This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Now Get Back to Work, You Peasants!
You’ve probably already seen the seemingly inspirational videos of people applauding their essential worker neighbors who are heading to work. Maybe you have watched dozens of commercials of large corporations thanking their essential underpaid workers.There are also social media takes of celebrities thanking us peasants for keeping them safe in their mansions. We’re all in this together, right?
Maybe you also have participated in such social media “vanity laps” to present yourself as a caring and compassionate human. Then maybe you patted yourself on the back for supposedly doing something meaningful. Heart-warming, virtue signaling, isn’t it? It is time to stop. Let’s start with more encouraging words.
Among the quintessential American traits is the heightened community spirit during hard times. As an immigrant from Scandinavia, I always admire the compassion that American citizens exhibit to fellow citizens. Whether they are struggling after a natural disaster or a local tragedy, they are always helpful. For example, after a devastating F5 tornado in Moore, OK, the whole nation came together to help complete strangers to get back on their feet.
Europe is Different
Us Europeans usually sneer and even occasionally celebrate our neighboring nations’ misfortunes. Often this is due to some historical quarrel or cultural rivalry. It is after all extremely tough to feel sympathy for Germany due to, well you know why. Sorry, not sorry. Memories are long in parts of the world.
We agree though, that the societal conventions amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic are getting out of hand. Although it may sound cynical, applauding essential workers in our social media pages is not doing very much to alleviate the real struggles for working-class people. Former soccer star David Beckham and his family applauded, on his Instagram account the United Kingdom’s NHS (National Health Service). Many weren’t sure what this achieved. It was only a rather long applause session (with product-placements).
In honest terms, an essential worker in America needs less pandering to them and more opportunities to reach middle-class life. A better chance to live what is called the American Dream. Everything else is just pretentious non-sense. Substance beats appearances every time.
Progressive Pandering Is the Worst
Big business especially seems to have joined the virtue signaling bandwagon. It is after all cheaper to hire an advertising agency to publish a commercial pandering to essential workers, than to actually pay them higher wages. America’s back-bone of truck-drivers, nurses, store clerks, machine operators and teachers would appreciate that more. Sociologist Vance Packard wrote, in his 1957 seminal work “The Hidden Persuaders” , how Americans have been conquered by commercial propaganda.
In the same way, malicious governments strive to bend the truth for their citizens. More often than not, ads hide fundamental truths and perversely create an obscurity with vagaries, hyperbole or half-truths. They leave the viewer to think that simply by agreeing with whatever the advertisement states, he/she is automatically part of some en-vogue solution. Perhaps in today’s modern era, if we like a Facebook post and share enough videos, we have solved something.
“If the world were aware of the motives behind them, we would often be ashamed of our finest actions”.French Writer François de La Rochefoucauld
Such behavior enhances the toxic marriage between market capitalism with progressive social pandering. Arguably Social Pandering is the most destructive societal idea that America has faced. Why? It is because market excesses and externalities can and will be masqueraded by supporting socially progressive ideas. For example, companies can buy the loyalty of consumers during the pandemic by gathering social support for their workers. They can do this without having to actually raise wages or benefits for them.
Better Ways to Appreciate Can Be Used
All this is done in an aura of self-importance, while we call for more standing ovations. However, can we write off applause on our taxes? Can we send our children to college with thank-you’s from Hollywood and Capitol Hill? No we can’t. Perhaps when this pandemic is over, we can have a serious discussion on whether our current system rewards essential merit or mere hypocritical status.
Perhaps our political representatives will have the courage to support beneficial things. People would appreciate targeted annual tax-holidays, supported mortgages, lower tax-rates and other fiscal tools. These could be used to support America’s working-class people in reaching the elusive American Dream. So far President Donald J. Trump has done exactly that! Roaring applause sessions in social media, despite the well intended motives, simply won’t do it.
Naturally an inherent societal danger does exist in such a public policy endeavor. The age of participation trophies will inevitably create a generation of self-proclaimed “essentials”. Their vainglorious self-imagery can build delicious opportunities for political pandering. For instance, socialist senator Bernie Sanders built his whole failed Presidential campaign on such people’s sense of entitlements.
We can expect more of such campaign strategies very soon. After all, President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel profoundly channeled the ethos of Saul Alinsky by saying, “don’t let a good crisis go to waste.” More likely when the pandemic is over, we will turn back to our old comforting habits and life-styles. Ones of self-importance and status-seeking, instead of appreciating America’s essential professions.
Companies will go back to pandering to transgenders, and gloating in their social justice cape. Will they again be moving essential industries abroad? Will we vote into office the same type of demagogues? Types who allocated TARP funds in the 2008 Great Recession to big companies faster than the later Paycheck Fairness Act. This act delivered much needed assistance to working people.
Perhaps those who
lobby support political campaigns are first in line to receive goodies from our public servants. In other words as the Ecclesiastes noted, “there is nothing new under the sun“. Greeks weren’t the first to notice corrupt officials, either. Legendary country artist Billy Ray Cyrus summed up our current situation in his song titled We the People:
The farmers rise up every mornin at five
The truckers drive them 18 wheelers all night
The factory workers, they build it with pride
24-7 down the assembly line
In every city, in every town
Somebody’s gotta make the world go round
They better start paying attention in Capitol Hill or we the people might give our standing ovations to a wrong kind of leader.