Our COVID-19 response and the politics of kindness

Photo credit: Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Photo credit: Matt Collamer on Unsplash

I want to get this out of the way right from the start: I was wrong about COVID-19. For anyone who remembers I wrote about the virus a couple weeks ago when it was still in its early stages, just ramping up to its eventual peak in China and largely before its spread to the rest of the world.

For those who didn’t read my article, to summarize: I wasn’t particularly worried about its spread to the rest of the world or its impacts. While I wouldn’t say I’m personally worried about the virus, I understand now that I had woefully underestimated its impacts, its virality and its lethality. 

But I don’t want to re-litigate all of that, the information is out there regarding those things and I wouldn’t say I have a particularly unique opinion on that subject (listening to health officials and experts shouldn’t exactly be considered controversial if you ask me). 

I am definitely interested in the political response to the issue however, which has been a mixed bag to say the least.

To nobody’s surprise, big business and the financial sector were the first to be bailed out in the aftermath of the massive shocks to the stock market that we have seen over the past few weeks. 

Currently in Ontario and Canada responses have been slow but continuously moving in a positive direction. Funding and other resources for public health and our healthcare system in general have started to roll out. Announcements are also expected regarding sick leave and compensation for workers in the provincial ‘mini-budget’ next week.

However, in the interest of being fair, we have seen some sizable commitments from governments around the world to help out average people, which is certainly a welcome surprise. 

In the United States, the House of Representatives passed a multi-billion dollar stimulus bill that includes two weeks of paid sick leave for workers, three months paid family and medical leave, fully subsidized coronavirus testing, boosts to social programs like social security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, medicare and medicaid and more. 

To be entirely transparent, this response is far from perfect. Many are excluded from the benefits outlined in this stimulus package. Small businesses are able to apply for a waiver from the paid family leave and people that work at companies with over 500 employees are not guaranteed sick leave either. Additionally, while the bill only offers these things for the next year, hopefully some of these increased supports may be able to be made permanent going forward.

However, the ability for politicians of all stripes (including those who constantly rail against increasing social spending and protecting workers) to come together during this time and pass stimulus like this is promising, though I am still left confused as to why it takes a pandemic for politicians to feel empathetic for and actually for programs and spending that will help their constituents.

If the money is there in an emergency for these types of massive spending increases, why wasn’t it there only a few months before? What’s ultimately changed? 

While obviously I understand that COVID-19 threatens a great deal of productivity and will likely infect a large swath of the population, the ability to empathize with those who unexpectedly get sick and need to take time off from work to recover is something we should always have, simply on the basis of human decency. 

It also should be blatantly obvious to everyone that our precious GDP and endless economic growth are massively jeopardized by this pandemic. To not support the fullest and most extensive relief efforts possible seems incredibly negligible at best and down right dangerous at worst.

Taking the boots off of working peoples necks so that they can live their lives in dignity and security is something I base my politics on all the time. Sadly however, this is not necessarily a popular political view. To increase support for working people over the rich and for families over the wealthiest corporations isn’t a given for a lot of those with power in the political sphere.

What is reassuring to me however is that those political figures, who I would say are oftentimes on the wrong side of history, have come around slightly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic to embrace some form (however mild) of a politics of kindness.

That tells me that regardless of what they profess as their personal ideology, whether they want to, “put more money in people’s pockets” or “lower taxes on the middle class” or even “cut bureaucratic red tape,” they know deep down that the best way to lift people up in the shortest amount of time possible is to truly invest in them through social spending.

That means increasing coverage under our universal health care system, providing all workers a certain level of benefits that gives them autonomy over their personal health and the well being of their families and increasing support for those who rely on social programs to provide them a dignified standard of living. All of these are critical tenets of a proper response to this pandemic, anything less will almost certainly have massive repercussions.

My only hope is that this newly rediscovered political desire for everyone to live a dignified life doesn’t end with COVID-19. I hope that the people will use the pandemic as a foundation from which they can pressure their government’s to continue affirming human life and valuing it above the bottom line on an ongoing basis. 

A politics of kindness and human decency will be the only way out of this crisis and it must be the only way we move forward once this is all said and done.

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