“Let’s use this situation, this crisis, this time to actually learn the lessons, value from the reflection, and let’s reimagine what we want society to be.”
— N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
The man who sometimes calls himself “the Love Gov,” because others have, sometimes sounds like a headmaster at a Jesuit school during his daily briefings that are part fact, part explanation, part apology, part politics and part a peek into the Italian-American Cuomo household.
The family tradition among Italian-Americans, and I know this to be true because I married into such a family, is for the clan to gather for “Sunday dinner,” starting around 2 p.m., which can be a problem when it conflicts with football.
In his home, Cuomo said, the traditional meal is meatballs and spaghetti, which he makes himself, and which most of the family does not enjoy. With my in-laws, mother Lucy prepared the food and it was a lot more than meatballs and spaghetti. A nurse, Lucy was born and reared in Naples, and came to America after World War II, the bride of Paul Merlino, a nail-tough infantryman whose injuries she treated after he was shot up at Salerno.
Paulie was in the same outfit as Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier in World War II. Both Audie and Paulie stood 5-foot-5, a couple of firecrackers you didn’t want to mess with. Audie won every medal for valor, including the Medal of Honor; Paulie was awarded the Silver Star.
Paulie sometimes led the Sunday dinner conversation, sometimes not.
Cuomo didn’t say he leads the conversation, but passed along guilt feelings for not visiting his mom when he could, and advice about his daughters. He sometimes reveals more than he should, but I was curious about his idea of reimagining what we want society to be.
The first thing I would like, and I know many Americans would agree, is for us to extinguish the conflagration of race, with minorities feeling forever aggrieved, and whites feeling blamed for things they did not do.
Remember when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation’s first black A.G., said that “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” White Americans wouldn’t talk honestly about race, he said.
For me, race is the most discussed topic in America. What Holder meant was most white Americans don’t agree with him.
So — OK, that change will take generations.
How else can we reimagine society? Cuomo was not specific.
Here are some things that can change, based on the fact that they have changed, for the duration of coronavirus. I am NOT endorsing them. They are things I have imagined for the purpose of discussion. You may add your own.
Septa buses are not collecting fares, which are being collected on subways and regional rail, according to a spokesman for the transit agency.
Why charge for fares? Why not consider mass transit a city necessity, such as education?
Crazy? There are dozens of municipalities that offer free transportation on certain lines, including New York’s iconic Staten Island ferry. Free transportation would get people out of their cars, so fewer accidents and cleaner air. What’s so bad?
On the job, people who can work remotely are doing so, and generally do better than people who can’t. Who can’t?
Truck drivers, grocery clerks, stevedores, small shopkeepers, health providers, maintenance and housekeeping personnel, trash collectors, uniformed services and so on.
Blue collar wages have not kept pace with white collar, such as those on Wall Street who make fortunes by manipulating money, manufacturing nothing other than excuses.
Which does society need more — a hedge fund manager or a garbageman? Shouldn’t wages reflect this and reward real work?
Why do we permit slums to exist? They breed rats and disease and poor diet and poor health. Under the Marshall Plan, the United States rebuilt Europe after World War II.
Why can’t we — city, state, federal — build low-cost housing for families, charging a percentage of weekly wage as rent? I would like to see these new projects built in areas already occupied by the middle and upper class. The former Navy Yard would be a perfect place to build mixed-income housing.
Like housing, health should be perceived as a common good, something that protects all of us. Yes, that would mean Medicare For All, under the same logic as the other proposals.
Finally — free college. If qualified students were allowed to attend online, there would minimal added expense to the college, but great opportunity for the students.
I can hear several of you screaming, WHO PAYS FOR THIS?
The same people who are paying for the trillions that will be spent in the fight against COVID-19.