Pearl River In the Age of Trump and the Time of the Coronavirus, there seems to be constant speculation about what changes in our society, habits, and government might be permanent given our collective experience. Much of this is hyperbole. One pundit argued that he went “to sleep in America and woke up in democratic socialist Europe.” Oh, if dreams could come true! Let’s instead talk about lessons we should learn in this crisis, and things that should absolutely change in the wake of this crisis.
The Affordable Care Act is now ten years old, celebrating its anniversary during the lockdown. No matter Trump’s rhetoric and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican caucus, can anyone make the case that the private health insurance and the patchwork quilt of state health coverage is adequate for our people? The elimination of mandatory coverage left our hospital network damaged, albeit their greedy pricing of their services, drugs, and the like are major players as well, forced mergers and left us with too many sick and not enough beds, equipment, and personnel. Millions in states across the country are facing this crisis without any insurance. That has to change.
How could we not learn that the internet has to become a public utility? How could we not realize that we finally have to take this matter out of the hands of the telecoms and the pattycake FCC voluntary programs and eliminate the digital divide, here and around the world? How can all the ideologues who want to argue that education is the answer, despite the facts, maintain their position as the country from elementary to college is pushed into on-line learning, leaving lower income families even farther behind? Put this near the top of the list.
Living wages, paid sick leave, real unemployment benefits, the play pretend that gig workers are not employees, are all things that we have once again been taught have to be part of the safety net for everyone, especially lower waged workers and their families. The failure of government in this crisis has to end the argument that somehow the private sector and the magic of market forces are somehow going provide for families. They never have, and they never will. That’s why we need a government, it’s time to make them do the job.
I didn’t put this on the top of the list, but our union represents home care workers, nursing home workers, developmentally disabled workers, and the government and society has depended on them for care as much as they do hospital workers, yet they are severely underpaid and under resourced. Good health care is a top to bottom priority, and we have to guarantee our people that they will be provided for when in care, and when giving care.
Yes, people will finally learn to wash their hands better, but the virus ought to bring forward a host of changes that we desperately need and can no longer ignore. The temptation by policy makers will be to fight the last war, rather than the next, by putting more respirators and masks into production. Many of us will include different items in our “run for it” bags and storage closets for sure. But we need to learn from this that there are fundamental changes that we have to make in protection and provision for our people, and we need to do it now.