Hopeful signs have popped up saying things like, “we are all in this together, even though we are six feet apart.” That’s sweet. But is it true?
In many ways, we are not all in this together. Rich people ride out the COVID-19 storm in second homes and on private yachts. Affluent professionals work safely on speedy internet connections. But working-class folks, store clerks and bus drivers, must serve people who refuse to wear masks. Unemployment is growing while fat cats play the stock market.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed preexisting divisions. Some believe doctors and scientists. Others do not. Some think this is a left-wing conspiracy. Others blame the president.
The crisis has disclosed disparities in health care, economics, education and outlook. Black Americans are more likely to die of the disease. Poor communities lack the infrastructure to support online learning. And some Americans, like those who are married to undocumented immigrants, will not receive federal stimulus checks.
The president has encouraged protesters to “liberate” themselves from state governments. This week he asked why American taxpayers should bail out “poorly run states and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed.”
The answer ought to be that we are all in this together. But this doesn’t ring true anymore.
Perhaps it is time for Red and Blue Americans to seek a divorce. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently said California is a kind of “nation state.” The folks calling for a “Cal-exit” have said that the COVID-19 crisis could help push California toward secession.
A new book by F.H. Buckley, called “American Secession,” argues that America may be too big for its own good. Buckley is a law school professor and Trump supporter. He says that smaller countries are happier and less corrupt. He suggests that now may be the time to downsize.
Of course, downsizing won’t stop the virus. A global pandemic requires a coordinated global response. The idea of “California alone” is as asinine as the idea of “America first.”
And if California succeeded in seceding, how would we prevent further downsizing? California is as divided as our nation. The citizens of Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco might be glad to get rid of the denizens of Devin Nunes’ Central Valley – and vice versa.
The big question, of course, is what counts as the real California. And for that matter, who counts as a real American? Who gets to tell the others to take a hike? Who ought to be liberated from whom?
The Trumpists want to be free of the mainstream news media and others they see as enemies of the people. Those “enemies” dream of a world without Trump. Whose country is this anyway?
The fact that we need to ask this question shows that our Union is dying. Marriages, friendships and nations only exist so long as people believe in them. As with most of social life, our beliefs create reality. Trust is the basic glue of social relationships. Once “we, the people” stop believing in those relationships, they dissolve.
Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was right about the nature of the Union. It won’t last if we don’t believe in it.
Lincoln led a war to restore the Union. That’s not what we need. Nor do we need to hear anymore from incompetent, corrupt and divisive leaders. A Union, if we want it, is up to us. Community is a bottom-up affair. This is how friendships, marriages and businesses work. Even if the economy is officially re-opened, it won’t revive until people believe it is safe to leave home.
Market forces, culture, religion and science operate independently. No government official ordered Americans to hoard toilet paper. That happened by itself, through the choices of individuals. If we are going to find a way to rebuild our broken Union, that’s how it will have to happen, one roll at a time, in the minds and choices of individuals.
Which brings me back to those sweet signs that have appeared as spontaneous love-letters to the world. If we believe that we are all in this together, then we will be. But once we stop believing, we will stand alone, even though we are only six feet apart.