In these deeply corrosive and soul-trying times, every problem plaguing our nation falls particularly hard on children.
Between the cans we’ve kicked down the road and the catastrophic failures we’ve recently blundered into, it’s our children who will ultimately suffer the most, both in their present circumstances and their future prospects.
It’s a mistake to blame this solely on Trump, tempting as that may be. The blame rests mostly on the Republican party, which has spent the last several decades waging what has amounted to a war on children.
Whether through systematic obstruction of all meaningful legislation, or through the aggressive gutting of all regulatory safeguards, the result is a badly frayed safety net that is putting many millions of families in increasingly dire straits. Children are the ultimate casualties.
Every major issue we face has a child endangerment component we ignore at our peril. Starting with the virus.
Covid has exposed deep frailties in our institutions, but one of the most glaring is our education system, which was being undermined long before Betsy De Vos came along to loot it.
As a nation, we have woefully — and cynically — underinvested in schools and teachers. The wretched consequences were evident long before the virus hit. We could see it in the millions of kids who can’t read at their grade level. In the teachers dipping into their own shallow pockets to provide basic school supplies to their students. In the warnings from major tech companies that our kids do not have the intellectual throw weight to compete in any foreseeable economy.
Too many of our kids have been falling behind for too many years. They may never catch up, and it’s not their fault. They’re casualties of war.
Now, with the virus being so badly mishandled, we can add existential threat to the mix. This is where the Covid crisis and the economy merge into a single grand calamity. As an alarming number of parents lose their jobs, their health insurance, and even their homes, the fear spreads through their communities like, yes, a virus. And you don’t need a psych degree to know that their kids will be carrying this trauma for a long, long time.
Sure, kids are adaptable, but that assumes they’re getting both the nutrition and the training they need. Both are now jeopardized. They’re cooped up and bored. They can’t be with their friends. Many are missing out on vital school-supplied meals. They see their parents frazzled, exhausted, and scared. And in the fall, they won’t be dying to go to school.
It must be said, in this time of heightened racial awareness, that all the issues I’ve touched on here are far more consequential to children of color. From the severity of the plague to the failure of education to the perils of the economy to the precarious state of healthcare, Black children always get the shortest end of the shortest stick.
But all children are hurting, especially in the hollowed-out towns of the Heartland. Many kids who have lived their whole lives at or near the poverty line have health, nutrition, and education deficits that will only be aggravated by the pandemic.
The irony is that many of these are the children of Trump voters, an irony that will largely be lost on them. These kids may never get the chance to develop the critical thinking skills that would help them understand how their lives have been so devastated by the very people their parents voted for.
Republicans in the Senate could still do something, if they had any interest in actual governing. Everything they do is too little, too late, but it’s still sorely needed. At a bare minimum, they could take their knee off the neck of Obamacare, the loss of which would be a clear and present danger to many millions of families.
For the last four years, parents all over the country have been brought literally to tears — on multiple occasions — by the cliff-hanger moments that have pock-marked the history of the Affordable Care Act.
Remember John McCain saving it at the last minute? Remember John Roberts jumping in to save it with one hand while eviscerating the Medicaid expansion with the other? Remember what close calls these were?
Parents remember, and vividly. Many experienced these attacks on the ACA as matters, literally, of life and death. They watched their Congress wage legislative terrorism against them, and they’re still angry. Presumably, they know exactly which party was responsible.
There is no shortage of crucial issues that augur poorly for the nation’s children. It would be nice if their water were safe to drink, if their dams weren’t in danger of bursting, if their towns were better prepared for rogue weather, if their governments were thinking ahead to the next pandemic, and if their entire safety net weren’t being so cruelly dismantled. The list is lengthy, the progress meager.
All of these issues have been seriously aggravated by the virus, but they all pre-date it. And there isn’t one of them that the Republicans currently in Congress wouldn’t make worse, given the chance.
The war on children has been ridiculously one-sided. And it will continue to be, for as long as these obscene people remain in power.