As we’ve seen throughout the long history of our great nation we can be a people divided. It’s nothing new to the social media era.
From the British sympathizers and revolutionaries of early America to the secessionists and nationalists of the Civil War to the hawks and doves of the Vietnam War, Americans have shown they can be split over significant sociopolitical issues.
Such public disagreements aren’t necessarily limited to matters of defense and war. Other divisions – internal and bloodless wars, if you will – have always occurred in communities across the United States. Class warfare – both the real and the assumed – has always pitted the poor against the rich, the “haves” against the “have nots” and the classes – lower, middle, and upper – against each other.
The face of class warfare is changing, though, as the pandemic has made it apparent that a new chasm exists amongst our populace.
But, it’s not where you think.
As the lockdowns and their economic impacts have lingered, the unemployed and the underemployed have found a new target: Those who work in the public sector…not just the politicians but everyone who punches a clock or earns a salary from a municipality, school district, or federal office.
It’s common knowledge that those individuals have been spared the struggles that befell private sector breadwinners. Policymakers decided to call their own “essential” and allowed them to work remotely, even if their jobs were front-facing to the people and/or relied on administration or oversight of private sector activities that had been put on the back burner.
That disparaging gap in job security has fed the envy monster that exists in all human beings. Many people who work in or became unemployed by the private sector now look at their public sector friends and family with disdain, seeing them as leading a life that goes on unaffected by unemployment woes. Other factors beyond job security alone contribute to that jealousy, including the public sector’s benefits which include many things that have been cast aside by businesses during this crisis like raises, strong health care, and pensions.
That hatred only grows stronger as the pandemic goes on. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for many market sectors, confounding job seekers. For most it looks like the one (or no) income household will be the norm for quite some time. So, they see themselves as the “have nots” and the government workers as the “haves.”
It can become a powerfully negative way of thinking. How soon will it be before parents start outright hating their children’s teachers before they ever get a chance to know them because they are, in their eyes, overpaid leeches? How soon will it be before the stressed, jobless families who need social services turn on their providers, seeing them as fat cats?
It’s unfortunate, for a good number of public sector employees didn’t join their ranks for the pay and benefits. I’ve never known a cop who risks his life every day for the money. No, he does it because he wants to make a difference. I’ve never known a social worker to work with a broken family because she likes her pension. No, she, too, does it to make a difference. The same could be said for most teachers and others of responsibility.
How do we temper this wealth envy that pits friends against one another?
Private sector workers can start by not hating the person. For most, their very act of being and their outcomes are “above their pay grade”. Instead, hate the unaffordable and unreasonable system that was created by and is run by politicians and bureaucrats. Get those in power to change it, to adjust their enterprise to the enterprises around them. If they fail, find and empower leaders who understand that crises need harder decisions and strength to follow through.
Public sector workers can help by making accommodations and sacrifices. When their bargaining units fail to make concessions or threaten inactivity or lawsuits at the very mention of the suspension of a raise they are insulting others. Likewise, when metropolitan teachers unions push back against reopening, it doesn’t carry weight for those who need jobs or those who have been working every day through the event. You’ll hear so many say, “we’re in this together.” Show it.
Class warfare is two-sided affair and it takes both sides to end this ugly, divisive practice before it gets out of hand and divides our communities even more. Times are tough, and it takes a shared humanity and shared sacrifices to weather the storm. Let’s not despise others because of the situation they’re in. Let’s together change the situations that impact all of us. Life’s too short to harbor hate and resentment of others -- but it is long enough to foster love and respect for others.
From the 01 March 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News