The Gospel Americana
It's been a while since I've originated a self-interrogating post, but not for lack of wanting. With a global pandemic in full swing and so many that are afflicted, dying, or financially imperiled, my bourgeoise angst - while remaining gainfully employed, healthy, and sequestered at a "luxury" apartment complex with its own paved walking trail - seems trivial, out-of-touch, and even aloof, which is anything but the case given the hours every evening I spend pouring over media reports from across the world to stay informed, despite the mental and emotional toll that such an exercise exacts.
But in doing so, I'm hoping against hope for glimpses that this nightmare might be ending soon; that the disease is becoming less potent and communicable with each mutation; that American capitalism, for once, might take the nobler, more sustainable path, having built a rainy day fund - like so many Americans are advised to do - to buttress business operations and protect the income and livelihoods of employees in the short-run and those of shareholders in the long-run; that Americans writ-large might see the wisdom and necessity of greater social safety nets in time for the US Presidential elections this November, starting with universal healthcare and paid sick leave; and that, slowly, we, as a world, are emerging with vigor from this collective shutting-away and shutting-down of our lives.
But in this new reality, this parallel world, my hopes are dashed with each passing day, as local and state governments proclaim that schools will be closed for the remainder of the academic year; as corporation after corporation announces they are furloughing or laying off thousands of employees less than a month into the lockdown; and as Bernie Sanders, a long-time advocate of universal healthcare, announces that he is ending his US Presidential campaign.
So, like many others, I'm grieving the loss of a way of life that I took for granted - the ease of jetting across counties, countries, and oceans to visit friends, family, and my significant other; splitting my days between the office and home on a whim; and popping out for a store-run without packing a mask and practicing social distancing and ritualized disinfection each time I cross the threshold back into my apartment. But even more so, I'm grieving a future where - similar to the period after the 2008 recession - we, as a society, fail to heed the lessons learned from this calamity and enact real change, politically and personally, instead allowing ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of boundless optimism and unending prosperity by however long a bull market that follows this recession and by divisive politicians beholden only to the interests of the wealthy and big business while preaching a false gospel of lazy, undeserving, and entitled masses as the antithesis of American ingenuity and bootstrapping.
So, given the folly and futility of trying to change others, for my part, I choose, and have already chosen, to change my behavior where I can. For instance, rather than continuing to reject political labels and sit out of the primaries as an independent, last weekend, I chose to update my voter registration to reflect the party that most consistently over time aligns with my values. Furthermore, I updated my voter registration to allow me to mail in any and all ballots this year so that social distancing and possible future COVID-19 outbreaks don't preclude me from casting my vote, particularly in November. Also, I'm staying abreast of how companies are responding, particularly how they are treating their most vulnerable employees during these times, by following credible media sources and company-provided updates and using Just Capital's COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker, so that, when the lockdown eases, I align my spending with my values, where practicable, in addition to further boosting my savings through reduced non-essential spending. Because, in a society of mass-consumerism and a country where consumer spending, or personal consumption, represents 70% of GDP, the buck stops with each and every one of us.
Photo Credit: Felicia Buitenwerf (It's All Good) and Edwin Hooper (The World is Temporarily Closed)