Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
In the days after the initial lockdown order, the chaos was almost overwhelming. What the run on toilet paper was to the grocery stores, dog and cat food was to my store. People were panic buying cartloads of food. Bags were gone as fast as they were stocked. The initial emergency state proclamation was for two weeks. For the most part, people were understanding, but nervous. Two weeks was do-able. Inundated with news reports about the dire situation in New York City was enough to sacrifice daily routines and a paycheck or two to prevent a similar catastrophe here. But then…we weren’t another New York City. Minnesotans held their breath, pensively, for another two-week extension. Thankfully the projected 75,000 deaths never materialized. But still, the call for sacrifice rang loud and clear.
The daily infection and death count are continually reported with intense seriousness, but without context. 83.9 percent of COVID deaths in Minnesota occur in long-term care facilities or nursing homes, the highest in the country. The average age of a COVID death is 83. While I mourn the loss of those deaths as a personal tragedy for every family, I also see the unemployment crisis of working-age adults staring me in the eyes with silent hopelessness. Customers telling me of a lost a job is an almost daily occurrence. When once people bought pet food in anticipation of supply disruption, they now buy it because they don’t know when they’ll have the money to buy more. Instead of donations for local shelters, customers are coming in asking for expired food, opened or returned bags, and they rummage through that same donation bin for themselves. Witnessing the pain and embarrassment of declined check cards, I’ve paid for more than one bag of cat or dog food for a neighbor in need.
What I keep coming back to is that in times of hardship, the kind people have become kinder, but the mean-spirited people are more ignoble and nasty. They double-down on their attitude of superior virtue just by an outward expression of self-sacrifice without actually experiencing it.
I come home each day thankful for my job and angry at the choices people are now forced to make because they no longer have a job, a paycheck, or a voice. The consistent message from pundits, analysts, and policy experts is the “Grandma Killer” drumbeat. It’s followed by lamentations of unemployment numbers far exceeding any previous record, as if they don’t understand why forcing the economy to ground to a halt wouldn’t cause mass unemployment. They have no idea how working-class people live and work, or they just don’t care. “Essential” workers are useful as long as they deliver their groceries, their takeout, and their aromatherapy candles. Everyone else is invisible – and expendable. And in this COVID “war,” if you’re not with them, you’re worse than against them: you’re the outright enemy.
PSA commercials tell us “We’re in it together!” but this crisis has intensified the polarization. In a society where everything is assigned a moral-political value, we are forced to choose sides. And in this black-and-white moralization of an all-or-nothing pandemic, those, like me, who are concerned about economic devastation are branded by those favoring indefinite lockdown as morally reprehensible. It is an extension of the forgotten class with which I interact every day. How can I look at them and say I was picked by the elected (and unelected) bureaucracy as being essential, and the hairdresser is not? Why do I have the good fortune of earning a paycheck and having the dignity of work while my neighbor is at the mercy of a government handout – or even nothing at all? It’s not about country club members who benefit from golf courses opening – it’s the groundskeepers, the caddies, the maintenance crews who have families to feed. Bars and restaurants aren’t just owners and operators – they’re servers, bussers, food suppliers, truckers, and repairmen. A paycheck is just as essential to their lives as anyone else.
As an essential worker, I have a front-row seat to the growing divide that started before the 2016 election and now reaching a near-insurmountable chasm. When the political and social elite started assigning value to classes of Americans, those at the bottom are not only forgotten, they are silenced. A government shutdown, paired with picking who would be allowed to work took away the freedom of people to make the decisions that best fit their situation, and the grandma-killer scolds are the enforcers. Taking away one’s livelihood takes away the power over one’s life. That is what I see where the pandemic intersects with politics. Between those who have a voice and those who are silenced – or worse – made to feel shame for wanting to have control over their lives.
When people talk of shared sacrifice, it’s spoken as if it’s an equally shared burden. In reality, the brunt of the sacrifice falls where it almost always falls: on those already marginalized and on the precipice of financial comfort and ruin. Those who speak up for their dignity and livelihoods are unfairly silenced by those who confuse their financial security for moral superiority. But unlike the end of WWII, when the dust settles on this “war,” there won’t be a ticker-tape parade for those who bear the cost of sacrifice. It will be an unbridgeable gulf between my friends and neighbors who were deemed expendable and nonessential, and those who doomed them to that fate.
Americans have held their breath long enough to flatten the curve, but it’s gone far enough, and now we’re dying of asphyxiation.Published in