It’s been a year of unmatched suffering for millions of people in the United States, and around the world. As of this week, over 164,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the U.S. Those 164,000 leave behind hundreds of thousands of grieving family members who are now left without their mothers, fathers, siblings, and children.
In addition to the recent lives lost to the novel coronavirus, millions of more people are unemployed, and thousands of businesses have already closed their doors for good as a result of the economy’s closure. And still, millions of more people face eviction and homelessness, with no way to pay their rent after losing their jobs. We are no longer a country on the brink of disaster, we are in the midst of it.
These days, it is difficult to read the news without spiraling into despair, and if you’re feeling it now, you’re not alone—almost one-third of all Americans have reported symptoms of depression and anxiety this year. It’s not hard to see why. The loneliness of social isolation and the fear of this deadly new virus has taken a toll on our collective mental health.
However, during this time of immense suffering that the past six months have brought us, many people remain unaffected. I see them every day on social media frolicking about without a care in the world, attending parties with friends, flying across the country to go on vacation, and eating at outdoor restaurants and bars. There are others who go even further past negligence into full-on denial, protesting against mask mandates, and demanding their right to die for a haircut (and infect others along the way).
It’s easy to look around at folks partying and protesting against masks and be angry. I’m angry at the brazen selfishness displayed by so many Americans who eternally worship at the altar of individualism, forever placing their own desire not to be inconvenienced over the lives of others. But I’m even angrier at the people in power. Our elected leaders, both Democratic and Republican, have utterly failed us. Not only have they failed to save this country from death, sickness, suffering, and the next Great Depression, they are actively working to take advantage of the situation for themselves and make things worse for the rest of us. Never have I seen such an abject failure to take responsibility and intervene in a crisis, coupled with a callous disregard for the millions of people who are struggling.
Take Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) for example, who made $20 million from selling stocks after attending a closed-door coronavirus briefing in January, months before the first coronavirus case was reported in the U.S. Although the Senate Ethics Committee dropped its investigation into her trading activity, it’s evident that she profited off this pandemic. Or consider the fact that multibillionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are breaking records as their respective net worths continue to skyrocket as the pandemic worsens.
Perhaps the most egregious of these offenses is the looting of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The Paycheck Protection Program was a provision of the CARES Act (the Covid-19 stimulus package) intended to help small businesses who were suffering from the economic effects of the coronavirus lockdown. However, while thousands of small business owners were told that they didn’t qualify or that was no money left to help them, billionaires and big corporations received millions of dollars in loans. Recent reports have shown that multiple congressional representatives have personally benefited from these loans. A business connected to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) husband reportedly received a loan of up to $1 million, while a business connected to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel’s (R-Kentucky) wife also received up to $1 million—and they are just two amongst a sizeable group of elected officials who have benefitted. Country clubs, private jet companies, and luxury resorts received funds, along with famous billionaire Kanye West, whose Yeezy fashion brand received between $2 million and $5 million.
Instead of using our tax dollars to bail out American workers, our elected officials are using our money to make the rich even richer and leaving most people with a measly one-time payment of $1,200, which is not even enough to cover a single month of rent in most large U.S. cities. Up to 40 million people in the U.S. are at risk of being evicted and becoming homeless in the next few months. Food insecurity among American households has nearly doubled since the pandemic started. I cannot understate how dire this situation is. Instead of using our tax dollars to extend the $600-per-week unemployment benefits which have saved countless people from starvation and homelessness, Senate Republicans cut the unemployment and instead drafted a bill with a $30 billion budget for military spending, including an $8 billion weapons procurement package for the Pentagon. Do they care to explain how more fighter jets are going to benefit Americans who are suffering in the wake of Covid-19?
Not only are our leaders exploiting the coronavirus relief packages to benefit their own personal agendas, but some of them also have the audacity to mock those who are fighting for assistance. On Monday, Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) tweeted his support for giving every American monthly payments of $2,000 to assist them during the pandemic, similar to the relief that many European countries have offered their citizens. In response, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made a sarcastic remark about giving away “$1 million payments” in addition to “soy lattes” and “foot massages,” suggesting that we simply cannot afford to pay American families that much money.
Aside from the fact that Ted Cruz is a despicable person, his argument is incredibly disingenuous. We do have the money, plenty of it, to bail out every single American who needs it. The “magic money tree” Cruz talks about belongs to the people; the federal government takes it out of every single one of our paychecks in the form of taxes. Instead of investing that money into programs to help the American people in a time of desperate need, our leaders are bailing out big businesses, billionaires, and themselves, all while making fun of us for demanding basic human rights like healthcare and housing. Republicans will laugh in our faces while they spend billions on military weapons, but when people need to feed their families, suddenly the funds have dried up. Democrats feigned outrage over Republican demands, but ultimately did nothing to oppose them and then declared a congressional recess, meaning Congress will not reconvene until after Labor Day.
It didn’t have to be like this. Our leaders have the power to pay every American $2,000 per month until the pandemic ends. Our leaders have the power to implement a national testing-and-tracing program to halt the spread of Covid-19. Our leaders have the power to pay small businesses to stay afloat until it is safe to reopen. Our leaders have the power to place an indefinite national moratorium on rent payments and evictions. Every day, they make the choice not to.
During this time, as things become increasingly difficult, remember who your real enemies are. Your enemies are not the people who are sitting at home receiving unemployment payments that are higher than the wages of essential workers. Your enemies are not the people stealing TVs from Walmart and handbags from designer stores during protests. Your enemies are not working-class people who want to reopen their businesses despite health and safety concerns because they have no other way to survive.
Your enemies are the people in power who are witnessing a national tragedy, who hold the power to do something about it, and who instead choose to let people go hungry, become homeless, and die of coronavirus. Until Congress reconvenes on September 14th, thousands more people will make the choice between rent and food, be thrown out onto the street by their landlords, and say goodbye to their dying loved ones over Facetime. The people in power know this, and they don’t care.
It didn’t have to be like this. Don’t let them forget that.