We Are Broken Without Empathy
The Paycheck Protection Program was a prudent measure to help protect American jobs, businesses, and workers. I was happy that it passed, and that it did so with bipartisan support. What disturbed me were the repeated stories of entities not needing the money, yet applying for and often receiving it anyway. The Los Angeles Lakers did not need the loan, yet applied for and were granted “relief”. Large, wealthy corporations, private equity firms, and lucrative entities tied to lobbyists and politicians were also granted much of the money intended for those businesses that truly needed it.
What disturbed me most was not that the loans were granted, but that they were requested in the first place. The Lakers, private equity firms, and the politically connected all have newspapers. They have read the stories of retail stores going under, restaurants cutting hours, and the numerous other ways in which American businesses are suffering in this once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis. With those businesses go millions of jobs, with unemployment nearing-and possibly even hitting-Great Depression levels earlier this year. And yet, America’s most fortunate enterprises took the opportunity, in the chaos, fear, and confusion of the pandemic, to enrich themselves further at the expense of those without. They chose to take funds that likely would otherwise have gone to those that truly needed them. To do so is not illegal, but is unquestionably immoral, and arguably shows a lack of empathy for the average American.
Yes, it is the government’s job to use taxpayer dollars responsibly, and not allow abuses like this to happen. But that these abuses did happen, in so many cases in such an unprecedented time with such speed indicates a simple lack of social solidarity that a country cannot survive without. If the most wealthy and powerful insist on being served first even during a pandemic, then when do the livelihoods of the less wealthy and powerful matter? And if the answer is “never”, then what does that mean for us going forward?
Cruel indifference to the lives of the less powerful was shown more bluntly and grotesquely with the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbury. Black lives have always mattered less in America than white lives, and blacks have always garnered less empathy than whites. The police officer who held his foot on George Floyd’s neck as he said “I can’t breathe” had no empathy. Neither did the Arizona Councilman who mocked Mr. Floyd’s last words when complaining about face masks. Neither did the confederate-flag waving, gun-wielding protestors demanding the imprisonment of Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan.
Currently, America has a president incapable of empathy himself. He encourages our worst instincts, and is borne of them. He spent the Fourth of July at Mt. Rushmore, after being begged not to by local Native Americans, fearing a rally would worsen the pandemic in the state. He railed against Black Lives Matter, and defended Confederate statues. He might get re-elected.
Many Americans are empathetic. The cross-racial coalition protesting police violence, the number of people wearing masks, and Trump’s high disapproval ratings testify to that. Yet, this country is fundamentally broken. Maybe it always has been. Most of our peer countries have the pandemic under control. Europe has forbid American travelers, lumping us in with Russia and Brazil as countries not handling the public health crisis well enough to travel without posing a danger.
Earlier this year, four Senators sold off stock immediately before the market crashed after attending a Coronavirus debriefing, prompting suspicion of insider trading. None were expelled, none resigned, and none were so much as reprimanded. Yet, outrage has long since passed. With so fake news and outrage circulating on social media, it’s possible many Americans didn’t think it was even true. The same is true of the early stages of the pandemic; many dismissed it simply because of the news sites reporting it. Even wearing a mask has become a culture war issue, rather than a public health one.
Americans are struggling all around because of how we treat each other. Our COVID death toll continues to rise. With under-counting, it’s likely upwards of 350,000 by now. Even before this, things were hard. Despite working long hours and working more than our peer countries, some 40% of Americans do not have $400 in the bank to cover an emergency. How many of our country’s problems could be solved if we simply had more empathy for one another? If the fortunate recognized the struggle of the less fortunate, if whites recognized the struggles of blacks? We might once again lead the world .