Part of the Series
Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told The Wall Street Journal the U.S. “needs to spend what it takes to win the war” against COVID-19, after the Republican-led Senate passed a $484 billion relief bill that includes no aid money for state governments, because Mitch McConnell believes financially struggling states should declare bankruptcy rather than get federal aid. Federal aid to the states at this juncture, you see, is not ideologically sound.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose daily COVID-19 briefings have been the yin to Donald Trump’s obstreperous yang, called McConnell’s state bankruptcy idea “one of the saddest, really dumb comments of all time.” Cuomo went on to say, “OK, let’s have all the states declare bankruptcy — that’s the way to bring the national economy back.” The deadpan sarcasm in his voice bubbled out of my television screen and pooled on the floor like the slick that killed Lieutenant Yar on Star Trek TNG.
His shabby ableist language aside, it’s hard to disagree with Gov. Cuomo here. People are dying, people are frightened, people need help, and here is McConnell telling overburdened states they are on their own in the middle of the beginning of a pandemic. Why? Because he thinks Ronald Reagan (and Grover Norquist) would approve. Because federal aid could make government look good to the people, and we can’t have that.
I sit here in my little corner of New Hampshire and wonder what life would be like if communities like mine ran their affairs in the fashion of Donald and Mitch.
The teachers and administrators at my daughter’s public grammar school have been laboring mightily to provide a robust remote learning platform that not only educates the kids, but gives parents like me a framework around which to build a coherent daily schedule. It is a godsend, and more to the point, it works. I have watched her reading skills advance exponentially by the day and the week. She is crazy about math, because she can do it on an app. I detested my analog math experience at her age, and envy her enthusiasm.
My daughter is exactly old enough to know this situation is serious but exactly young enough to not know the meaning and import of the word “dire.” My wife and I have done our best to shield her from the worst of it, because we don’t want this thing to take her childhood the way it has taken so much else. Nevertheless, a hole has been blasted through my daughter’s generation. The mark of this time will be on her for the term of her life.
The facts of the matter have been burning through like meteors entering her mental high atmosphere. When school was canceled for the remainder of the year — actual go-to-school-on-the-bus school — she said, “Daddy, I’m in second grade now.” The sorrow in her eyes was scalding.
Imagine if some school district administrator barred my daughter’s teachers from sharing the incredible work they’ve done to build a remote-learning infrastructure for their students, because doing so would make public schools look good, and making public schools look good is ideologically unsound.
It’s weird and selfish to sit here and say “This is hard.” Nobody is shooting at us, our town isn’t burning down like Paradise, California, everyone in the household remains healthy, and we live in an area that has been nicked but not yet subsumed by the voracious intent of COVID-19.
That may change soon, because anti-quarantine protests have begun popping up here, too. “Live Free or Die of COVID” is the New Hampshire motto for these blivets, apparently. I have seen them at the grocery store in their red hats, aggressively defying the strictures of social distancing while not wearing masks, because Donald Trump told them they were righteous patriots. They are not in the majority by many nautical miles, but they are virus vectors, and that really sucks for all of us.
I moved my family from Boston to the high woods seven years ago because the ocean is coming, but I never expected that decision to pay dividends in a pandemic. I am not in New York City, or Boston, or L.A., or Detroit. I am not in South Dakota, where it has gotten bad because the governor followed Trump’s lead. I am not in Georgia, where it is about to get very bad because the governor follows Trump’s lead.
Even here, in this comparatively unscathed perch, I am exhausted. I write and edit from 4:00 am to 11:00 am every day, and then doff the writer’s cap for the teacher’s chalk and spend the remaining long hours working my daughter through the lessons blessedly provided by her public school.
But many, of course, are doing this in big cities with a lot of kids in a small apartment. Millions are doing this without the internet. This is a staggering challenge with no true end in sight, yet.
Going outside when the weather is right is like being born again. Our neighbors walk by at a distance, masked but smiling because they are glad to encounter other people, and everyone who drives by waves frantically like it may be the last time you see them. Rainy days are the gong of doom.
A number of my friends have been infected, one dear friend just lost his father, and another brotherfriend lost his wife to non-coronavirus causes. She died alone in the hospital because of the quarantine requirements. The agonies are stacking like cordwood, and again, this is only the middle of the beginning. “Not ideologically sound” is going to get a lot of people killed.
We must love one another or die, said the poet.
Things are going to be different when this is done.
Please do what you can to be here for that. Take care of yourself and your family, and do not listen to the president when he tells you all is well. All is not well, yet this too shall pass, and I’ll meet you on the high ground.