The pandemic is changing Americans’ opinion of wealth — Here’s how

Socialism (as an ideology and a system) was already nudging working-class Americans before COVID-19 suspended our economy in gas. 

At every juncture since, the proletariat was misguided through a wilderness of anemic stimulus efforts and tired, stump assertions.  

In a high-stake election season, the last thing primary contenders want is a disgruntled base with nothing but time to mule over the legacies of un-movement that made 2020 possible.  

Among rising anti-establishment sympathies, a new PEW Research survey reports that a growing number of citizens are beginning to think meanly of socioeconomic hierarchies.

The face of this resentment is a young one, but the aggravators staffing it, menace all subscribers to comparable degrees.  

“On the fundamental question of why some people are rich and others are poor, more Americans point to the advantages they possess – or the obstacles they face – rather than their work ethic,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say the main reason some people are rich is because they have had more advantages in life than most other people; far fewer say it is because they have worked harder than others (33%).”

This sentiment was also occasioned in the other direction, with 71%, contending that poverty is more often than not a result of systemic obstacles.

Of course, populist ideation is expressed differently across partisan lines. 

Among the 12,638 U.S. adults featured in the poll, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were more likely to believe that advantages in life have more to do with why someone is wealthy  (82%).

Opinions among Republicans and Republican leaners “were more divided”: 53% say hard work has more to do with why a person is rich, while 45% say it is because they have more advantages. 

However, nearly a quarter (23%) of the entire study pool agreed that the fact that some people have personal fortunes of a billion dollars or more is a bad thing, while slightly fewer (19%) see this as a good thing.

The national response to the coronavirus crisis is likely compounding abhorrences with respect to wealth inequality. 

In the midst of the most destructive pandemic in recent memory, health systems were disregarded by lawmakers racing toward a premature end to commercial shutdowns.

In order to receive relief during economic downturn, small business owners were forced to endure a gauntlet of qualifiers, while lobbyists and corporations were rewarded slush bailouts with no strings attached. 

A miasma of corruption, misallocated funds, and performative democracy smothered years of progress at the least opportune time. 

Only a few days after the unlawful death of George Floyd,  demonstrations emerged in every major city in the U.S.

Anyone who has attended any of these protests can speak to the anguish that essentially asks: ‘We allow our schools, hospitals and lives to be underfunded in exchange for what exactly?

In the last three years, pension programs for retirees sunk into the red, and $9.2 billion was stripped from federal education spending. 

Just last week, The Trump administration decided to end federal funding for 13 community-based coronavirus testing sites; affecting seven locations in Texas, which is currently experiencing a massive spike in Covid-19 cases.

There are 27 states that do not have explicit statewide laws in place to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. 

Meanwhile, in 2017, an analysis published by The Center for Popular Democracy revealed that the United States spends $100 billion on policing each year, and an additional $80 billion on jailing people.

Ideally, citizens make fiscal concessions so that municipalities can adequately do their job. Ideally,  this social contract benefits and limits all parties in equal measure. 

The lack of upward mobility isn’t the only predictor of a breached contract. From the ground up, the system isn’t conducive to rehabilitation or growth for the bottom rungs of the latter.  

There isn’t an easy way for the hierarchy to regain this trust because Americans are halved about the nature of their frustration. 

Some simply want alterations, beginning with an end to qualified immunity, and a reconsideration of the penalties considered severe in the criminal justice system,  while more extreme propositions can be placed under The Defund Movement. 

The movement calls for cuts to precincts and expensive equipment, a reallocation of funds toward mental health programs, housing and education, and recourse for populations disproportionately impacted by unlawful activities practiced by the officials who are supposed to protect them. 

According to City Council President, Lisa Bender, Minneapolis is already considering cutting $200 million from its $1.3 billion overall annual police budget. 

Nine members of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle the Police Department and devise a new system of public safety, though they rushed to clarify that meaningful changes will likely take a long time to carry out.

“Some cities have already made changes to policing. In Austin, Texas, 911 calls are answered by operators who inquire whether the caller needs police, fire or mental health services — part of a major revamping of public safety that took place last year when the city budget added millions of dollars for mental health issues. In Eugene, Ore., a team called CAHOOTS — Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets — deploys a medic and a crisis worker with mental health training to emergency calls. Camden, N.J., revamped its policing in 2017 with officers handing out more warnings than tickets and undergoing training that places emphasis on officers holding their fire,” Dionne Searcey of The New York Times reports. 

I don’t think it’s a good idea to characterize any anti-wealth movement based on the loudest voices. The only safe takeaway regards a palpable power shift. For better or worse, this time the American public decides how wealth becomes an attainable aspiration.  

While thought leaders contend with the inevitable populist renaissance ahead, it’s important that we acknowledge George Floyd’s monumental role in it without forgetting that he was a person who didn’t ask to be reincarnated as a revolutionary talking point.