rikers or family members of people incarcerated elsewhere? 

ZCR: It’s a situation where you’re getting a lot of information about what this virus does and how it spreads and what precautions you can take, and just seeing every component of the reality around you of your lived reality being in total misalignment with what is being recommended that you do. I mean, it’s totally impossible to maintain any real social distancing in jails and prisons. At Rikers in particular, there’s no division between beds. There’s no individual, kind of like, quarters, and people are sleeping, you know, 15 inches away from each other, when social distancing guidelines typically mandate six foot separation. 

People are coughing all night. Doctors are doing, by all accounts, the best they can, but it’s just totally overwhelmed medical capacity at Rikers with people getting sick by the day. People are horrified and it’s panic among prisoners and it’s panic among medical staff and even corrections staff — who, by some of the accounts that people shared with me from inside Rikers, I mean, the guards are just as frightened. There’s been this kind of an attitude shift is what has sort of been described to me. It’s not as fully antagonistic — at least outwardly — as it was before the virus hit. Everyone is kind of trying to do their best to recognize that their fates under this virus are entwined in a lot of ways, and whatever cooperation is required to make the burden fall less heavily on all of them is sort of being pursued. 

At the same time, Cuomo, de Blasio — while in the weeks since they’ve freed a significant number of people, it was just a slow-walked process that wasted precious weeks that got a lot of people unnecessarily infected, at the same time as making this tacit judgment call that, you know, the people who we don’t decide are worthy of being let go, whatever crime they’ve been accused of, or in the case of prison, whatever crime to be convicted of, this is punishable not just by prison, which is its own kind of daily horror. It’s punishable by being exposed to this deadly pathogen. 

This is what we’ve decided is a fitting punishment for what you’ve done, is being in this death cage for the foreseeable future. And people inside prisons and jails recognize that, and it’s terrifying. And I think the Walking Dead analogy was — the sentiment he was getting at, from my understanding, was — this is people who believe they are at constant risk of death or condemned to death, essentially walking around and trying to make the best of the circumstances that they’ve been given. 

JS: I also want to talk to you about how this is impacting people who are homeless in this country. And many of the efforts aimed at trying to address what’s happening have been slow, and they are insufficiently meeting the dire need. And just one example — California’s “Project Roomkey” is aiming to secure 15,000 hotel rooms for people who are living homeless, but Curbed reports that only about 3 percent of the state’s homeless population have been moved into hotels. And the report suggests that mayors and the governor use their authority to actually commandeer hotels and motels to house all of California’s 150,000 homeless people. 

You also have in Las Vegas images of huge parking lots where, you know, there’s sort of been spray-painted lines where people can sleep outdoors. And literally in the background, you’re seeing huge luxury hotels that are totally empty. Talk about this phenomenon and the plight of homeless people in this country during the pandemic. 

ZCR: I mean, this is obviously a population that was dramatically exposed to all kinds of perils, from sickness, to violence, to state violence more specifically, to the extent that homelessness has been kind of progressively criminalized over the years — which is the case in Vegas. In the context of what we’re seeing, in terms of these empty hotels, these massive luxury hotels as the backdrop of people without homes, sleeping outdoors in parking lots — which, I should add, the city did set up, I think, tents in the same parking lot as if that’s much consolation. 

But I think efforts have been made after the backlash to that particular image to create a little bit more of a buffer between potentially infected people who don’t have anywhere else to stay. But I mean, the situation in Vegas is that the city council has criminalized resting on sidewalks for even temporary amounts of time. The homeless people who weren’t then, you know, shuffled into jails where they’re exposed to the coronavirus, those people are then kind of forced into sort of more cramped housing situations that are also very imperiled by infection and the spread of pathogens and forced into all kinds of dangerous situations. And at the same time, Vegas has been unable to reach a deal with these hotel owners to kind of house people at the same time as the mayor recently volunteered the city as sort of a test lab. 

Anderson Cooper: If you can’t figure out how to do this safely, why, as mayor of a city that you are responsible for the people’s safety, are you calling for something that you have no plan for how it would be done safely?

Carolyn Goodman: I am not a private owner. That’s the competition in this country, the freedom, the free enterprise, to be able to make sure that what you offer the public meets the needs of the public. Right now we’re in a crisis health-wise. And so for a restaurant to be open, or a small boutique to be open, they’d better figure it out. That’s their job. 

ZCR: It’s a tremendously irresponsible way to govern on all fronts, and people are just largely left to their own devices. I mean, in California, you were talking about just how underutilized so much of the space and so much of the housing capacity is there, in a state that — you know, a lot of the homelessness or a significant amount is attributable to the lack of affordable housing, and California’s the wildest housing market probably in the country. 

My brother is a Los Angeles bus driver. And essentially the buses on the graveyard shift have been transformed into these almost overnight, like, mobile hotels. And people who don’t have anywhere to go will sort of ride the bus back and forth so they can have a place to sleep, a place that’s a shelter from the elements and the perils of the street. And he’s driving back and forth for hours in this cramped bus with a lot of people who are potentially sick who don’t have, you know, a lot of places to go. It’s just outrageous underutilization of the resources at our disposal. 

JS: Meat processing plants have also become viral hot spots. At a Smithfield pork factory in South Dakota, more than 640 people tested positive for coronavirus. At a JBS Beef meat packing plant in Texas, there are more than 150 cases. At a Tyson plant in Georgia, a 55 year old, Annie Grant, died after she was told to return to work even though she was home sick feeling feverish. She worked on the packing line for nearly 15 years. And in all of these plants, most of the workers are either immigrants, refugees, or they are African Americans. 

Vice President Mike Pence has said —

Mike Pence: You are giving a great service to the people of the United States of America. And we need you to continue, as a part of what we call our critical infrastructure, to show up and do your job. 

JS: What are your thoughts, Zak, on who has been deemed essential workers and how they are being treated right now?

ZCR: A lot of the essential fields of work are overwhelmingly staffed by — first of all, largely women. I think there was a New York Times analysis recently that found that whether it’s grocery workers, food services, social work — this sort of essential labor infrastructure in this country is staffed majority by women and largely women of color, largely immigrant women of color. It’s basically an index of these vastly underappreciated, undercompensated fields of work that are now sort of on the front line of our national management strategy under this pandemic. 

And the rhetoric is — as I’m sure we all could have predicted — is all about, “you’re making a sacrifice that we’re grateful for, but that we need you to continue making, and we need you to keep going to work and putting yourself on the front line, putting your body on the line, so that the rest of your country can function as-is.” 

And that’s sort of a tradeoff that’s long been required of these people that’s being made explicit, that also clashes pretty violently with the extent to which — you know, for example, Amazon workers are now having to strike to kind of get protective gear and better hazard pay. Instacart went on strike. All of these workers are now in a position where their jobs that were already undercompensated, underappreciated, are now also dangerous, and are asking for greater protections from their employers, who are reticent to do so and in many cases are — I know there are a couple examples of people being fired for organizing for better workplace conditions. 

It’s a treatment totally at odds with the rhetoric around how vital these people have sort of been demonstrated to be, specifically in the context of this pandemic. This virus is running rampant all over fault lines and inequalities that we knew existed for a long time beforehand. 

JS: I wanted to ask you about the Georgia governor and his response, Brian Kemp. You wrote that Kemp is, quote, “probably going to get a lot of Georgians killed. He can accept this because he thinks he doesn’t answer to them. He’s right.”

ZCR: Kemp was the Secretary of State for nearly a decade before he ran for governor. And he spent that time kind of dramatically constricting the franchise in Georgia, along the same lines that we’ve seen a lot of Republican secretaries of state and legislatures sort of crack down on the ability and ease with which unfavorable constituencies can cast ballots. So that means for Republicans: black voters, poor voters, students. The goal here for Republicans has been to make voting as inconvenient as possible so that people whose lives were already sort of tough to navigate, logistically, if they wanted to vote, are that much harder to do so.

And there was an investigation from — I believe — American Public Media last year that demonstrated the Georgia had deployed, I think, the widest range of voter suppression measures in the country, that are regularly used by a lot of the states who have found newfound freedom to implement these voter suppression laws after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 2013, which sort of opened up a lot of these states to be able to change their voting laws without any kind of federal oversight. So Kemp took full advantage of that and has purged a lot of voters from the rolls — upwards of a million voters. He did his best to engineer the electorate and to winnow the electorate so that his unfavorable constituencies could not vote in significant enough numbers to ensure that he lost.

Because of the measures he’s implemented, he doesn’t answer in any meaningful way to the people who don’t vote for him. He doesn’t feel any sense of responsibility to the people who would be most directly imperiled, I think, by the outbreak that he’s inviting by reopening Georgia so soon. As elsewhere, Georgia’s populations that are most disproportionately impacted by coronavirus infections and deaths are black people, and black people largely in cities that Kemp wasn’t going to carry in an election anyway. And I don’t think he feels any marked sense of accountability towards those people, and so he can kind of gamble with their lives accordingly. 

JS: Finally, I want to ask you what you think is going on with Joe Biden and his campaign. You know, in early March, you wrote a piece with the title, “Joe Biden Should Probably Just Hide Now,” and it does seem like he’s largely taken your advice. I’m not sure that he only got that idea from you, but it does seem to be that that is a big part of the strategy right now is — when we do see Joe Biden, he is reading off of a teleprompter or there are notes being given to him while he’s doing interviews. What do you think is going on with Joe Biden? 

ZCR: That headline for that piece was not an expression of a personal preference. I don’t think, ideally, a presidential candidate should be hiding from the public when he’s trying to get elected. The point of that piece was to outline what I think is probably the most beneficial way to go about the rest of the campaign for Joe Biden, because in my view, the success of Joe Biden’s campaign is predicated primarily on the sort of imagined understanding of him that is largely divorced from what he’s actually done and how he’s actually conducted himself, particularly in this election. 

This is a guy who’s been in politics for decades, who’s kind of accrued a lot of goodwill, amongst sort of Democratic loyalists in particular, because of his role in the Obama administration, largely, and just generally being a person who can reasonably point to his record and say that his record speaks for itself. And you can vote in terms of your understanding of that record. And there are lots of very, very valid criticisms of that record and lots of kind of incredible moral shortcomings in that record. But in an election where the stated rationale for why Democratic voters are voting for who they’re voting for is electability, and this fear that going with a kind of unknown quantity won’t yield dividends for them in an election against Donald Trump — I mean, you cannot say that Joe Biden is not someone who Democrats know and generally like.

And that is his greatest strength, I think, at this point in his career, especially this point in his life. He’s very old, demonstrably not as sharp as he was as recently as three or four years ago.

Joe Biden: During World War II, uh, you know, Roosevelt came up with a thing that, uh, you know, was totally different than a — than the — the his call — he called it the — you know, the World War II, he had the world, the, the War Production Board.

ZCR: It’s probably to his benefit to sort of retreat into the background, expose himself as little as possible to his record and conduct being picked apart, and sort of let voters imagine what they think Joe Biden is and vote according to that. 

JS: It’s depressing to listen to you say this, but I think you’re hitting on the money there. I mean, it’s really, like — in the midst of this authoritarian charlatan that is in power in Washington, in the midst of a pandemic where all of the injustices of our society are being intensified and brought to the surface, that the best that the Democrats have to offer right now or the choice that’s been made is to run a guy that is going to perform best the less we see or hear of him, is just like — I’m laughing, but I’m crying. I mean, it’s shocking that this is our choice right now at this moment in history. 

ZCR: When people are scared, they act like scared people. They gravitate towards what they think is safe, and that is often at odds with figures and policies that might more markedly improve their lived circumstances. People are willing to settle when they feel they are in a corner. Biden came along at the right time to capitalize on that. 

JS: Well, Zak Cheney-Rice, I want to thank you very much for all of your work and your writing and for being with us here on Intercepted. 

ZCR: Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy. I really appreciate it. 

JS: Zak Cheney-Rice is a staff writer at New York Magazine, where he covers race and inequality for Intelligencer. His latest piece is, “Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself: In a time of plague, willful blindness is a coping mechanism.”

[Music interlude.]

John Washington on Immigration, Asylum, Joe Biden, and His New Book, “The Dispossessed”

DJT: In order to protect American workers, I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigration into the United States. You heard about that last night. By pausing immigration, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens. So important. It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker, take care of the American worker.

JS: Last week, President Trump tweeted a vague yet explosive threat to, quote, “suspend immigration,” with the supposed intent of protecting American jobs. Now, setting aside the obvious fact that immigration actually has a demonstrable, positive impact on the U.S. workforce and our economy, this larger push by the Trump administration is an attempt to exploit the threat of coronavirus to push through even more atrocious immigration policy. 

It’s a precedent that the architect of Trump’s larger immigration agenda, Stephen Miller, has confirmed in a private phone call to White House supporters that he wants to solidify. Audio of that call was obtained by The Washington Post. And the Post reports that, “the president’s new executive order curbing immigration will usher in the kind of broader long-term changes to American society he has advocated for years, even though the 60-day measures were publicly characterized as a ‘pause’ during the coronavirus pandemic.” 

This 60-day measure is referring to the latest executive order signed by Trump. While a full ban on immigration has not happened. Trump did sign an executive order that severely limits the issuing of green cards for 60 days. Trump claimed it was a move aimed at helping workers, and he is floating the idea that he may try to make it a more permanent policy.

DJT: It’s an executive order on immigration. We want Americans to have the jobs. We want Americans to have the health care. We want to take care of our citizens first, we have to. And it’s a very powerful order. It’s for 60 days. At the end of 60 days, or maybe even during 60 days, I’ll extend it — or not — and I’ll maybe change it, I might modify it. 

JS: The Trump administration has made it a central priority to severely restrict immigration and has ratcheted up deportations. The administration has actually exported Covid-19 to other nations by deporting some infected people from immigration prisons. CBS News reports that 99 migrants deported by the United States to Guatemala have Covid-19. Those people now account for 20 percent of all cases in the entire country of Guatemala.

Three people deported to the extremely vulnerable country of Haiti were also infected. This same model of deportation flights leaving the U.S. and bringing cases of Covid-19 has also extended to El Salvador. Now really, none of this should be surprising from the administration that separated children from their desperate families, caged them, further dismantled asylum protections, imprisoned more migrants than any previous administration. But now the question as the 2020 election looms is what is the alternative to Donald Trump? Well, for the Democratic Party, it’s going to be Joe Biden, and he has many decades of immigration policy for us to assess. 

My next guest, John Washington, recently wrote an excellent piece for The Intercept on Joe Biden’s immigration record and policies. It’s called, “We Need to Reverse the Damage Trump Has Done in Latin America. Biden’s Plans Don’t Cut It.” John Washington is also the author of a new book released just this week. It’s called “The Dispossessed: A story of asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and beyond.” It’s a really powerful work of narrative nonfiction storytelling, and it chronicles the story of one man’s ordeal with the U.S. immigration system to explore the realities faced by millions of people right now. 

Again, the new book is called “The Dispossessed,” and its author, John Washington, joins me now. John, welcome to Intercepted. 

John Washington: Thanks so much for having me, Jeremy. 

JS: So John, I want to start just with the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, to paint a picture of it through the lens of U.S. immigration policy. 

JW: The coronavirus was spread by the flows of business travel, global capitalism, even leisure travel. There’s no evidence at all showing that immigrants, immigration, refugees, or asylum seekers have been spreading this virus whatsoever. And yet we see that the immigration policies that Trump has long extolled — you know, the likes of Stephen Miller and the anti-immigration activists in the administration — we’re seeing these being steadily implemented. And first, Trump floated via Twitter that he was going to cut off all immigration. But we’re willing to suspend immigration protocols, immigration policies, in order to stop people from coming, but the immigration programs that we’re not stopping right now are keeping people detained. 

Right now, there’s over 32,000 people detained in ICE detention facilities. We’re still deporting people from the global epicenter of the virus to countries who do not have a health care system that can handle more contagion. For example, we’ve deported approximately one-fifth of all known cases of the coronavirus to Guatemala. We’ve deported a number of people who have tested positive for the virus to Haiti. There’s something like 60 respirators in the entire country of Haiti to handle the virus.

So what we’re really doing is we’re exporting the virus, yet we’re using it also as an excuse to close down the opportunity for people to come. And we’re really endangering and just spreading the disease that we’re purporting to be combating on our home soil. So it really doesn’t make any sense. There’s no logic to the strategy.

JS: Talk about what we know in terms of the conditions in ICE detention facilities right now and why we would see such a large percentage of people who are being deported bringing this virus back with them. 

JW: The conditions — irrespective of the virus — are absolutely atrocious. You know, more people have been dying inside ICE detention centers in the last couple years than we’ve seen for a long time. I was speaking to an asylum seeker in a detention center in Louisiana just last week. This man is currently living in a single room, basically a barrack, where 100 other people or about 100 people total are living, and there’s no possibility of social distancing. Guards come in and out. Some of them don’t wear masks. People were so nervous that they would bring the virus in, they were washing their hands more than usual, and they ran out of soap. So they went a day without having any means to protect themselves. They don’t have masks themselves. 

And you know, so far I think ICE has released about 700 people who are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus. And yet, we haven’t taken any other precautions to combat what is very likely unfolding as a scourge of the disease. And we are deporting it, but we’re also expelling people who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to ask for asylum, and they’re ending up in de facto refugee camps just south of the border. 

In fact, in Matamoros, we know that there’s about 2,500 people who have been in a camp, have been living in squalid conditions for a long time, who are vulnerable. And that city, again, has very limited resources to actually treat any people who contract the virus. And these are the policies that were supposedly trying to keep Americans safe, but were actually making it much worse — you know, a hotbed of potential disease within our borders, whether in ICE detention or a prison or jail, is inevitably going to be a complete disaster.

JS: Talk about the plight right now, the situation facing migrant workers, farmworkers, undocumented people who have been deemed to be essential workers in a country that wants to deport them.

JW: I’ve reported on some agricultural guest workers before, and I’ve seen their living conditions, and they often live in trailers. One of the trailers that I visited had over 20 different people — young men — living in it, all with shared rooms, sharing a communal kitchen, just absolutely no possibility of social distancing. And when we look in our cities, the people who are left to do the deliveries, who are working in the grocery stores, a lot of them are either undocumented or come from immigrant communities. They live in potentially multigenerational households. They are not eligible for receiving any of the stimulus checks, though some states have been trying to come up with solutions to that. 

And so they’re basically hemmed in on all sides and have really a much harder time to both deal with this economically and to just survive. And the idea that immigrants are being kept out to protect American jobs, or to protect America from the disease has a really long — and I would say vile — history. There have been many instances of immigrants being described as vectors of disease, and Trump has made that claim. You know, we can trace back a long time in history, and there’s been a number of emergency measures that have been intended to stop supposed introduction of disease into the country. And the disease is already introduced. So we’re not going to stop it from coming in currently. 

Trump, in his most recent executive order, really front-loaded this idea that he was protecting American jobs. And yet we know that immigrants don’t take American jobs, they boost American employment and boost American wages. And not just generally, but we have actually studies from the Great Depression, which was coupled with the Mexican repatriation where tens of thousands of Mexicans — mostly Mexicans, some U.S. citizens of Mexican descent — were deported from the United States, supposedly to protect American jobs. 

But we saw in the areas where there was the most concentration of deportations, there was actually a decrease in native employment and a decrease in native salary. So I think that Trump and his acolytes know this, they understand this, but they’re willing to sacrifice not only American workers, who will lose their jobs or employ enough people to continue their businesses, because they have this raging anti-immigrant ideology.

JS: One of the most disturbing aspects of the Trump presidency has been the xenophobic rhetoric teamed with the aggressive empowerment of ICE agents, and deportations, and separation of families, and children in cages. And we also see that the former vice president, Joe Biden, is set to be the Democratic nominee. His former boss that he loves to talk about all the time, his great friend Barack Obama, was named by immigrant rights activists and others, the “Deporter-in-Chief” — you know, roughly 3 million people were deported under that administration. 

And Joe Biden, as you write in a recent piece for The Intercept, was a key player in some of those Latin America policy plans, including Plan Colombia, the Alliance for Prosperity. What can we expect from a Biden administration on the issue of immigration and policy towards Central and Latin America?

JW: Well, there’s a number of ways to assess Biden’s sort of ongoing legacy in foreign policy in Latin America. And of course, any foreign policy in Latin America is wrapped up very intimately with immigration and immigration policy. So there’s Plan Colombia, which he heralds as some great success. You know, he has a couple times in the past year said, “I was the man who wrote Plan Colombia,” like, “I was the architect of Plan Colombia.”

Joe Biden: I’m the guy that put together Plan Colombia. Straightened that government out for a long while. Now what’s happening? Millions of people are crossing the border, destabilizing Bolivia, already destabilizing the Amazon. But, you know, Brazil dealing with what’s going on in Colombia, and what are we doing? We’re sitting here with our thumb in our ear. Why do we think populist movements occur?

JW: You would think, given its catastrophic repercussions, that that was a confession, but seemingly he’s boasting about it. So there’s Plan Colombia. And then there’s the Alliance for Prosperity. Biden was sort of deputized by Obama to take care of the so-called child migrant crisis, which started in 2013 and continued into 2014. And then there’s also Biden’s ongoing comments with Venezuela. 

So just take those three situations: Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela. All three of them have ongoing humanitarian and migration disasters. Colombia has the second-most number of displaced people of any country in the world, next to Syria. Venezuela, where Biden continues to call for devastating sanctions, which are seemingly not taking down Maduro, but are absolutely affecting everyday Venezuelans — they’re suffering unimaginable horrors and hunger. 

Over a million people have left Venezuela, just for Colombia and a number of other countries. And then in Central America, he had this big plan in 2014, the Alliance for Prosperity, and we saw the numbers go up of people who are leaving the country. So if you just look at it from that standpoint, the three issues have been a complete failure, basically, a huge boon to abusive, sometimes murderous military and police. They have been a way to implement neoliberal reforms, privatizations. They have been an absolute boost for the corrupt governments, and the cronies, and the kleptocrats, who have been able to take millions of dollars to get themselves reelected, to skim off the top, to keep it from their populations. And none of the three Central American countries really have stabilized to any great degree. 

And yet, this is something that Joe Biden still claims that he’s proud of. So it’s absolutely crucial to look at this. And then of course, you mentioned U.S. immigration policy, which deported more people than any administration in the past — you know, still kept up with ICE raids, still kept lots of people in detention under inhumane conditions, and continued the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Not to the extent that Trump is calling for, but they certainly did.

JS: You had Joe Biden on the campaign trail when he was confronted by immigrant rights activists dismissing them and telling them that they should vote for Trump. 

JB: You should vote for Trump. You should vote for Trump.

JS: But you also have seen Biden respond or begin to respond to massive pressure from activists, and he even started to carefully distance himself from Obama’s record. And when he was pressed on the mass deportations that occurred under the Obama-Biden administration, Biden eventually did acknowledge that deporting people without criminal records was what he called a, “big mistake.” And at a Democratic debate, when there were still many candidates in the race for the Democratic combination, Biden was asked whether he would resume Obama’s torrid pace of deportations.

Jorge Ramos: Now, did you make a mistake with those deportations?

JB: The President did the best thing that was able to be done —

JR: How about you?

JB: I’m the Vice President of the United States.

JR: Uh, Secretary Castro —

JS: And then Julián Castro rebuked him —

Julián Castro: But my problem with Vice President Biden, and Cory pointed this out last time, is every time something good about Barack Obama comes up, he says, Oh, I was there. I was there. I was there. That’s me, too. And then every time somebody questions part of the administration that we were both part of, he says, Well, that was the president. I mean, he wants to take credit for Obama’s work, but not have to answer any questions. 


JS: I want you to respond to that. But also, if you read Biden’s campaign platform, he has made a series of pledges that seem from my reading to be solutions that would prevent millions of people, potentially, from finding themselves in the crosshairs of a Trump second term. 

So I’m just wondering what you think about, for lack of a better term, the kind of evolution of how Joe Biden has talked about immigration in particular on the campaign trail. 

JW: He has been a hawk in many regards, especially in terms of immigration, but we’re seeing definitely a much more left-leaning politics right now, at least on his website. But you’re exactly right that he is vulnerable to pressure, and we have to scrutinize his legacy. So we can’t take a politician — especially on the campaign trail — for his word right now, when he has, you know, nearly 50 years of history in politics. And we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to immigrants, we owe it to the world to look very closely at that. 

And the further we are able to kind of detail the mistakes that he’s made, you know, we’re able to pressure him into being a better candidate and being a candidate that potentially could not only beat Trump, but that could be more just to immigrants and refugees, and have a smarter, and less extractive, and less catastrophic foreign policy. So there’s something that we need to scrutinize very carefully. We can’t walk on eggshells and not try to open up and reveal the skeletons in the closet. We need to look very hard at those skeletons and, you know, do an autopsy, and see what can be done better.

JS: You have a book that comes out this week, it’s available right now, it came out on Tuesday, called “The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the U.S.-Mexico Border and Beyond.” And I’ll just say, full disclosure to listeners — I read this book because John had asked me to review it for a possible blurb, and I thought I was going to, you know, just sort of skim through it. And I ended up reading it in one sitting from start to finish. And as I said about this book, I couldn’t justify putting it down. It’s that good of a book, and it reads very much like a novel. 

And part of what I wrote about this book, I’ll just read some of it — the description. “In the Salvadoran town of Corral de Mulas, Arnovis lives a simple but fulfilling life. He has a young daughter he adores and a job working nights at the sea turtle hatchery, and the early mornings spent harvesting coconuts just barely earn him enough money to permit his dream of building a home on his small plot of land. He plays for a local soccer club whose matches offer the town a welcome distraction from the terror sown by the notorious gang who rules the streets. But after his elbow crashes into the jaw of another player on the pitch, Arnovis’s life and dreams are snatched away. 

The story of this one man weaves through John Washington’s poignant book, through a beautifully and poetically crafted work of narrative nonfiction. Washington takes us with Arnovis as he plots a daring escape from the murderous gang that promises to turn him into a, quote, ‘tomb’ for his minor infraction on the soccer field, and on his desperate journey to reclaim his life by leaving it all behind.”

John, talk about Arnovis and the story that you tell in this book.

JW: I was working on a piece for The Nation about so-called asylum free zones in the United States, where there’s a number of immigration court districts that your chances of gaining asylum there are far, far lower than in other court districts. What that reveals is that there’s a political inflection in our immigration court system and even in individual judges that are deciding to not grant asylum to cases that obviously deserve it. 

And I came across a case out of Atlanta, in immigration court in Atlanta, of a man from Guatemala who had a really strong asylum claim. He had actually testified to the FBI in one of their investigations. The FBI wrote him a letter in support of his asylum claim. And he had a whole bunch of evidence — he received multiple death threats, his brother received a death threat. And the judge, despite the preponderance of evidence, denied his claim, and ordered him deported. Very soon after he was deported, he was murdered. 

And, you know, there is no clearer evidence for the need for asylum than when you’re not granted it, you’re killed. But of course, that evidence comes too late. You’re already dead. There is no remedy possible to, you know, appeal that case at that point. In trying to investigate that particular case more, and I sort of hit a couple dead ends, but I started looking at other situations or other cases where people had claimed asylum, were denied, deported, and then murdered. And I started finding a bunch of them. 

And when I went down to Central America to investigate it — this was in the spring of 2018 — it was the beginning of the child separation crisis. And what I started noticing is that there was just a ton of misunderstanding, you know, that bled across both sides of the aisle, of what asylum was for, how people applied for it. And I really thought I wanted to — I really wanted to give more context, both to the history of asylum and then to the conditions in Central America and Mexico, and why so many people were leaving. 

And then as I was researching and looking for more people stories to tell in Central America, I came across Arnovis who, for a little while, was sort of one of the faces of the child separation crisis. He was separated from his daughter after his second attempt to ask for asylum from the United States. His daughter was taken from him in a detention facility in Texas. He was told that she was either in Florida or New York. He didn’t see her, or have any word from her, or any idea what was going on with her for almost 30 days. She was neither in Florida nor in New York, she was in Arizona. And meanwhile, Arnovis was deported alone without her. He had no idea if he was going to see his daughter again. And on top of that all, of course, now his attention and his concern was mostly for her. She was six years old at the time. 

He still faced the very grave threat that you sort of started to describe in your introduction to the book back at home. So he was in mortal danger, he had no idea where his daughter was. And I think that 2018 especially — though child separation has been ongoing — 2018 really captured some of the absolute heartlessness and just moral failure of not only our immigration policies, but our refugee and asylum policies, and really speak to more largely the global issue with asylum and refugees. 

Refugees and asylum seekers, their stories are not an aberration of this greater, more just, prosperous world. But they really embody this extreme crisis of global inequalities, of ongoing martial conflicts, and global climate change. And so, trying to tell these stories, I think really we have the chance of understanding some of the central challenges that we all face right now. And that’s what I try to do with Arnovis and a number of the other characters’ stories I tell in the book.

JS: You offer throughout the book this expansive historical analysis of how ancient religions — or cultures, societies — understood the imperative of welcoming the outsider, particularly those who were seeking safety from harm, this notion of asylum. Talk a little bit about the historical understandings of the importance of asylum and welcoming migrants.

JW: Yeah, so it goes back as far as history goes. We know that the early Semitic religions all had stories of offering asylum, offering protection, offering hospitality to the passing strangers. Most early religions had some example of this. And then getting to the ancient Greeks was the first time that was sort of institutionalized. And I think what’s really interesting here is that we saw the rise of asylum at the same time that we saw the rise of democracy. And I think that there’s something that ties the two principles together. 

For example, in Aeschylus, the Greek tragedian who wrote the play “The Suppliants,” that play is the first time we have any written evidence of the word “democracy.” And it’s also the first time that we saw a word that resembles “refugee.” And it didn’t quite last in ancient Greece, but that idea was passed down through the Roman Empire, the early Christian church, and was established in a number of different places in the Middle Ages throughout Europe. But really the first time that there were international agreements was in the 20th century. The League of Nations sought to offer some forms of protections after World War I. But it wasn’t until after World War II that we really established these asylum agreements. 

And the basic idea here was that we need to protect people from politics itself. So, we needed to protect the individual from an overriding hateful ideology that we saw, you know, in World War II, especially with Nazism. And the idea was that if an individual suffered persecution on account of a number of specific grounds that they should be granted it. The problem is the implementation. 

So almost immediately, states started backing off from the agreement that they just signed onto. So this was the 1951 Refugee Convention. And earlier than that, in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was supposedly guaranteed the right to seek and to enjoy asylum, which the United States was integral in writing, but did not sign until 1968 — and we didn’t actually implement in domestic law until 1980. 

So we’ve been very lackadaisical in our approach to trying to offer protections. And as I said, it was really — if you think about it in basic principle, especially considering the 20th century’s genocides and asylum and refugee crises — it was trying to protect people from politics. And yet we saw right away that politics was also then affecting the way that states saw and implemented refugee and asylum protocols and programs. So for example, right away, we didn’t really have any legal means of offering protection to anyone that wasn’t fleeing a communist state until 1980. So there was a long time where if you weren’t fleeing a communist state, you had no means of really gaining asylum in the United States. 

And then ever since then, for example, the difference in asylum grant rights from Nicaraguans to Salvadorans in the 1980s — the United States was backing the Salvadoran government and denied Salvadorans who were fleeing and trying to get safety in the United States; whereas, we were trying to take down the Nicaraguan government, and Nicaraguans who came to the United States had a much, much higher grant rate. You know, now there’s really a top-down concerted effort, where before in many regards, it was sort of an implicit sort of looking the other way, deciding not to protect on the ground level. And now it’s really a top-down and much more concerted effort to do away with asylum. 

So right now, there’s basically no option of gaining asylum or even really seeking asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border. That policy has been shut down. And supposedly it’s because of this emergency that we’re all facing, the pandemic. You know, this is where I fear the concept — as Walter Benjamin put it — the permanent state of emergency. This is where the state of exception becomes the status quo. This idea of instituting reforms during, you know, a period of great upheaval, the Shock Doctrine, right? 

So a lot of people are familiar with the 1924 Immigration Act, which set the racist quota system to deny people who were not from Northern or Western Europe. But a lot of people forget that three years before that, Harding signed the Emergency Quota Act, that basically did exactly the same thing. And it came on the heels of another pandemic, another crisis of unemployment, and then was institutionalized and lasted until 1965. 

So I think we have cause for very great concern right now when we’re taking emergency measures, when the executive branch is using the full force of its powers to control or limit immigration, to think that these policies, which are supposed to last 60 days or just until we get over the hump of the worst of this epidemic, are going to be actually ingrained, and institutionalized, and going to be around for a long time.

JS: You know, when there are some great books coming out, it’s really important to support independent authors. And this book in particular is so beautifully written and tells a very poignant story, that is distilled down to the experience of one man but speaks to so many truths about the world that we’re living in today. And John Washington, I want to thank you not only for writing that book, but for being with us here on Intercepted.

JW: Thanks so much for having me, Jeremy.

JS: John Washington is an editor at El Faro English, and his first book, “The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the U.S.-Mexico Border and Beyond,” is out this week. I really encourage everyone to pick up that book and to read it. John’s latest piece for The Intercept is, “We Need to Reverse the Damage Trump Has Done in Latin America. Biden’s Plans Don’t Cut It.”

[Music interlude]

JS: Now as John just mentioned in our interview, ICE detention facilities have long been vectors for disease, and detainees have often received inadequate medical care. Just last year, an outbreak of mumps infected nearly 900 detainees. Now, as the coronavirus spreads across ICE detention centers — there are 360 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday, that’s according to ICE’s own numbers — detainees have taken drastic measures to protect themselves against the virus. My colleague Ryan Devereaux interviewed a few of them in a recent piece for The Intercept titled, “Burials Are Cheaper than Deportations: Virus Unleashes Terror in a Troubled ICE Detention Center.” Here’s a clip from that piece, produced by Jack D’Isidoro.

Ryan Devereaux: What they described is unique to the place that they’re in, but also kind of representative of a lot of what we’re hearing and seeing right now in ICE detention centers. 

Karim Golding: So I’m thinking, okay. One thing is going to happen. They’re going to come in here and use violence, and they’re gonna blame it on us. OK, I know if I go get on the ground, and I tie a noose around my neck, you have no choice but to come in and talk to me. 

Tesfa Miller: You guys are acting like you don’t care about our life. You want to put our life in danger. So we’re going to show you that if you have no care for our life, we’re going to show you how much our life means to us.

Karim Golding: So now, this is the facility with the lowest standards in the U.S., right? It’s a lot of issues that we’ve been dealing with beyond the coronavirus, prior to coronavirus. 

Tesfa Miller: We don’t have no help. We’re so far removed from everything else. It’s like nobody noticed us, nobody even know that we’re here.

Karim Golding: There’s a lot of bullshit going on out here. So this is the place where they send you when they want to fuck you up. This is the black hole.

JS: You can find our entire segment with Ryan Devereaux on our podcast feed wherever you get your podcasts. It’s called, “Burials Are Cheaper Than Deportations.”

Intercepted Listeners Share Their Stories

And to end today’s show, we wanted to share with you some more stories from our listeners, ordinary people across this country, as they struggle to face the realities of this pandemic.

Ana: I’m Ana in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m an essential worker. For a long time, I was working without a mask, and gloves have kind of become scarce, and cleaning and putting myself at risk to help others, so they don’t get sick. And it’s been really hard.

S: My name is S. I’m from San Francisco. I’m a fentanyl addict and a methamphetamine addict. I was due to go into detox rehab. It’s not easy to do without support. I want to go and get myself well, but I don’t think it’s safe, and I don’t want to risk my life. Despair, and drug use, and capitalism, and a lack of health care — you know, it’s all tied into one knot.

Janine: Hey, my name is Janine. I’m calling from Philadelphia. It’s sort of abysmal to me that even as someone who lives paycheck to paycheck but has the comfort of a steady job — like, I teach at a public university — I didn’t think, you know, with my abysmally large school loan and raising my son, who’s 20, on my own, that I was doing well, because I wasn’t, you know? And this pandemic made it so clear to me how vastly, vastly, vastly more privileged than the majority of people I am, even though like I said, I probably will never own a house, and I’ll probably never pay off this loan debt. You know, because I can still get paid while staying home, and I have health care. 

I just hope that after this, folks realize the fundamental injustice that some people will get sick, and some people will die, not because of the coronavirus but because of our vastly unequal society. And when I listen to these voices from the pandemic, and there’s, like, heads of household and parents, talking about — “I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent,” or “I have a pre existing condition and I can’t buy my medicine,” I just — I feel angry and ashamed. I think that for folks who are not struggling to make ends meet, not struggling with health problems, it behooves us to take on the responsibility to change, transform how we organize our lives and how we treat each other. This shit is just — it’s just too fucked up. Like, enough already. Thanks.

JS: This pandemic is not just threatening the physical health of all of us, it’s also hurting tens of millions of people, sending them deep or deeper into despair or depression, or a sense of hopelessness. There are a lot of crisis services that people can call or groups you can reach out to if you are feeling despair. We’re going to link to some of those in today’s episode notes. 

And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter at @intercepted and Instagram at @InterceptedPodcast. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro, our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Ariel Boone. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

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