Monday, April 27, 2020

Disposable heroes and hypocrisy

Last week, I noted that the uncharacteristically optimistic outlook adopted by Guardian columnist and habitual doommonger George Monbiot on the current crisis was out of step with the prevailing view that "coronavirus is actually exacerbating existing inequalities or at least throwing them into sharper relief". This article from the New York Review Of Books is a powerful illustration of precisely that point.

Maeve Higgins outlines how the pandemic is laying bare the "systematic inequality" within the US, with thousands of workers who are taxpayers and whose labour is taken for granted finding themselves denied any form of federal support because of their undocumented status. As she makes clear, the decision to dehumanise them and leave them without a safety net is politically motivated rather than economically justifiable.

"Perhaps", she suggests pointedly, "this nation, founded on the unpaid labor of generations of enslaved people, can never quite give up that ghost". It's hardly surprising that that might be the case, though, given that "President Trump himself subscribes to America's founding myth of self-made prosperity, trumpeting his own achievements without ever acknowledging the endless train of workers that have made his livelihood possible throughout the years, including undocumented housekeepers making his bed and grape pickers at his organization's vineyards".

Of course, the "grim irony" is that these are the people currently propping everything up. In this country, too, most of those proving essential to the continued functioning of our infrastructure are among the poorest paid and least secure. Clapping for key workers is all well and good as a means of showing popular support - but it would be much better if the general public pushed for the social, political and economic changes that would result in such workers' roles being deservedly recognised and rewarded, and stopped backing the party responsible for ensuring that they aren't.

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