The Expendability of “Essential” Workers

Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has said repeatedly that “slavery never ended. It just evolved.”

I have been thinking about that statement as I have watched and listened to conversation about “essential” workers as we live in this pandemic.  They include health care workers, janitors, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, waiters and waitresses, bus drivers, police and fire personnel, those who run the subways and more …and yet, it seems to me they are the people considered to be most expendable by the federal government and by the businesses which employ them.

So many of these “essential” workers have lost their lives and/or their jobs, but from the federal government, I hear little concern. Instead, there is a push to get the economy alive again, with corporations joining forces with the Trump administration to get the people back to work. And the president is apparently being urged to open the country – come what may – by nervous corporations who are losing lots and lots of money as this virus ravages through the country.

In this country, 3.8 million people have lost their jobs. The federal government and big businesses are very concerned about that number.

The latest insult to the lives and dignity of these workers came this week as the president issued an executive order ordering meat-packing plants to stay open, in spite of outbreaks of the coronavirus in several of them. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/28/trump-meat-plants-dpa/) At least 17 people who work in these plants have died of COVID-19, and over 5,000 have been affected by the disease. A report today said that some workers who are afraid to return to the plants or to any businesses opening before the recommended wait time for fear of contracting the virus are facing the possibility of losing their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work. (https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/29/847937625/workers-scared-as-trump-orders-meat-plants-to-open-during-coronavirus-crisis) (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/29/unemployment-coronavirus-safety-223216)

The workers are being placated and are being told that there will be extra or adequate protective gear for them, the same necessary gear that health care workers – again, essential workers – have been begging for which they have not been able to get in the numbers they need for the past two months.  Not to worry, dear meatpacking workers. The protective gear will keep them safe. If it doesn’t?  Unfortunately, the attitude seems to be “well, we tried.” If any of the workers get sick and/or die, the focus will be replacing the deceased by immediately hiring more people to do the work.

Period.

The government feels like it is being run by the president and corporate presidents that consider human beings to be mere commodities, and those not in the highest ranks of the plantation infrastructure – from cabinet members to legislators to some local politicians – are acting as the overseers. Their job is to keep the plantation open and thriving.

It is heartbreaking to see the lack of concern for human life being shown by the president and by big business. In this country, over 60,000 people have died – more than those who died in the Vietnam War – and yet, there has been no outpouring of concern from bedfellows big government and big business, a tawdry partnership if there ever was one. The only thing that matters is the making, accumulation, and sustaining of wealth and power. If some of those who are making these individuals and their businesses wealthy, then so be it. “The partnership” has many supporters, people who are a part of the 99 percent of Americans in this country who are struggling to survive, even as the one percent hoards wealth. Many of the supporters have said that it is no big concern if some people die in the work to save the economy. That must make “the partnership” smile, but the sad reality is that their lives are expendable too, to themselves, apparently, as well as to those whom they support so vehemently. As long as they can work, they matter. When they can no longer help fill the coffers of the wealthy, they, too, will be disregarded and forgotten.

This is none other than slavery by another name.

I have – as have many of us – read about how enslaved Africans were forced to work, regardless of how they felt physically. Pregnant women would work in the fields up to the moment of giving birth, which means they worked while in labor. All of the slaves worked in oppressive heat and humidity; those in the rice fields stood knee-deep in mosquito-infested water for hours each day, which made malaria a common malady. The mortality rate among those enslaved could be as high as 90 percent, but neither the plantation owner nor the overseers cared. The goal was to keep the money coming, and the essential people – the enslaved Africans and their children – were needed and used until they got too sick to work or they died. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2956.html

We are seeing the same attitude today from the federal government and from some state governments. Yes, the status of the economy is bad and frightening, but the fact that there is no concern for or even gratitude being voiced for the work these people are doing is telling. People, it seems, of all colors, but especially brown and black, are still commodities, objects, not human beings, worth their weight in gold because they make the ruling class wealthy, but at the same time, worth nothing because of their color and economic status.

Bryan Stevenson is right. Slavery never ended. We are seeing its evolution now. The soul of this country is terminal. And that being the case, so is the image and the myth of the “exceptional” United States of America. Essential workers are truly essential – to everyone – but in the eyes of the moneyed class, they are also expendable.

A candid observation …

The Tragedy of Being White, Wealthy, and Privileged

As I have watched and listened to people talk about how it is okay if some people die in order to save the economy, I have literally shuddered. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) said in essence that allowing some people to die in order that the economy might be saved was the “lesser of two evils.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/14/politics/trey-hollingsworth-coronavirus/index.html)

Specifically, he said “…” it is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”

He has not been the only GOP lawmaker to have expressed such sentiments. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that lots of grandparents would be willing to die of the virus in order to save the economy. He also expressed his belief that American adults ought to be “willing” to sacrifice their lives for the economy. (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/dan-patrick-seniors-are-willing-to-die-to-save-economy.html)

The blatant disregard for human life in order to realize political goals has been mind-blowing. Some Americans – mostly, it seems, white, wealthy, and privileged – seem to be totally out of sync with what is going on in the lives of the masses of Americans. Not only are they doggedly determined to maintain their wealth and power, but they are also determined to stack the courts locally and federally who will assure their political points of view and values are instituted and saved. The footage of the GOP lawmaker in Wisconsin, covered from head to foot in protective gear to protect himself from the coronavirus as he assured voters and the media that the people standing in line to vote – not likewise protected – that they were safe, is a haunting image. (https://www.businessinsider.com/wisconsin-gop-leader-says-voting-safe-dressed-ppe-gear-2020-4). People were forced to participate in in-person voting in the middle of a global pandemic because the GOP wanted a Republican to win a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  People risked their lives and went to the polls and were able to keep that candidate from winning, but at what cost? How many Wisconsinians are going to come up sick with the virus because of the lack of care and empathy of the GOP?

Yet another lawmaker, Attorney General William Barr, said that it’s necessary for people to get back to work and to stop running home and “hiding under their beds.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/attorney-general-william-barr-fox-news-coronavirus/2020/04/09/dfda1f94-7a12-11ea-a130-df573469f094_story.html)

What these statements reveal is the complete lack of ability of the wealthy, white, privileged Americans to understand anything other than wealth and privilege. In their remarks can be heard the disparaging criticism of the shelter-in-place orders, and a glaring lack of compassion and empathy for the people who are dropping like flies because of this virus.

I have heard little compassion from any people in this group for the health care workers, for the transit and grocery store workers. Neither have I heard much concern about the fact that so many people are dying alone, leaving their loved ones without the opportunity to say goodbye, nor have I heard concern about the people who will inevitably get sick and possibly die because they cannot afford to stay at home.

It is mind-boggling. The only thing I really hear is a concern about the economy – which is important, surely, but not more important than the lives of the people whose labor has provided the work needed to create the wealth and the privilege of those who seem not to care one iota about what they are going through.

As I have listened to the comments from the president about how the number of ventilators being requested by governors is too high, and have heard reports about how there have been so few ventilators that sometimes one ventilator has had to be used for two patients, I have found myself wondering what he or any of the privileged wealthy would react if they were being treated that way. When I looked at pictures of health care workers wearing garbage bags to protect themselves, and I heard and read about how many of them have had to use the same mask for several days, I again wondered what the privileged would say had they been exposed to that kind of scenario.

Their lack of awareness or concern about the health care workers and their patients again caused me to pause. Because they remain isolated from “the rest of us,” they are too frequently divorced from what the masses go through. They have convinced themselves that crime is relegated almost exclusively to the poor, discounting the white-collar crime that has helped make many of them wealthy or that crimes of sexual deviance and assault are as common within the wealthy privileged set as it is with the poor. They live in a world within “the” world, seeing what’s “out there” as being impossible to ever stain their lives.

But of course, it does.

Wealth, with its attendant privilege, has created a class of spoiled human beings, narcissistic, self- serving humans who seem incapable of caring or even thinking about those less fortunate, instead blaming them for their financial fragility. While not all wealthy people deserve this description, enough of them do. In the case of this pandemic, just as was the case during the Ebola crisis, they seem not to understand that germs and illnesses do not care about one’s wealth, race, or political affiliation. They also do not seem to understand that if the poorest of us are not healthy or free, none of us are. The virus that begins in the slums eventually makes its way to the suburbs. The virus doesn’t care.

It’s strange that they don’t get it. If the president reopens the government on May 1, and people on Navy ships and in senior citizens’ homes, and in prisons, in the grocery stores and pharmacies and on the subway are still getting the virus, the very wealthy are going to get it, too.

Their lack of empathy and concern for others will cause damage to and the deaths of so many humans that this country could have avoided.

But their wealth blinds them to that truth, and because of that, many more people – including them and their families – are going to suffer.

A candid observation.

 

In the Name of Biblical Principles

           There was a lot that was wrong and immoral about the state of Wisconsin refusing to postpone in-person voting yesterday, forcing people out of their homes while the nation is under a “shelter in place” order due to the coronavirus.

The sight of the people standing in those incredibly long lines, where they remained for hours, wearing masks and gloves and standing some distance apart so as to honor the social distancing requirement was troubling because what we have learned about this virus is that it is vicious, tenacious, and is no respecter of persons. I wondered how many people would get sick and/or die because the government forced them to make a choice between their right to vote and their health. They chose the former.

It was and is admirable that the Wisconsinites want to honor their right to vote; it was and is admirable that they decided that they weren’t going to let “nobody turn them around” when it came to taking charge of their lives.

But it was a slap in the face of Christianity, a religion which many claim but others basically ignore even as they lift up their belief in “Biblical principles.” As I looked at the images of those people, who, I later learned, stood in line even as heavy rain and hail pelted them, I suspected that it was Christian Nationalists who were responsible for their being there,  and not who I will call “traditional Christians” I wondered which “Biblical principles,”  according to Christian nationalism, were being respected or honored.

I especially wondered as the speaker of the Wisconsin General Assembly, in full protective gear, said that voting on that day, in those spaces was “perfectly safe.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/politics/wisconsin-robin-vos-protective-gear/index.html) If it was so safe, I wondered again, why was he completely covered?

Obviously, the insistence of the government that the primary election not be postponed was a decision made without conferring with God, right? Probably not. It is safe to assume that the Republicans – many of whom might be evangelical Conservatives, did confer with God, did pray and decided that they had heard God say “go ahead.” The god of the Christian Nationalist movement believes, supports, and pushes those issues which they believe will “return” America to her greatness; they have, according to author Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers, a “biblical worldview” which “also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders,” she says.

“The fear of Christian nationalists is that this country has strayed from the truths that made it great,” Stewart notes. Part of the truths was that everyone had his or her place – blacks, women, Native Americans, immigrants – but over time that established order has been destroyed, and one of the group’s goals is to restore America to her mythical “greatness” by concentrating the power in the hands of those who best know how to run a government.

So, yes, those who ordered that the election – the in-person voting – go on as scheduled probably felt fairly confident that they were doing the will of God. They would probably say that they were merely following a “Biblical principle,” because they believe that “legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage,” says Stewart.

When people or groups do things in the name of God – be the group American Christianity, Christian Nationalism, Islam, Judaism or Zionism – it is nearly impossible for them to consider that they may, in fact, be wrong. Neither the Wisconsin General Assembly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, nor the United States Supreme Court saw anything wrong with exposing large numbers of people to a virus that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. So entrenched are they in their ideology – which they call religion – that they seemingly did not even have the capacity yesterday to worry or care about the people whose lives they put in danger. Christian nationalism, says Stewart, is not a religious creed, but …a political ideology. What they want is power – at the expense of anyone who is in the way, and by any means necessary.

The Biblical principle they leaned on yesterday was probably the one that says the people are to follow the directions of their elected leaders, something Paul, in the Christian Bible, did advise people to do – but somehow I don’t think the God of us all – including the Christian Nationalists – would have approved of putting all those people in physical harm for the sake of attaining a political goal.

A candid observation…

Confronting Evil Clothed in Christian Rhetoric

I was surprised to read that the approval rating for the president has moved into the positive range for the first time since his election. (https://www.npr.org/2020/03/27/822043781/trumps-approval-hits-new-high-but-a-rally-around-the-flag-effect-is-small) In light of the coronavirus, and its reign of terror throughout the world, this president has been less than admirable, expressing more concern for the stock market than for the people who are suffering and who may die because of the disease.

And yet, there are those who are throwing lavish praise on him, saying he is the best president this country has ever had. This, in spite of his downplaying the power and virulence of the virus, in spite of ignoring warnings about it as early as December 2019, in spite of calling it a “Democratic hoax,” and in spite of his promise that it would “disappear.” His concern about it seemed absent until the stock market took a fall, thrusting the country into economic chaos and heading possibly to a recession. (https://theintercept.com/2020/03/24/trump-cabinet-bible-studies-coronavirus/) 

When that happened, all bets were off. He didn’t have time to waste. The booming economy has always been his calling card for re-election. His pandering to corporations, giving them huge permanent tax cuts, reducing and/or cutting government regulations, and siding with causes championed by the Religious Right made it appear that he was untouchable.

And he may yet be, but what is really interesting is that so many of his followers are still calling him the modern-day messiah. While the president has made it an art form to blame any and everybody for things which happen and which are a poor reflection on his presidency, he has the backing of the Religious Right who now point to God as the reason for the virus.

God, says Ralph Drollinger, a favorite of conservative evangelicals, is angry at the world and is showing His wrath through the virus. “Relative to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Drollinger, this virus is evidence of a “sowing and reaping” wrath of God. People who are displeasing to God, he posits, have “infiltrated” government, education, the media, and entertainment,” says Drollinger, and God is not pleased.

Drollinger is a well-known personality in Washington. He believes that Conservative Christians, based on the words of Jesus found in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19 are mandated to “take Christ” to political leaders. The leaders, he believes, are to use “Biblical principles” to rebuild America, which, he believes, has fallen because of the influence and presence of liberal secularists.

Drollinger has set up Bible studies in 34 states and in 24 countries. He leads the White House Cabinet Bible Study every Wednesday at 7 a.m. attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, among others. (His politics and his religious beliefs seem to have a symbiotic relationship (as is the case for us all,) (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/magazine/ralph-drollinger-white-house-evangelical.html) but his beliefs, clearly conservative and evangelical in tone and substance, are deeply ingrained in him as God’s will, and he views his job, his calling, as that of spreading “the Good News” according to Drollinger.

Not that he doesn’t use and refer to the Bible. He makes the case for God, through Paul, wanting political leaders to become followers of Christ. He cites verses in the Bible, in the book of Acts and in other places, primarily the Pauline epistles, where the disciples are being told to take “Christ” to the political leaders.

But the goal that Drollinger seems to embrace, and which many of his followers also believe, is the building of political power, aided and supported by capitalism. He pushes the belief that Christians need to “speak truth to power,” but their truth and that of other Christians are radically different.

The focus of Drollinger and others who are advising the president is the acquisition and the keeping of political power – the Great Commission – but not taking care of “the least of these” also stated by Jesus, the focus of the  “Great Commandment,” found in all three synoptic Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures as well.

If there is shock or dismay or concern about the president’s apparent lack of concern for people who are suffering, even as he is determined to get the economy back on its feet, it may well be because his focus is being driven by a group of religious people who say their “biblical principles” are those taught by Jesus the Christ. If some people die because of the virus, well, then it’s God’s will, a result of God’s wrath. There is no need to worry, only, work must be done to save the economy, save capitalism – for the good the country and for the children of those who die, making the supreme sacrifice.

Drollinger writes in his book, Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint, “Within the Great Commission exists the priority of reaching political leaders for Christ.”

That goal is on track, it seems, even as the nation and the world gasp for breath. The president’s actions and his words, be they true or not, are OK, it seems, because he is just doing the will of God. And the fact that so many people believe that is a scary, scary thought.

A candid observation.

Coming to Grips with Christian Nationalism

The scriptures say that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Specifically, Ephesians 6:12 says, (in the King James Version KJV) of the Bible): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

It never occurred to me that different groups of people who call themselves Christian interpret not only this verse differently, but words in the entire Bible. What some groups of Christians call “truth,” another totally dismisses as being against the will of God.

As I grew up, I came to realize that not everyone who reads the words of Jesus interprets them in the way I was taught. I was stunned, still, though, when I read that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), questioned about his belief in the Bible, and in the words of Jesus the Christ, said upon being asked if he understood the story of the Good Samaritan, and the “Great Commandment,” that says we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves” said, “Of course I know the scriptures! But nowhere do the scriptures say that we do not get to choose our neighbor!”

That interview stunned me. I grew up believing the words of Jesus, found in the Gospels, could only be interpreted one way. In fact, I grew up believing that the Bible could likewise be interpreted only one way. The words ..were the words, not at all difficult to read and understand. In my way of thinking, there was no question as to how they should be interpreted.

But there is and there have been vastly different ways of interpreting words which have given life to oppressed people. In her book, The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart notes that Christian Nationalists have a very different worldview – based on their interpretation of the Bible. First of all, many believe that the New International Version (NIV) Bible is sacrilege – that it “perverts Jesus Christ into Lucifer.” She also notes that this group of people believe that “scripture opposes public assistance for the poor unless it passes through church coffers, that it votes against environmentalism, that it opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools through vouchers, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination and emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, twenty-first-century reproductive medical care.” (pp.16-17)

This group also believes that “true Christians” are supposed to exercise dominion over the “seven mountains” of culture: government, business, education, the media, arts and entertainment, family, and religion.”(p. 25)

This is a movement that is not dying but instead is growing and has been for some time. It is a group that would have approved of the late Bob Jones, founder, and president of the Bob Jones University, who said in an Easter Sunday morning broadcast in 1960 that “God is the author of segregation.”

These ways of looking at the Bible are totally anathema to me, and I suppose to many others, but the truth is, those Christians who are not a part of the Christian Nationalist movement need to be aware and actively engaged to making sure a different interpretation of scripture is being taught. The Bible’s directives to believe in justice, to take care of those who are hungry and thirsty and naked and lost seem clear to me, as does the meaning of the Great Commandment, but what is clear to me is almost considered blasphemous to members of the Christian Nationalist movement.

In my work studying how black and white people see God, I already determined that there are two different gods for each ethnic group. I am not the first person to decide this; white theologians in history decided the same thing, some deciding that their God could not possibly have created black people. But the fact that “the Bible” can be and is the object of such disparate interpretations is rattling, to say the least.

Stewart notes in her book that many Christian nationalists feel persecuted; that feeling is behind their cry for “religious freedom.” Progressive Christians, she says, have been way behind in getting their message out. She says “progressive religious voices have figured out only how to grab a headline here or there for the benefit of sympathetic audiences. They do not know how to seize the reins of political power.”

It seems that if ever there was a time for “progressive religious voices” to make themselves heard, it is now, because the Christian nationalists are on a mission to seize political power by using their version of the meaning of God, Jesus, and the Bible.” Living in denial of what we are facing seems not only troubling but an indication of a lack of awareness of what is going on. People tend not to believe that “the worst” can happen to them: not in their neighborhoods, their schools, their country …and in their religion. That is a way of thinking which always proves to be wrong.

In this time of transition, those who disagree with the Christian nationalists need to step up and speak out …or be forever forced to hold their peace.

A candid observation …