One cynical trait in American politics is that some political groups use suffering from a catastrophe or crisis to advance their own political agenda. Leaders use crises as opportunities to correct fundamental flaws surfaced in our institutions. Which will the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) be?
Examples of cynical political manipulation are legion. After a cataclysmic natural disaster, some environmental extremists use human suffering to advance their ecological policies. After a horrific mass shooting, some gun control advocates broadcast it to push their political agenda. Last week, a group released a video on facebook which opened with photos of U.S. WWII veterans, then made the grotesque assertion that President Trump is willing to sacrifice their lives in order to re-open the U.S. economy prematurely. The ad had nothing to do with safeguarding the health of veterans. Rather, they were simply a useful tool to undercut President Trump and return the Democratic Party to political power.
In contrast, real America has responded to the pandemic with the same initiative, common sense, and self-sacrifice that characterized the finest hours in our nation’s history. Health care workers risk their lives daily to care for patients with a deadly virus with characteristics unknown. School districts are adjusting their food services and transportation networks to assure that children at home receive their meals. This is not without risk; several bus drivers have contracted the coronavirus and died. For its part, American industry is re-tooling with breath-taking speed to produce vital medical supplies and drugs. Corporations are cooperating with each other to re-deploy workers from suddenly-dormant industries to rapidly expanding sectors in the largest shift of labor since the end of WWII.
But, the pandemic has also spotlighted fundamental weaknesses in our economy and our lifestyles. Economists touted the efficiency of the global supply chain – right up until it collapsed and left massive shortages in critical supplies. Too, the Federal government now must bail out major companies that failed to hold sufficient cash to weather a financial storm. On health issues, obese Americans with attendant cardio diseases, tobacco users with attendant respiratory diseases, and the elderly in poorly resourced assisted living facilities have died in far greater numbers than the otherwise healthy.
The pandemic has also exposed financial weakness. When the crisis began, Americans were already carrying unprecedented levels of personal debt. Too, their buying power had been falling for a decade, with the price of necessitates like college, cars, housing, childcare, and health care increasing 2 to 10 times faster than wages. Many were just beginning to see their wages rise for the first time since the 2008 recession. The pandemic hit just as they were getting back on their feet.
The pandemic’s initial financial impact devastated 25% of the population and is now cascading to others. The first effected were hourly wage earners in the service industries, people with the lowest incomes, least amount of savings, least job security and lousiest health care insurance. We are now seeing the impact spread to more affluent, white-collar sectors, too.
Americans are going to demand real change to ensure that this pandemic doesn’t happen again. Their current feelings of hopelessness will fuel demands for political change this fall. This gives the RPV an unparalleled opportunity to be relevant right now. We can be like those politicians who use this crisis to snipe at and try to undercut political adversaries. Or, we can identify remedies that will make the U.S. stronger and bring increased prosperity to our citizens.
So, what policies should we explore? First, the single most important lesson of this crisis is that we must complete the deployment of high-speed internet in the U.S., especially to rural areas. Advanced technology was already transforming our economy from industrial- to knowledge-based. We must accelerate this evolution, which will build resiliency in our country. This will set the conditions for our economy to flourish on a scale unimaginable 20 years ago. It is also key to paying off the $2.2 trillion dollars that we are borrowing right now.
Second, the crisis will push health care back to the forefront. It will result in either universal, government-run health care or a health care system based on the private sector and personal choice. We must put forward programs that will solve this problem or face decades of mis-managed health care.
Finally, our manufacturing supply chain must diversify. Economic efficiency led to streamlining and lower prices. However, it also gave us supreme vulnerability. The lesson is that manufacturing must return to our shores, or at least to the Americas, if we are to have confidence in our supply chain. Manufacturing had already started to move away from China due to their increasing cost of labor. We need to ensure that we have policies and laws in place to welcome them back in the U.S.
Some question whether the RPV should be distracted by the pandemic, when our primary goals should be winning elections and getting President Trump re-elected. But, in a larger sense, people form political parties to implement laws to solve communal problems, according to their ideologies. Based on this, I feel that it is precisely the RPV’s mandate to work this issue.
Ultimately, the RPV has three options. We can be a catalyst to develop and articulate policies and programs that solve problems according to our principles, we can be silent and irrelevant, or we carp and snipe for political advantage. Personally, I think we should lead the way. As St Paul counseled his fellow early Christians, let us be known for our work. I am quite comfortable letting others reveal themselves to the American public as the small-minded opportunists that they are. I do not fear work; I do fear passive complacency.