American Federalism and the Current Crisis and Me

I am writing this on a Sunday morning, There really is little or nothing I can do that will make this a day without some real anxiety. There is a lot trouble in the world, lots of trouble in my own prospects, lots of trouble in the outlook for America. The work of the Congress right now on a relief package is work and it is politics and it is not to be trivialized. However, the central part under contention is the enhanced unemployment benefits program. Under this program, the federal government has been adding $600 a week to state unemployment benefits. This was put forward largely by Democrat political leadership in the CARES Act but was supported by Republicans eager to keep the economy going and keep workers connected to their jobs when the recovery gets underway.

The unemployment enhancement has provided a bridge across the vast economic divides across the country. It is because of programs like this which occasionally occur that the many people in America who could be deeply and dangerously alienated from the Union are not so deeply and dangerously alienated. These six hundred dollars have been a restitution without apology from a society that has long waged both an intentional and a negligent war against its own lands and that means the money really counts more for people who live in poor areas with limited opportunity and in systemic decline that are also beset with cultural problems and a sense of being ignored — these six hundred dollars which are just enough to stay alive in the inflated, successful, powerful economies of a small minority of our country’s land area ARE ACTUALLY SIGNIFICANT FUNDS coming into regions and groups that have only known the constant drain and theft of their patrimony for a long time. Amid all the controversy , Republicans just voted to extend the pandemic unemployment benefits while still talking about other options. But the Democrats who have constantly supported extending these benefits did not vote to extend them, So the program has expired and we face the immediate future with a great deal of uncertainty across the country. Perhaps the increased saving rate around the country which allows more banks to buy US Treasury Bonds and the low interest rates will empower the United States to extend this program on cheap credit. It is a good bet that the issues will be complicated over the long haul — no matter what path is chosen. There is a poison in our political culture which will make the aftermath of the program more contentious than I think it needs to be.

Right now, there is so much unemployment that the program is objectively extensive but is also very much a matter of supporting people who do not have the options of exploring a job market with enough jobs for all workers in need. In addition, there is some calculable value in keeping those who can hope to return to their jobs in a position to do so when those jobs return.

Today is Sunday. I did not go to Mass. However, I watched some of the mass on television and I read the readings from Isaiah, the Epistle to the Romans and St. Matthew’s gospel. The reading in Isaiah urges the reader/listener to come to a free banquet offered by The LORD God. The Epistle tells us to remember that the love of God will overcome all intervening forces and not abandon us. The Gospel tells of the multiplication of fishes and loaves and the feeding of the multitude by Christ. The overall occasion created must lead to many sermons about the extravagant providence of God for his people. I actually could write a lot about these Bible passages and the themes in them. But the sole idea today is that American from churches that share this lectionary are being reminded that amid the advice to be prudent, to be vigilant for coming trouble, to invest money, to live simply, to manage debt, to accept hardship and poverty when necessary, to work hard for a living and do the work well — amid all that other Biblical advice — there is definitely a repository of commentary, commandment and promise related to the theme and covenants of Generosity and Giving. So a covenant of unemployment insurance into which all these workers have paid being amped up to a living wage that might see them through the pandemic might well be a very Christian response to this crisis. But the future clearly depends on other practices than this type of program. Yet the Gospel is not the gospel without the feeding of the multitudes.

The grinding impossibility of Americans making it in many places is a whole set of relevant issues and questions I cannot address here. But I am sure that while some have misused the money by any standard, the truth is that much of it has flowed in to fill up the gaps in financial foundations of hardworking and desperate people who have not been able to address any of their declining fortune’s real issues for years on end. In addition, people can afford to pay attention to the myriad costly demands of the pandemic that go beyond the loss of wages and employment due to being furloughed from businesses and institutions closed for the pandemic and its accompanying government restrictions.

The struggle of farmers with dislocations in the supply chain and the struggle of different industries with long term decline and the struggle of those disaffected with the political process are all coming together with this time’s other issues. But they are all coming together in the pandemic. The pandemic gives a focus to all of these things.

Criminal and civil law are also issues in this time and the focus on reacting to Police brutality by the movements in the streets is not unpredictable. The poor everywhere know that they have few resources for lawyers, for making restitution in a timely manner, for seeking out those they might injure when the disputes could be simply resolved. With the rising costs of interaction, the rising regulations and the decline in real wealth the poor know each year the kind of inevitability that they will will carry with them some degree of civil and criminal liability because modern life means bumping up against some barriers and walls and fences and there is no compensation for when their boundaries are violated and they are unable to mitigate the harms they do. Their wages as calculated are not significant compared to their obligations as calculated. But that is the general theme, for many the $600 a week has been one of the times when being part of American society has been rewarded and one’s job which never paid enough to give peace has actually provided what one can calculate as generosity. Predictably many have resented these funds going to these people who live without hope of ever being alright in any of the ways that America has claimed to be alright. This pandemic has allowed some Americans to feel that maybe sometimes America has not excluded the hardworking, left out and maligned in its calculations of the common good.

So yes, I am one of those who received some of that money. I am one of those who in these days of supporting causes, caring for family property without compensation, moving and keeping house and other preoccupations has factored in dealing with as many of the implications of this program as I could as well as I could. I will see how that continues to play out. From that point of view the rhetoric of some of those decrying the program is horrifying enough. There is simply not enough time to respond to all the fears and perceived injustices that cause one’s neighbors to react badly. It is also difficult to reject the rights of people to feel nervous or unhappy.

I suppose that we have a crisis around the world and the country which causes us all to take to heart any number of crises which may be coming upon us. I live with a number of personal issues that hold me hostage to not dealing perfectly with a number of larger issues that impact me. Basically there is also the issue of being a revolutionary in some sense who is sitting out a crisis in almost every sense. I am one of those few real voices of dissent and I am not choosing to try very hard to be heard in dissent just now. It is perhaps more than anything a matter of reaching an age for simply marking the time till the grave if one has not achieved sufficient position to pursue the ambitions and goals of one’s youth.

Due to the period we have been passing through I have had a chance to reconsider how to approach my varied desires, obligations and plans which existed before the pandemic and its accompanying changes. We have ever so many things going on as a society but even in my own life I have only been able to address a few of my own most urgent needs and remedy only a few of my most urgent ills. But there are many days in this period that are very much days I can account as having offered some chance to regroup and some cutting against the tide of ever diminished opportunity. This began to be a life of limited hope a long time ago but in some ways this has been a reprieve. I doubt very much that I am alone in finding this to be the case. But these underlying issues of how people are affected by the long regional suffering that helped elect Trump is not on the discussion of any party or faction in the polity. We must pass the incident without noting that it is an appeasement for an abandoned country with ties ever eroded and reasons for discontinuity ever increased.

America is going through an identity crisis in which many voices are not much involved and which is very complex. I am not alone in having traveled a certain path where pursuing this education and that project has been successfully pursued after a fashion but not much remains with which to which to face the obligations that come with age. I also know that the truth as seen by the laws of society with its endless regulation and sense of consensus is not likely to jive with the truth as seen by an ambling free-lance writer, former lay minister, yard man and gypsy educator who has far more lean than illustrious times in his course of life. But times like this allow a kind of subsidy for all the works that one has seen thwarted by the general evolution of society. The erosion of the Cajun narratives, the Louisiana narratives and the Gulf Coast narratives which resemble in various ways other regional narratives displaced by the overall flow of things here. But America on occasion in times of disaster helps those areas most affected by its faults in ways that add a little consolation to even the most alienated lives that have felt the many costs of the changes of the times before the disaster. This is one of those times.

I hope that I can take the next steps as best I can and I hope for the best for my country. But I am afraid that I am not in a position to be entirely optimistic for either myself or the country. But I am in a position to recognize that some aspects of the response to the pandemic have been worthwhile.

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