These days, I am staying safely in my home. I am following all of the governmental guidelines on how to slow the spread of the terrible coronavirus pandemic.
I haven’t seen my sons, haven’t hugged them, or laughed with them or fed them, since January.
I haven’t visited with my frail 90-year-old mom since March 8, which happened to be the night before my birthday. That night the two of us shared dinner, a couple of glasses of prosecco, and many good memories. I haven’t seen her since.
When my husband or I go to the grocery store, we wear our masks. We stay away from other shoppers. We come into the house and shed our clothes. We shower and clean and carefully unpack our groceries.
We worry about our neighbors with COPD. We fear for our young relative with Cystic Fibrosis. We talk in hushed tones about the first grader we know who is on the heart transplant list. We are conscious of the many people in our community who we don’t even know but who are vulnerable to this terrible virus.
We’re incredibly lucky.
I’m retired. My husband is able to keep working through the wonders of telehealth. We have enough food, in part because we live in a pretty rural community and filled our freezer with local meats and veggies well before any of this unfolded.
We have health insurance through the town where I taught for many years.
From the boring but safe space in my home, I watch the stories of people who are marching in the streets to demand that the economy be reopened immediately.
At first glance, and perhaps at second, third and fourth glance, my reaction to these people is pure rage.
How DARE these ignorant rubes risk the lives of the people I love? How DARE they call themselves “patriots” when they demand the right to kill other citizens? And how FUCKING DARE they call it “fascism” when the government finally does its job and tries to keep the people safe?
I mean, give me a break! Today my daughter had to bring her newborn son to a city hospital to have a new cast put on his club foot. While she was there, the hospital president sent out a news release saying that today was its “worst day” for Covid cases and the worst day ever for ICU patients.
Wear your damn mask. Stay at home. Shut up.
That’s what I want to say.
Except that I understand the desperation of people who are suddenly out of work. I realize that millions of Americans have suddenly lost their incomes, through no fault of their own. They have gone, within the span of days, from being able to feed their families to suddenly facing bankruptcy.
And I recognize how horrible it must be for those who have lost medical insurance because of the loss of a job. What are families supposed to think when they are tossed to the curb, unable to buy food or medicine for their kids? What are they supposed to do when they are facing the biggest health threat in a century but are losing their ability to access the medical world?
I know why those angry, belligerent people are marching on state capitals. I believe, with every bit of my soul and my brain, that they are wrong to demand a lessening of our mitigation efforts.
But I can see and feel their fear.
They live in fear because they (and all of us) are living in a country that is based on a fundamentally flawed system.
Capitalism, that engine of our so-called prosperity, cannot succeed unless the workers go to work. It cannot move forward unless capitalists see increasing profits, every week, every month, every quarter.
Capitalism is based upon corporate profits. No profits, no success, no economic prosperity.
The horrors of the coronavirus are showing us quite clearly that capitalism is a weak, unsustainable system. It cannot withstand any threats to the flow of money.
Let’s be honest.
A capitalist system insists that workers must work so that the products will continue to flow so that the consumers will continue to buy so that the company will continue to reap rewards.
When I think this way, my empathy for my angry fellow citizens grows quickly.
So I start to think, What if we had a different system of government? What if we had a government that was designed to protect and care for the citizens who support that government? What would life look like if we had a government that served the governed, instead of one that asks the governed to keep it in power?
I think about our beloved Founding Fathers, and this quote comes to mind,
The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.
If Jefferson’s view was in place today, wouldn’t things look different? Wouldn’t we be looking at this pandemic through the lens of safety, rather than economic prosperity?
If America had embraced Jefferson’s view of government, it seems to me, most people would feel safe staying at home. People wouldn’t be terrified about losing their access to medical care. They wouldn’t be afraid that they’ll lose the money needed to feed their kids, just because the world has demanded the temporary closure of their workplaces.
Supposing that the noble experiment of the United States had managed to keep its capitalistic instincts under control, we might now find ourselves in a country full of people who are restless, bored, aggravated and annoyed.
But we might also find ourselves in a country without armed, furious, self-focused zealots who think that their right to die for the profits of their bosses equals their personal freedom.
And that would be a lot better for all of us. In anyone’s view.