Edel Rodriguez / DER SPIEGEL
I was recently in Portland and Seattle. Both are beautiful cities on the US west coast with lots of coffee shops, restaurants and small shops. The impression that burned itself into me most, however, was the enormous number of homeless people who live on the streets.
In Portland, real tent camps had sprung up on some streets. A kind of permanent soup kitchen has established itself in one of the central squares of the city, where the clashes between demonstrators and the federal police sent by Donald Trump took place. In downtown Seattle, the sight was similarly depressing.
The scandal of these tent cities is further evidence of how dysfunctional the US economic and political system has become. The corona pandemic is not the cause of this development. But the crisis triggered by the virus shows it in all its severity and ruthlessness.
Not a place for children: tent city on the outskirts of SeattlePhoto: SHANNON STAPLETON / Reuters
The situation is likely to worsen dramatically in the coming weeks. Because of the corona crisis, Congress and the individual states had issued moratoria. These prohibited landlords from simply putting insolvent tenants on the street.
The federal regulation, which has protected about a third of all tenants, has expired because Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a new aid package.
The individual states regulate the problem differently. In some there is still a ban on so-called evictions. In others they started again. The first people to lose their jobs because of the pandemic are already on the streets.
In no time at all homeless
When I lived in Chicago five years ago, I was helping out a meal in my Catholic parish. Many of the men and women who got a bag of sandwiches and fruit there had a job a few months earlier. Unemployment has made them homeless in no time.
Corona increases this problem. It doesn't affect tens or hundreds of thousands. According to a forecast by Princeton University, 28 million renters could be evicted from their homes in the coming months.
Once again, black people are disproportionately affected, especially single women. The whole discussion of racism in American society will be ineffective if politics does not address the causes of economic inequality between whites and African Americans.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans have done that in the past two decades. For a short time it looked as if Corona could lead to a rethink. But the unsuccessful struggle in Congress for a new stimulus package shows that the country is just as politically deadlocked as it is economically.
Trump re-election at risk
President Donald Trump recognized the danger that increasing homelessness poses to his re-election. It is difficult to proclaim that the country is doing well when the sidewalks are paved with tent cities. But his executive order, which is supposed to prevent tenants from being thrown out for some time, is legally questionable and presumably ineffective on the matter.
In order to do something for the citizens who are threatened with losing their homes, at least in the short term, Republicans and Democrats would have to agree on a further aid package. But the Republicans themselves don't know what they really want. The Democrats, on the other hand, can live well with a situation in which the country's weaknesses become visible to all before the presidential election.
The problem of homelessness can only be resolved in the long term through a fundamental reform of the American social system. This can only succeed, if at all, if, after the election in November, the president's party also has a majority in both houses of congress.
In such a situation, the Republicans decided to implement a tax reform after 2016 that primarily benefits the rich. Nothing can be expected from them on this issue.
After all, the Democrats under Barack Obama have ensured that millions of Americans are better insured against illness. After an election victory, they would have to prove that their big campaign promises were meant seriously.
That would be important. The tents in American cities are not an aesthetic nuisance, but an indication of the implosion of the American system.
What will be important
On Monday, the Democratic Party conference begins, at which presidential candidate Joe Biden is to be officially nominated. It takes place largely virtually. Biden will speak on Thursday night, while his vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris will speak the day before.
Joe Biden wants to move into the White House with her: Vice-presidential candidate Kamala HarrisPhoto:
CHIP SOMODEVILLA / AFP
Otherwise, the entire prominence of the party appears: from the Clintons to the Obamas to Bernie Sanders, the left-wing Senator from Vermont. The exciting question is how it all works when it takes place without a live audience.
What the polls say
According to a new survey by Monmouth University, Joe Biden still has a ten percent lead over Donald Trump nationwide. The strategy of primarily letting the president do the talking so that he can harm himself is working. But it will probably not hold out much longer. After the Democratic Party Conference, it will be known what the mood is like when Biden is the center of attention.
Social media moment of the week
It's more than a year old: a YouTube clip from a Democratic primary debate in which Kamala Harris accuses her then competitor Joe Biden of working with racist senators. Will be seen more often in the coming weeks.
Our US stories of the week
I would particularly like to recommend these stories from the past few days:
Trump's Operation Postal Voting: How the President Sabotaged November's Election
Donald Trump destroyed my father: the president's niece on the podcast about her uncle.
I wish you a nice week. Stay healthy!
Your Ralf NeukirchIcon: The mirror