The United States of Anger: The Haves and the Have-Nots of Covid are Going to Collide

From the newsletter

Nearly two years ago, the nation realized that a VERY nasty virus was about to overtake our country, so politicians shutdown all but the most vital services and built portable hospitals in Manhattan. Workers went home, downloaded Zoom, and rearranged their bookshelves. Kids got a permanent snow day. To keep people amused while sequestered in their homes, The New York Times produced chipper little pieces about making sour dough bread and learning how to knit. People got checks from the government and were told to stay at home. It was a scary time, because people were dying, but — let’s be honest — a lot of people enjoyed it, too. 

But not everybody was happy in those hazy days of spring 2020. With my roots in the disability community, I knew how much that group would suffer without schools, therapy, and community support. Mothers had to sooth crying babies and pass Cheerios to toddlers during their morning team Zoom meeting. Seniors, like my parents, went for months without hugging their grandchildren. 

Two years into the pandemic, the battle lines have grown stark. Those who have carried the biggest loads this past two years are exhausted and angry, while others continue to do their jobs remotely from vacation cabins in Vermont. The haves and have-nots are not just economic or racial; the new divisions are between people who are doing okay in this new COVID world and those who are not okay. The anger between these two groups is real and could have lasting political implications.

Because education is my specialty, let me focus for a bit on what I’m seeing going on in schools and with parents and teachers. Schools might be open here in the suburbs, but things are far from normal. Kids aren’t learning, socializing, or existing as they should. With the 2 year anniversary of COVID coming soon, I’m not seeing a way out of this mess.

Schools are struggling to function without low wage workers to substitute their classes and drive their busses. In special education, which has been hit especially hard by staffing issues, classes are more warehouses than places of learning. Students are shell shocked from neglect and isolation. They are behind academically and behaviorally. Rather than additional supports for students to make up for lost time, there are actually fewer supports, because so much budget money has gone to masks, filters, plastic shields, and bonuses for substitute teachers. 

Teachers are angry. Reddit’s chatroom for teachers — r/teachers — has 304,000 members most of whom use the forum to rant about everything from substitute teachers to special education students to low wages. (More about r/teachers in this Yahoo article.) And they hate parents. One post begins, “I love how you become an education expert and a public health expert once you’ve shat out a kid.” Some want to return to remote education and hate being back in the physical classroom. (A reporter recently waded into that angry forum and was trashed by participants.) 

Parents are angry. They are organizing locally and nationally through social media. Two years without schools is killing the middle class. Their kids are a mess. (Check out this super sad high school girl in England talking about how her life has been derailed.) Mask mandates have been super hard for younger kids, who are developing speech disabilities and reading issues without the ability to see people’s mouths. There’s an army of angry moms who are going to be a serious force in the next election. Pay attention to them. 

But not everyone is unhappy. Some people are still living their best lives. If you don’t have a kid whose life is being destroyed, or a job that has become harder in the past two years, then there are other things to think about, other policies to promote. La-la-la, let’s do this forever. I am particularly fond of childless pundits at national newspapers, who pen long opinion pieces that finger-wag at parents and accuse them of having wrong and slightly racist attitudes. I practice self-care and do not read those screeds.

The anger is real. And I feel it, too. My kids have not thrived in the past two years, and nobody seems to care. There are no remedies. No rescue plans. No bailouts. Just a kick in the ass and a good luck. I have friendships that have grown more wobbly in the past year, because I have trouble drinking beers with people who don’t care about kids like mine. I fantasize about selling our house and building a family compound in rural Vermont, where the four of us will make our own artisanal goat cheese. Rather than paying crazy taxes here in Jersey, I’ll pay for private therapists for my son; the boys can work at the farm, rather than doing some horrible entry-level remote job from their bedrooms. Or maybe I’ll stay here and get more involved in advocacy, as I see many other mothers doing. 

What happens when a group of people are angry for a very long time? Then change happens, but it often happens explosively and suddenly; results might not be neat and fair. I would rather we worked through these issues calmly as a nation. The angry side needs to talk openly, not just on twitter and reddit, and the not-angry side better make some concessions soon.