Today’s post is a short personal plea. If this virus has taught us anything, it is that we are all connected, we each impact one another, and in these times, we need each other. Let the best of each of us rise to the occasion.
Near the end of this post you’ll find an inspiring video describing the work of Frances Perkins, Labor Secretary under FDR. She was the architect of Social Security, minimum wage, and the 40-hour work week. We all need inspiration, and we will try to offer it in each of our posts.
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Can the Virus Bring Out Something New & Better?
To a significant degree, the ethos of America has been formed by an inherent pride in the individual, that we are best as a nation when each of us independently strives to succeed and to each their just rewards. This perspective puts the individual at the center and, in its extreme, results in a Darwinian survival of the fittest.
It has also morphed into a neoliberal principle, that the individual and by extension the private sector can and should be responsible for solving all of our problems, and that the collective of people or our government should play no role in any of this. As Ronald Reagan once put it, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ” But, of course, that’s nowhere near the scariest sentence. Try: “The hillside behind town is on fire.” “The subway system is flooded.” “Your test came back positive.” “There are no ventilators.” These are the words most of us fear.
When faced with a bungling government response, one could conclude that Reagan was right and that the largely white male corporate “heroes” that Trump assembles at his campaign rally / press conferences are the answer.
I am taking from this virus a very different lesson. Government at its worst should indeed be feared, and our current government has so abandoned us that we are now experiencing an extraordinary level of anxiety, fear, and death. We do not fear the words, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” but rather, “I’m from the government, we’ll have ventilators soon. Maybe.” Or worse, “I’m sorry, ma’am, we simply didn’t have a ventilator for your husband.”
We should not judge the potential of good government by the current manifestation of the worst expression of government this nation may have ever experienced. Government at its best assembles resources and distributes them justly, for the benefit of the many, and especially with an intent to support the most vulnerable. It acts in the interests of the many. In the absence of such a governmental response, we have our state and local government and we have ourselves.
If ever any event has taught us the fallacy of the absolute virtue of the individual, it is the coronavirus. We individuals are so utterly dependent upon so many others. We depend on those grocery store clerks, standing 3 feet from us, taking our cash, breathing our air, but doing so to deliver us the food we need. Before COVID-19, most of us rarely gave a thought to these checkers and now they are heroes, heroes upon whom we absolutely depend.
We rely on so many others in our daily pursuits and coronavirus has made that abundantly and poignantly clear. Right now, more than anything, we need each other to honor the shelter in place for as long as needed. When checkers, pharmacists, emergency response personnel, nurses, and doctors are risking their lives every minute, it is incumbent upon all of us to do all we can to shorten their exposure.
We also need to learn from this, and the lessons learned need to motivate us. We need to remember the difference between good government and what we are experiencing right now. In a time of crisis, FDR rose to the occasion; Trump has not, and we need to do all we can to ensure he exits his throne in January 2021.
If you need more evidence of the importance of good government, take a look at the video below, from true heroes, our hospital nurses and learn just how badly our current government is treating them.
No, the words we should fear most are not: “‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ But rather, “I’m here to limit government. You’re on your own.”
We need each other to get through this, and then we need to come together to create a government and public systems that are just, sustainable and sufficiently resourced and ready to meet the challenges ahead.
Below is a ten-minute video that outlines how Frances Perkins, the first woman member of a US Cabinet, was the architect of the New Deal and the creator of Social Security, the minimum wage, and the 40-hour work week. The video is from Democracy Now! in 2008, in the context of the last recession, and it is so pertinent now. No, Mr. Reagan, government when in the hands of the just can do much for all of us.
Hang in there. Our country can do better than this.
Paul & Roxanne