Yesterday, I left the protective membrane of my house to get a bit of exercise. As I ran down to the corner, along our main street, I could see the victims of the virus everywhere. There was the movie palace, which has existed since the 1930s as the source of neighborhood identity and a monument to the past. The windows holding promotional posters were bare; the shades were pulled down over the ticket booth. As I peered into the empty stores, I saw the familiar figures of daily life slumped over their counters. There was the dry cleaner, who has promised my daughter a job when she turns 15; there was the surly woman at the Italian deli counter, who has inexplicably given me the stink eye for the past 20 years. I got teary-eyed as I plodded past them. Before social distancing ends, they will likely be erased from commercial and communal existence.
In the meantime, the lobbyists are set to plunder. This morning I heard Nicholas Calio on the radio. During George W. Bush’s administration, he was the White House’s smooth operator on the Hill, a kibitzer and arm-twister who advanced its legislative agenda. Now he works for the airline industry, and he was pleading on its behalf. Of course, there’s every reason to keep vital industries afloat. A vibrant economy needs a transit system. But the injustice of spending $50 billion on the airlines should drive the public to apoplexy. The companies that used their fat profits to buy back stocks as they constricted the distance between seats, that only managed to innovate by charging new fees, will be the ones the government chooses to salvage.