In a brilliant New Yorker article, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor lays out the steps by which the abandonment of middle and poor Americans by both US political parties led to society’s present collapse. Although the coronavirus was the immediate trigger, the erosion of society’s wellbeing began way back in 1969. Collapse was an occurrence primed to happen at some point, and now just happened to be the time.
For 50 years, since 1979, national leaders increasingly backed away from their obligation to care for vulnerable and working class Americans. As they did, financial instability increased and the chance to acquire wealth became much more limited. Those were the perfect conditions for the meltdown known as American life in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions were driven into a state of deprivation that made happy lives impossible. And over time, the country destabilized economically. Students were still paying back college loans into their golden years. Aspiring homeowners could not afford mortgages. Urban residents live with air quality so poor that one in four has asthma and health concerns affect all areas of family’s lives. Poor health affects the’ ability to earn adequate incomes and keep up with the demands of digital life.
For years, the United States has gotten away with persistently chipping away at its weak welfare state by hiding or demonizing the populations most dependent on it. The poor are relegated as socially dysfunctional and inept, unable to cash in on the riches of American society ... The debate over the role of government in addressing income inequality, housing insecurity, debt accumulation, and health care continues, now against the grim backdrop of the raging coronavirus. It is difficult to articulate the speed with which the U.S. and, indeed, the world, has descended into an existential crisis.
Taylor points out that Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the few Washington politicians who has consistently advocated for the right of all people to earn enough to pay basic monthly expenses with the proceeds of a single job. The time has come for working class Americans to be regarded as more than machines for serving the wealthy and buying the goods they produce. People need to be valued simply for their humanity, their existence. And Sanders can help ring in that change.
The Sanders campaign ... has shown public appetite, even desire, for vast spending and new programs. These desires did not translate into votes because they seemed like a risky endeavor when the consequence was four more years of Trump. But the mushrooming crisis of covid-19 is changing the calculus. As federal officials announce new trillion-dollar aid packages daily, we can never go back to banal discussions of “How will we pay for it?” How can we not? Now is a moment to remake our society anew.