We’re all in this together.
Is anybody else tired of hearing this mantra?
I mean, in many ways I love it both as an aspirational sentiment, encapsulating the vision of a cooperative, humane, and compassionate social way of being, and as a statement that captures an undeniable, matter-of-fact aspect of our reality: we are absolutely dependent on one another. If we don’t grasp that fact now, when we are made hyperconscious of the “essential” workers performing all the functions that make food available to us, when will we?
The fact that in reality we are all in this together, that we’re dependent on one another, can be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. Albert Einstein at least thought so, defining the resistance to accepting this fact, writing in 1949, as “the essence of the crisis of our time.” He wrote,
“The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence.”
Despite the fact that we are undeniably and inevitably dependent on one another, this anxiety that prevents us from embracing reality, instead causing us to see this reality as threatening, is likely at the root of what, even (or perhaps especially?) during this pandemic, keeps us all from being “in this together.”
I’m tired of hearing how “we’re all this together,” because we are not.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Unholy Trinity of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Betsy DeVos, among others in the GOP ilk, are doing their best to distribute the monies earmarked for relief packages away from the majority of Americans experiencing real need to enrich millionaires who will otherwise be a lot more than just fine or to serve their private agendas with taxpayer dollars instead of bolstering the public sphere that serves all.
Mitch McConnell has been wonderfully patient when it comes to passing the next relief bill, saying the Senate will get to it the next month or so, maddeningly oblivious or just unconcerned about the dire straits many Americans are facing. Moreover, he has given his assurance that whatever the Senate passes will look nothing like the $3 trillion package the House of Representatives passed and will definitely not include the $600 dollar boost to unemployment benefits the March relief package provided because, in his words, it would “make it more lucrative not to work than to work.”
This language smacks of typical Republican talking points that ignore the actual material conditions making it hard, if not impossible, for Americans to work and succeed and instead depict Americans lazy and averse to work if they can game the system. McConnell echoes the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who said in the midst of the Great Recession, “We don’t have a jobs problem; we have a work problem,” or Newt Gingrich who at that time advised protesters to “take a bath” and “get a job.” At that time, Republicans resisted extending unemployment benefits.
Despite the U.S. becoming a jobs desert, then as now, Republicans still somehow think Americans are just lazy and looking for a free lunch.
Most appalling, besides the lack of untruth, is that it is in fact the wealthiest among us in the most recent relief package who are reaping windfalls while most Americans struggle in uncertainty.
In his recent New York Times article “Crumbs for the Hungry but Windfalls for Rich,” Nicholas Kristof explains how provision titled “Modification of Limitation on Losses for Taxpayers Other Than Corporations” somehow mysteriously made its way into the 880-page March relief bill. Democrats have asked Trump for any communications that would shed light on how the provision magically appeared in the bill. According to Kristof, the bill provides $135 billion dollars in “relief” for real estate developers, offering retroactive tax breaks for periods that preceded the coronavirus outbreak.
Kristof retitles the provision the ‘Zillionaire Giveaway,” writing,
About 82 percent of the Zillionaire Giveaway goes to those earning more than $1 million a year, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those beneficiaries earning more than $1 million annually, the average benefit is $1.6 million.
In other words, a single mom juggling two jobs gets a maximum $1,200 stimulus check — and then pays taxes so that a real estate mogul can receive $1.6 million. This is dog-eat-dog capitalism for struggling workers, and socialism for the rich.
Well, so much for all of us being in this together.
And Kristof indicates that Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner may be in line for some of this windfall.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proudly admitted recently that she is in fact taking advantage of the pandemic to funnel public money away from public schools to private ones.
Matt Barnum, writing for Chalkbeat, recently reported,
In a conversation with DeVos on SiriusXM radio, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, suggested that the secretary was trying to “utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools,” including through a new program that encourages states to offer voucher-like grants for parents.
“Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?” Dolan asks.
“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos responded. “For more than three decades that has been something that I’ve been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn’t be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.”
As Americans endure this current economic crisis, relief packages should be aimed at easing nerves and helping Americans have what they need to get by. Relief packages, common sense dictates, are not meant to fatten the already excessive surplus of millionairies.
But that’s what is happening.
We should all be in this together.
Unfortunately—and disgustingly—we’re not.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.