Much like how Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to harness the energy of the Civil Rights Movement into the Poor People’s Campaign, we must pick up where he left off. We must rise to this occasion of a dual crisis: a global pandemic and economic catastrophe. Injustice does not start and end at one issue, it is an interconnected web that we as a whole are more than capable of dismantling if we are willing to remain united against those who wish for everything to remain stagnant.
Dr. King knew this. We should not forget this lesson.
The scale of the problem
Currently, the U.S. has over three million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with an increase of 60,000 a day. The death toll is well over 144,000 deaths, all world records. To put that in perspective, in five months more U.S. residents have died from coronavirus than the total number of U.S. soldiers that died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and World War I combined.
Tragically, the health crisis has permeated beyond just health concerns. More than 50 million jobs were lost in the United States since March and the insured unemployment rate reached 11.1 percent as of July (which is an underreported number as the Bureau of Labor Statistics has publicly acknowledged). Not only is that higher than the unemployment rate during the peak of the Great Recession, but it is also the worst it has ever been since the Great Depression.
Between the sheer scale of human misery being witnessed during the pandemic and the patch-up job of Congress to mitigate the economic damage, it has become crystal clear that the top priority of these powerful political institutions has and always will be to serve the interests of their true constituents: the donor class.
Putting band-aids on a cancerous tumor
From the beginning, it was clear that this was all about money. While President Trump expeditiously signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) early on during the crisis, much of this stimulus package, the biggest in U.S. history at $2 trillion, was designed to make the rich richer.
The centerpiece of the bill was the $500 billion loan to large corporations. On the surface, it may not seem particularly egregious, but a provision snuck into the bill allows for the initial $500 billion to be leveraged up to $5 trillion. To add insult to injury, the $300 billion in aid for small businesses evaporated within 13 days with much of it going to large thriving companies such as Shake Shack and even the Los Angeles Lakers.
True, the stimulus contained helpful provisions, such as one-time $1,200 checks to every qualifying American citizen. More importantly, an additional on-going $600 inclusion on top of all existing state unemployment benefits was included which has been keeping millions of people afloat since the start of the pandemic. This House measure was vehemently opposed by many Senate Republicans, who, as expected, could not tolerate the idea of average Americans getting even remotely the same treatment as their wealthy counterparts.
The first wave has yet to end and we are seeing cases resurge thanks to the premature and rapid reopening of Southern and Western states that was demanded by the President and dutifully executed by his Republican Governors.
Congress is back in session, however, it does not seem likely that any more checks are on the way. Not to mention that by July 31, the $600 unemployment provision will come to an end.
The price of a human life
The veil has been lifted and we are witnessing this brutal truth in real-time as Trump, along with other prominent Republican figureheads like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, advocate for the full reopening of the country despite the absence of a vaccine. The country is losing the fight against the virus, yet economic expediency and Trump’s reelection concerns steamroll over the lives of millions of Americans, as infection rates break all records and the death toll is mounting.
As Trump's economic advisor Kevin Hassett puts it, the American people are no more than “human capital stock” to them. In their eyes, our well-being is no more than just another commodity with a fairly low price tag that can easily be dispensed of for the sake of restoring the stock market to its former glory. We, the American people, are expendable as long as stock prices rise.
The decrepit American model
And yet, this pandemic has become alarmingly emblematic of the ills of the American economic model and the political institutions that enthusiastically continue to propagate it. At a time when a deadly disease is sweeping across the country with millions of people unable to afford medical attention, enacting universal healthcare, even if temporary, would seem like a no-brainer. Especially considering the fact that some form of universal healthcare already exists in nearly every other developed country around the world.
Unfortunately, aside from the few well-meaning usual suspects in Congress, the best anyone with meaningful power can do is propose more subsidies for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), a temporary workplace health insurance program long criticized for being far too costly for average Americans.
People are sacrificing their very livelihoods for the sake of adhering to the protocols of quarantine to prevent the spread of this virus. Because of it, businesses are closing down for good and many will soon be unable to pay their bills. While countries such as Canada and many others in Europe have remedied this dilemma by effectively nationalizing payroll for the duration of the crisis, no one in Congress or the White House, aside from a handful of senators and congressmen from both sides of the aisle, are pushing for the same here.
The economic disparities are inescapable. The unsustainability of the unfettered framework of American capitalism is for all to see. Bailouts for the plutocrats, bootstraps for everyone else.
The secret weapon against oppression and inequality
When it comes to systemic greed, there is a limit to what people are willing to tolerate, and as with all limits, there is a tipping point. As we are seeing right now with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) global movement against racism and police brutality, the power of the collective is a force that must be reckoned with.
When the majority decides to stand in solidarity with one another, even the most deeply entrenched monoliths of institutionalized corruption quiver at the mere sight of conscientious individuals standing up against the old guard.
It is clear that a wave of empathy and compassion has enveloped the nation and is spreading like wildfire in response to the longstanding roadblocks of apathy and cruelty. But the outcry is not limited to BLM. It coincides with the failed state that the United States represents and the urgent need for a complete reset.
So, it is our challenge to grasp this moment and follow the teachings of Dr. King. It is up to us as a broad, national movement across classes and races to understand that we are presented with a once-in-a-century opportunity to fundamentally restructure the order of our economic, social, and political apparatuses as more and more people become attuned with its shortcomings.
It is our duty as Americans to continue to band together against a system of indifference that is quite literally killing us, and demand the very same economic bill of rights both Dr. King and President Franklin D. Roosevelt advocated for.
We must take a page out of the playbook of Dr. King and finally achieve what our Founding Fathers dreamed of. To make it true for all of us.