As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The fact that Trump has handled the virus badly, stupidly, doesn’t mean that everything out of his mouth is wrong even if he says it for all the wrong reasons and without any understanding of the impact.
It should be clear that the effects of shutting down the economy are very different depending on our jobs and income. The less one’s income, the more likely that one will be out of work. The higher one’s income the more likely that one can work from home. That’s not a perfect correlation. Doctors, for example, are relatively well-paid but for much of what they do, they have to come in and see patients. And some craftsmen can build or stitch things at home, whatever their incomes. But the virus and the shutdown are having class specific consequences.
Clearly efforts are being made by many to relieve the economic impact and make sure that people have food and shelter. That too isn’t perfect. The checks coming from Washington pay little attention to who needs what, to what people’s obligations, illness or other circumstances are costing them. And with Trump’s repeated efforts to defund Obamacare, people are being blocked from the insurance they need at precisely the point in their lives when they need it most, and when the medical providers need the resources to care for people. Obama still cares. Trump medical insurance doesn’t exist and never will.
And despite the myth of the welfare queen, I represented many of the poorest in my legal career and I never met a poor person who didn’t want a job. The lack of a job affected many of them emotionally. Their self-respect was tied to doing their jobs well. And you can dispense with racial stereotypes. I spent several years running an office in a Black neighborhood and several more as Assistant General Counsel of the entire New York City legal services program. I have, as another saying goes, dealt with Black and white up close and personal.
I think we need to build some hope and self-respect into what we are trying to do for people. I’d expand the opportunities of the GI Bill that put many through educational programs that gave them the chance to improve themselves when circumstances allow.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I think the Trump government has been wasting money on huge corporate friends that could do very well without Trump aid, and it’s wasting money on big companies, without strings attached. There’s no reason to send money to Trump’s big corporate pals without requiring that it be used to protect people’s jobs.
But government can’t do everything. Who, after all, is available to do all the things we need. It’s not just or even primarily a problem of money – the federal government has ways of expanding the money supply – it’s a problem of who’s trained to do work. We can’t have an infinite number of doctors, social workers, and on and on. There are limits. But if we Americans are good at anything, we’re supposed to be good at problem solving. And this problem needs to be addressed. Hope requires more than money – it requires a chance to crawl out of the corporate dungeons into the sunlight of jobs that pay well and can be done with decent working conditions.
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.
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