My Turn: What will be our legacy?

The coronavirus crisis will be remembered as a global pandemic for this century (as the 1918 influenza and the 1952 polio epidemic were in their time). I hope history will record that Americans demonstrated the same unity, goodwill and compassion as the generations before us. But first, we’ll have to live down our undisguised Republican versus Democrat divide.

Republican states scoffed at the medical warnings; following Trump’s lead that the economy is more important than people getting sick and dying. Democratic states heeded the World Health Organization’s early warnings and remain steadfast about protecting people first. The Civil War was a similar ideological division when the South defended slavery for economic reasons and the North defended slaves as fellow human beings. It’s been 155 years but we seem to be right back in that money vs. people divide.

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Republican governors and politicians want to please their Trump supporters by opening the economy. Facebook right-wing conspiracy groups quickly organized and staged rallies for “freedom;” a populist idea that individual “rights” are more important than societal responsibility. History will record that, for some, hasty economy fixes and getting one’s hair and nails done was more important than preventing the spread of a virulent, unpredictable virus.

Both parties are painfully aware that the economy is in trouble. Everyone watched the record Wall Street sell-off that took place 22 days before the national emergency declaration was announced. It wasn’t just a few Senators who sold and got out with their profits. It was the wealthiest 10% of corporations and individuals who own 80% of the stock market that hastily dumped airline, hotel and cruise ship stocks, etc. This plunged the country into a recession before the business closures and lay-offs of coronavirus even began.

It’s time to stop ignoring corporate “welfare” in the form of tax write-offs and favorable legislation as we struggle to bring our economy back. The corporations who pump millions into lobbying and super PACs to get Republicans elected happily accepted the bail-outs in the March 27 stimulus bill. The Democrats had to wait until the April 23 bill for Republicans to give money targeting the 30 million small businesses in this country. Sen. Mitch McConnell then grumbled that the federal government should start being fiscally responsible (now that the rich had gotten their perks) and let blue state budgets (which fund the tangible day-to-day functioning of communities) go bankrupt.

McConnell’s remark is a glaring declaration of political division. Does he think it’s “fiscally responsible” to placate Southern and Midwest Republican voters and let two states that make up one quarter of the entire U.S. economy go bankrupt? (California and New York provide 22.7% of GDP and 23% of federal tax revenue.) The White House Republican stronghold, secure in its stock market wealth and pushing for reelection, isn’t recognizing the importance of the state-to-state inter-dependency of numerous businesses.

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Economies can recover with nonpartisan leadership. But if Republicans persist in fueling this agenda of “Republicans vs. Democrats” at a time when we should be the “United States,” their legacy becomes making short-sighted, self-serving economic decisions at the expense of human suffering and death.

Martha Hodges is a resident of Kailua-Kona.