Lessons from Coronavirus

By Skylar Covich & Bonnie Kallis

At no time in recent history has the need for the American people to join in solidarity for the common good been as clear as it is during our current pandemic. We have, as a people, been learning to do things differently—students are distance-learning, churches are streaming services, and families are staying connected virtually. While Americans have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability, the current crisis illustrates the brokenness of our political system. Long before pandemics and protests, the American Solidarity Party has recognized the root of this brokenness as a duopoly that is unable to address the most basic needs of its citizens because the two parties are so locked in conflict. 

At the same time, it can be difficult to integrate upholding a consistent life ethic, the principle of subsidiarity, and economic justice, each of which should factor in the decisions of government (at all levels), organizations, and individuals. Most ASP members have been supportive of at least some shutdown orders, but personal freedoms, religious liberties, and economic protections (particularly for small businesses) still matter. The writers and editors at the ASP hope to create a series of blog posts on such themes and about the important questions that result. One of the first posts in that series will discuss the work of some organizations that include ASP members and sympathizers, such as Breaking Ground and the AND Campaign. This post, however, focuses on basic ASP principles as they relate to the pandemic.

Social Justice and Consistent Life Ethic

The ASP “is founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

One of the most basic needs for every citizen is access to quality, affordable health care. If it wasn’t obvious before, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that our current model of employer-based health care is not viable. Along with the rising unemployment rate (current estimates are that close to 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment between March 15th and May 15th) comes a rising number of uninsured people. The majority of the uninsured live in poverty or work in the service industry. While testing and related doctor’s office expenses for the novel coronavirus is covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there is no such guarantee when it comes to covering treatment. Some insurers have waived copays and deductibles for hospitalizations related to COVID-19, while others haven’t. However, the cost for treatment can exceed $20,000 for those with health insurance, with charges up to twice as high for the uninsured. Of course, in some states, uninsured individuals may qualify for Medicaid, and the recently unemployed may qualify for COBRA benefits or insurance under the Affordable Care Act—if they can afford it (an unlikely prospect if you’ve been laid off due to, say, a pandemic). 

As a popular adage states, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” In the current crisis, elderly people and minorities suffer disproportionately. While it is to be expected that the elderly would be more susceptible due to underlying conditions, we need to ask why African-Americans are experiencing the coronavirus in staggering numbers. Take Illinois, for example. In Chicago, where they make up roughly thirty percent of the population, African-Americans have suffered seventy percent of COVID-19-related deaths. Seventy percent—let that sink in. And this is not limited to Illinois; similar imbalances exist in Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, to name but a few. Clearly, we are failing miserably when it comes to caring for our vulnerable populations.

Economic Justice and Subsidiarity

The ASP “advocate[s] for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as ‘distributism’) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.”

It has been sadly interesting to see the lack of economic justice in our country illustrated in the effects of the coronavirus, despite the brief hope provided by the bipartisan decision to send most Americans a one-time payment. There is a remarkable irony in the fact that some of the lowest-paid members of society have become the most essential. Grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, delivery people, meat packers, and warehouse workers have all been vital in allowing us to safely shelter in place while they risked their lives to provide essential goods. Many, if not most, of these workers could not get tested for the virus, while celebrities had ample access to testing. While America’s low-paid essential workers were risking their health to provide necessary goods and services and watching the value of their pensions and retirement accounts plummet, some lawmakers with inside information were busy trading stocks in anticipation of an economic downturn. While suburban schools quickly worked to provide online classes for their students, many urban districts struggled with the reality that their students lacked access to the Internet. Over and over again, we witnessed the stark reality of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. 

Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity “is the coordination of society’s activities in a way that supports the internal life of the local communities.” 

The principle of subsidiarity holds that decision-making should always be left to the lowest competent level of government. The need for a system of subsidiarity is evidenced by the divide between rural and urban communities during the pandemic. As states begin to reopen, the divisions in our country are becoming even more apparent. Rural communities, which have so far emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed in regard to public health, are nonetheless suffering economically. Unlike urban communities, which can presumably bounce back financially, the coronavirus has dealt an economic death blow to many struggling rural communities. This can be attributed, in part, to federal policies which in many ways overemphasize urban economies at the expense of their rural counterparts. Urban communities, some of which have been devastated medically, have been understandably hesitant to open up their economies. Under subsidiarity, urban communities would be charged with making decisions that are in the best interests of their citizens, while rural communities would do the same.

In the coming weeks, we hope to present posts examining some of the following questions:

  • Regarding the principle of subsidiarity, when do orders intended to save people’s lives result in unintended consequences which do more harm than good? In particular, how do we resolve tensions between people who would prefer safety and people who would prefer freedom? Should the federal government, states, or counties primarily set rules for pandemic response? To what extent is it ethical to disobey orders which an individual believes are poorly thought out, or have remained in effect too long?
  • Which policies will best protect unemployed people and small businesses (including small farmers)?
  • Is telecommuting a way to achieve better work-life balance, improve family life, and promote environmental stewardship? Can we achieve the social benefits of telecommuting without exacerbating inequality between those who can do so and those whose jobs truly need to be done in person, especially when working in packed conditions leads to a higher risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus?
  • How does the pandemic change the conversation around health care reform? 
  • Racial inequalities in economics, health care, and treatment by authorities have been exacerbated by the pandemic. One lesson we have learned is how different communities tend to focus on opposition to very different expressions of state power. How can we incorporate racial equality and racial justice into policies that address the pandemic and its effects?
  • Electoral reform seems like a tangential issue to many at the moment. But as we continue to see a possible political realignment for a variety of reasons, there is an increasing need to reform the ballot-access process, establish new systems for determining election winners (such as ranked-choice voting), prohibit gerrymandering, and make voting as easy as possible. How can we work to make this happen?
  • Abortion politics played into the battles over the shutdowns, as there were efforts in several states to keep abortion clinics open. How can the pro-life movement respond productively during a crisis to prevent abortion?

This is by no means a complete list of what we hope to cover, but we expect that these questions will move us toward a distinctive vision for the future. The underlying philosophy of the American Solidarity Party is rooted in the firm belief that we are, indeed, our brother’s keepers. As a country, we have to be better. The fact is that we are all in this together—COVID-19 or not. We have to look out for one another. We all depend on each other for our physical, spiritual, and economic health. It is time for us to move forward as a nation in solidarity. It is time for the ASP.

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