This is a time in which an invisible virus is stripping us naked, leaving many shivering in the dark and wondering how our society could have ignored so much about so many for so long. I feel a bit like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but one so blackened with coal dust that the image has lost its import. I am certain that I am not alone.
For decades, there have been voices in America concerned about our “exceptional” and growing income inequality, our “exceptional” health care delivery system that excludes so many, and our “exceptional” institutional infrastructure that has been in steady and unrelenting decline. And this is just part of the list.
America Called Its Government, But No One Answered
Most, if not all, of these voices in the wilderness have been voices from the left, often critical and always criticized. It seems that we just didn’t get it, how great a nation America is and how grateful we should be to live in such a land of bounty. But alas, as every fissure, every disconnect and every delusion in our society has been exposed, maybe it is time to pay more attention to those old, blackened canaries in the proverbial coal mines.
It is sad to say that even Trump’s three years of undisguised efforts to show an “unsuspecting” nation his greed, his corruption and his racism and the stain of it all on our society, it just doesn’t seem to have appeared in enough mirrors to have mattered much. Will it matter this time, when a pandemic has created vivid images of a failing and flailing America, magnifying many times over the terrible devastation that unchecked greed, corruption and racism has wrought on so many among us?
America will see more body bags filled with dead people of color than ever before, more people in line to get the food they and their kids need to survive, real people dying without access to meaningful health care, kids trying to learn who don’t have access to computers and the internet, and an institutional infrastructure that barely works in good times that cannot respond to save lives and livelihoods in difficult times. What will happen to these images when the bars open again, the stock market is on the upswing and those country clubs, gated communities and private schools are all revved up to again celebrate wealth and privilege?
The Old Left and the New Left
It would be easy to say that Senator Bernie Sanders got it right but that not enough people were paying attention. The problem with that formula is that there simply are not enough people in America who even listen to any message that suggests at its core that each of us is only better off when all of us are better off. This core message is the only springboard there is to a better America. And this core message is now, and has always been, the touchstone of leftist thinking in America and elsewhere.
So maybe it is time to listen. Maybe the old left can embrace a new left with its ranks swelled with yet another generation ready to try hard to be heard above the “me first” messaging that has brought us to where we are today. Maybe the grocery checkout clerk and the migrant farmworker and the sanitation worker will be the new voices of a new left, this time with cops, nurses, teachers and medical technicians not only cheering them on, but joining them in the streets.
That having been said, it is a time to be wary, to understand that any hope for a better America can slip away in a moment. As many in America make common cause with those seeking a collective and compassionate response to the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump and his acolytes are unleashing the worst in America to undermine that effort. His “liberty” brigades will glorify their guns and their churches, their ignorance of knowledge and science as a virtue, and their individual valor in not shrinking before an invisible enemy that has the rest of us trembling as the threat overwhelms us.
Be very wary. If food shortages ensue, “valor” and guns are a dangerous mix. Be very wary, the anti-vaccine crowd will try to keep the invisible enemy in our midst, even as cures arise, by spreading their venom of distrust. Be very wary, those for whom greed has become a way of life will double down on their moral deficit to take advantage of every opportunity to ensure their continued “success” — from stockpiling toilet paper and other essentials, to hedge funds, for-profit colleges and boutique law firms lining their pockets at the front of each line for public funds intended to relieve suffering.
In response, the blackened canaries in the coal mines have to dust themselves off and try again, even harder, to open the eyes, minds and hearts of those among us with the capacity to look beyond themselves and beyond the calming thought of a return to “normal.” “Normal” should be no good anymore. It wasn’t good enough before the pandemic and it will be even worse afterward.
A Better Future
Now is the time to fight for a better future, for young people to actually join in with something more convincing than an emoji, for those workers on the front lines now to stay there and demand more, for the doctors who have seen the abyss to get all doctors to finally fix our health care system, for the teachers, child care workers and service workers to stop working until they are paid, have access to meaningful health care and a good education for their children. And, for goodness sake, for all of us to demand that everyone is paid a living wage and that no man, woman or child in our midst is without a place to live.
As part of the old left, I can deliver the message, but the new left will have to deliver the transformative change. It will not come from the center in America — that is where the “normal” is nurtured. It can and will only come from a new left in America committed first to taking back the nation from the corrupt who have hijacked it and then taking to the streets to demand a much better future for everyone.
*[A version of this article was cross-posted on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.