In my Aug. 4 column, I urged that schools remain closed until the coronavirus pandemic is over. Teachers shouldn’t have to risk their lives and parents shouldn’t be caught between worries about the health of their children and the need to get back to work. But if your primary interest in education is child care, maybe it’s time to rethink your priorities.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

Beyond the sickness and death caused by COVID-19, there are a host of other issues raised by the crisis – how to educate people while remaining in quarantine and maintaining a safe distance, how to work and make a living, how to afford food and shelter while politicians dither over aid, how to travel safely around a country ravaged by disease (not to mention countries that want nothing to do with Americans).

A few good things may come out of this horrible situation. If Trump’s total failure as a leader results in his resounding defeat, the United States will be immeasurably better off. If people fly less and the cruise ship industry goes under, the planet will be a lot better off.

If America took a year off, a collective sabbatical year, we could use the time to rethink the economic, educational and ethical systems that have failed us so badly. At least let’s think about it.

Our health care system is a money-making scheme that Democrats have tried to rethink and Republicans have only tried to defend. Close to two dozen studies have shown that a single-payer universal health care system would save America money in the long run.

Institutional racism has led to support for racial justice and Black Lives Matter in places we’ve never seen it before. Time to get serious about racial bias, starting with why the pandemic is so much more deadly for people of color.


Our military is abused by politicians. We spend as much on defense as the next 10 countries combined (including China and Russia) and, despite huge military superiority, we don’t seem to understand that wars are no longer winnable. Freedom isn’t free, but it doesn’t have to cost $732 billion a year.

Our elected representatives nickel and dime citizens with a pittance in stimulus money at a time of dire economic crisis. How about we start taking a universal basic income, Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend, seriously?

Rethinking free market capitalism, which guarantees winners and losers, would include not only a universal basic income and universal health care but universal child care, housing supplements and free public college, all paid for with higher taxes, especially on the wealthy and corporations, and cuts in defense spending.

Am I describing a socialist welfare state? No, just a more equitable system than the one we have, the one that works for the fortunate few and fails the many.

A more equitable distribution of wealth would require us all to contribute more, yes, but we would get our money’s worth. If we could get over our blinding American exceptionalism, we might see that places like Canada, Europe and Australia have better public education, better health care and better social safety nets than we do.

Bottom line: We already live in a social democracy. We just refuse to acknowledge it. More than two-thirds of Americans receive more from the government than they pay in. What with Social Security and Medicare, I know I sure do. So let’s take this year of living pandemically off, rethink our failed society and try to get it right for once. And that starts with dumping Trump.

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