The divide that's conquered . . . us

Ira Lacher: We may don masks to keep ourselves safe from the novel coronavirus, but no amount of #We’reInThisTogether can mask that we are far apart. -promoted by Laura Belin

“REOPENINGS EXPOSE U.S. DIVISIONS” proclaimed Saturday’s New York Times.

A Google search for “divided America” returns 417 million pages.

Writing in The Atlantic, George Packer reveals what should be as plain as the masks on our faces and the gloves on our hands: Because of our many divisions, America is rapidly becoming a failed state:

“When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.”

We may don masks to keep ourselves safe from the novel coronavirus, but no amount of #We’reInThisTogether can mask that we are far apart. We are split between:

  • races;
  • cities and small towns;
  • younger and older
  • those who can wait it out at home and those who have lost their jobs;
  • private-school students who receive structured online education at home and many public school students, who don’t have laptops and/or broadband access;
  • business owners who want to reopen factories and their workers, who are scared to return to inherently hazardous conditions; and
  • small-business owners who got desperately needed government financial assistance and those who couldn’t.
  • Writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Thomas Carothers calls out the state of our disunity, “a partisan divide among Americans in their views about many elements of the crisis,” citing poll after poll.

    Even before COVID-19, millions of black and brown Americans were disproportionately incarcerated, disproportionately poor and disproportionately unhealthy; now they are disproportionately dying. Millions of non-college-educated workers already were largely underpaid, lacking health coverage and dying from opioid addiction. Now, many of them are out of work, or working in high-infection-risk jobs. Millions of public-school students were being shortchanged on necessary technology; now, they can’t get online instruction.

    While some right-wing groups are taking advantage of this divide by egging on shelter-at-home protests, the left is not blameless. Editorials in progressive media, such as in Sunday’s Des Moines Register, call for a go-slow approach to relaxing faux shelter-in-place restrictions. But they fail to offer a single solution to the conundrum that many people have children to care for, can’t work from home, or can’t forsake their jobs at risk of their income.

    Working from home largely depends on your job and your employer, which points to yet another divide. Emergency federal government loans were intended to help small businesses make it through the crisis. But the rules discriminate, and there’s an unspoken two-tier system for applying. A friend informed me his small-business-loan application sailed through, but only because the business’ bank had worked long-term with the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), which guarantees the loans.

    “If I had gone to my long-time personal bank, which didn’t have that relationship,” my friend said, “I’d never have gotten anything because my business information wouldn’t have been on file with the bank.”

    America’s national anthem in the COVID-19 era is not “The Star-Spangled Banner” but “God Bless the Child,” written and sung by Billie Holiday, with the lyric “Them’s that got shall get, and them’s that not shall lose.”

    To change it back, and recover from this crisis as one nation, indivisible, we must commit ourselves to repairing our foundation’s fissures. We must cast aside racism, equalize income, guarantee health care to all, assure every citizen of voting rights, furnish broadband access and technology, and much more.

    If we fail to do all these, we might as well take a shovel to America and bury it.

    Top image: Fractured United States of America, by user kup on Shutterstock.

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