America, Where Preventing Widespread Death is Politically Controversial.

How the rugged individualist culture here in the United States has contributed to the toll that the virus has taken on our communities.

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Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

As the coronavirus continues to cause chaos around the world, few other developed countries have felt the devastation of this virus’ impact on the overall physical, psychological and economic well-being on its citizens than the United States. On top of the nearly forty million people that now find themselves unemployed and on the precipice of losing healthcare in the middle of a pandemic for not only themselves but their families as well, we have now surpassed a devastating 100,000 deaths as a result of this horrifying disease. With the number growing more and more difficult for us to wrap our heads around, it is more important than ever for us to attach some humanity to what all too often feels like nothing more than a statistic.

100,000 Americans died alone in their bed in the hospital or nursing home, at the hands of a virus that should not and did not have to spread to this extent, drowning in their own fluids with no family members able to be with them.

While we struggle to come to terms with the new and heartbreaking reality that so many of us are facing, an important aspect of moving forward is understanding exactly how we got here in the first place. Now more than ever, it is critical that as we take time to acknowledge the anxiety and trauma we’re feeling, we must also address certain hallmarks of the broader American culture that have certainly contributed to the extent of this crisis. Whether we consider the near daily videos of people filming as they’re being kicked out of grocery stores for refusing to wear masks, or the American government’s borderline criminal refusal to provide the American people with adequate relief to get through this crisis, there’s absolutely no denying that the selfish, rugged individualistic nature of American society has contributed to the scale of this crisis.

One need only look at the footage from the Lake of the Ozark’s party in Missouri to see how the often selfish aspect of American culture can turn potentially lethal. With hundreds of people crowded together in a pool, with no practicing of social distancing or masks being worn, the total disregard for the safety and security of others all in the name of their own personal good time could not be more apparent. And it doesn’t end there. It never ceases to amaze me that there are people on the streets in the middle of a pandemic protesting the fact that they cannot get haircuts. But as selfish, dangerous, or even silly some of these actions might be on an individual level, we are witnessing firsthand the dire consequences of rugged individualism when it comes to how our government has handled this virus and its impact.

Only in America, it seems, would preventing mass death and the destruction of people’s economic stability be considered politically controversial.

As unemployment reaches forty million, with people unable to put food on the table for their families let alone afford rent or mortgage payments, providing some adequate relief and safety for the citizens who have made this nation the richest on earth should not even be a question. But — as has almost always been the case for people in this country facing a difficult time — our government has told us we are largely on our own. Can we really be shocked, though, considering we are conditioned from as long as we’re old enough to understand, that we should never seek to rely on the government in times of hardship? Are we not often told that anyone needing food stamps or unemployment aid is just another lazy bum mooching off the hardworking taxpayer?

The relentless pushing of the narrative that it’s important for us to look out for ourselves and no one else has been by careful design, in an effort to slowly but surely strip away any semblance of a social safety net we have left. At this point, I’m not sure any of us can deny that had policies such as a strong paid sick leave legislation and single payer healthcare would have done wonders in preventing the spread of this disease and its economic impact on average Americans in the early days in particular. Imagine, just for a moment, the number of lives that would have been saved if people weren’t afraid of losing money in their paycheck if they got sick. Imagine how many people would still be with us today — even outside the context of this crisis — if they hadn’t put off going to the hospital when they needed to because they were afraid of medical bills.

If nothing else, we have an obligation to ourselves and future generations to use these unprecedented times as not only a time to learn, but a time to demand better. We are not alone on this earth, and now more than ever we’re coming to understand just how intertwined all of us really are. We are only as safe and healthy as the poor and sickest among us, and we’re witnessing firsthand how a society cannot function unless we take care of each other.

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Lauren is a writer & leftist with analysis on topics related to politics & policy. She can be reached at LaurenMartinchek@gmail.com or Twitter @xlauren_mx

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