A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Nothing I’m about to say is meant to take away from the Supreme Court fight. The GOP is speeding toward a Supreme Court confirmation without even knowing who President Trump is going to nominate. It is a huge story that merits huge amounts of air time.
But it shouldn’t overshadow the pandemic and the economic pain and suffering all across America.
Yet… It has. “The Senate majority is demonstrating priorities,” The Atlantic staff writer Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote on Monday. He pointed out that “there hasn’t been a vote for months on relief for the millions of Americans struggling to pay rent and suffering from COVID, but there will be a fast vote on an open Supreme Court seat.”
The pain is vast and unevenly distributed. The American death toll from the coronavirus, in Dr. Anthony Fauci’s words, is “very sobering, and in some respects, stunning.” The economic picture is sobering as well. As Annalyn Kurtz wrote for CNN Business on Monday, “Six months into the pandemic, the US economic outlook is getting gloomier.”
That’s what brings me to Thea…
‘I’ll be living in my car’
Thea is a 57-year-old woman from Hardeeville, South Carolina, who called into C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” last week. The channel asked viewers to share how the pandemic has impacted their job — and the calls provided a critical public service by making the pained voices of the American people front and center.
Thea said she had to stop working due to Covid-19. She said she has been looking for a new job, to no avail.
“For some reason, I just can’t get no help whatsoever,” she said. “I got foreclosure on my house. I just paid off my car. And I just feel like in the next couple of months, I’ll be living in my car. I don’t want to depend on nobody because I’ve been taking care of myself for years, and my children. And I just think this is so awful.”
She cried through the phone.
“I just needed somebody to hear me,” she told host John McArdle.
After the broadcast, C-SPAN received hundreds of emails and dozens of calls to the network’s front desk wanting to help Thea, according to a spokesman. A lawmaker’s office also said they were reaching out “to see how they can help.”
When we re-aired Thea’s call on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” even more people wanted to provide assistance. And that’s an inspiring thing to see, it really is. But what about all the other people like Thea who called C-SPAN and couldn’t get through? What about all the others who weren’t watching because they can’t afford cable?
‘The Great Depression with minivans’
There has been some tremendous, heart-wrenching reporting about the economic crisis. This report by CNN’s Kyung Lah, about residents in Houston who face eviction, comes to mind. So does this New York Times story by Tim Arango.
“When historians look back on our pandemic-stricken times,” Arango wrote, “there will perhaps be one indelible image that captures the attention of future generations: the endless lines of cars across the country filled with hungry Americans.” He quoted a 74-year-old man in Ohio, Terry McNamara, who said “I call it the Great Depression with minivans.”
Yahoo White House correspondent Hunter Walker commented the other day about witnessing food lines in New York City and seeing “firsthand how many people are in dire need right now.”
“Reading Twitter or watching the news you could almost forget how many of our neighbors are struggling without food or housing as this coronavirus crisis continues on,” he wrote. “We are not talking about it or acknowledging it enough.”
“In our socially distant bubbles it’s far to easy to ignore this,” Walker added. “It looks like a depression out there and some of us aren’t seeing it at all.”
The press must bear witness to the pain — and help the public see and hear it. The country would be a lot better off if voices like Thea’s and Terry’s were as loud as the demagogues.