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The Solidarity America Needs

Throughout its history, American democracy has innovated to adjust to technological change, wars, pandemics, and other shocks. Americans need to embrace the country’s diversity as a source of strength and solidarity that will allow it to meet collective challenges at home and abroad.

WASHINGTON, DC – The same deep tension lies at the heart of the fight against COVID-19 and climate change, particularly in democracies. In each case, the measures necessary to save everyone entail costs that widen existing inequalities. At a time when the United States and other democracies need solidarity, the resulting civic turmoil and division are feeding (and being fed by) populism.

In the US, the disastrous response to the pandemic has exacerbated class, racial, ethnic, and age divisions. Shutting down 60% of the economy for months, and then reopening it in an uneven state-by-state fashion, has pitted those who can work remotely and want to stay safe against those who cannot and thus regard public-health measures as tantamount to economic suicide.

The 40% of the economy that has remained open all along is staffed by millions of “essential workers,” who disproportionately comprise low-paid black and brown Americans. They are up to five times more likely than whites to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and – with more than 37,000 black Americans having now died from the disease – more than twice as likely to die. Intersecting these divides is the coronavirus’s differential impact on younger and older Americans, although jokes about COVID-19 being the “boomer remover” have faded as every age group suffers deaths and serious health consequences.