Ruben Navarrette: COVID-19 exposes that all Americans are NOT created equal

Summary: In any civilized society — one whose priorities are straight — the rule should be: The more you contribute to society, the more you get in return. If you're only out for yourself, then you're out in the cold.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

SAN DIEGO — Every day of this crisis, as I watch news footage of brave and selfless health care workers on the frontlines, often with tears in my eyes, the same thought pops into my head:

Tell me again why we don't pay emergency room nurses $1 million per year, and let hedge fund managers, defense contractors, and investment bankers go on food stamps.

The same goes for middle-aged pop stars with dubious parenting skills. Yes, Justin Timberlake, I'm glaring at you.

In any civilized society — one whose priorities are straight — the rule should be: The more you contribute to society, the more you get in return. If you're only out for yourself, then you're out in the cold.

We need to take better care of those who take such good care of us. From now on, when someone graduates from nursing school in this country, the U.S. government should immediately pay off all their student loans. That's one way to say: "Thank you!"


If there is one thing that COVID-19 has revealed, it's that — in this land of the free where, as Thomas Jefferson wrote so long ago that, "All men are created equal" — Americans are not equal. We're not even close.

Human beings don't have the same qualities, values, and character. We don't have the same degree of courage, virtue, compassion, or generosity. Some folks are just better people. There should be some way of recognizing — and rewarding — the good in those who have it, and not wasting our adoration on those who have merely acquired wealth and fame.

Somewhere along the line, Americans went off track with the concept of hero worship.

In the 20th Century, school kids casually tossed around the word "hero" to describe professional athletes like baseball player Mickey Mantle, football player Joe Namath, or boxer Muhammad Ali.

Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, and first responders finally got some respect. Police officers, paramedics, firefighters and other real heroes charged into the flames of the rubble that was once the World Trade Center. They ran into danger while others ran away from it. Soon professional baseball players were wearing caps honoring New York's police officers and firefighters.

Now, a new batch of heroes — wearing scrubs, masks, gloves and other protective gear — is reporting for duty at hospitals around the country. They show up for work every day, overcoming the fear of their own nightmare scenario where they contract COVID-19, take it home with them, and infect their spouses and children. Where do we find these people?

The baton has been passed. Whenever I see rows of police officers and

firefighters standing outside a hospital applauding doctors, nurses, and medical


staff as they enter the building, I bawl.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are making sacrifices that — while inconvenient to our daily lives — honestly pale by comparison.

They include Hollywood celebrities who — holed up in their mansions and beachfront homes — have taken to Twitter to complain about being locked up in prison, only to be chastised by those who have some real-world understanding of what it means to be locked up in prison.

Apparently, having millions of followers on social media is not the same as having social skills.

For his part, Timberlake is waiting out the pandemic at his gigantic Montana ranch with his beautiful wife, the actress Jessica Biel, and their 5-year-old son Silas.

Luckily for the pop star — or perhaps unluckily given how things turned out — the ranch has internet access. Recently, Timberlake did an interview, via Zoom, on SiriusXM radio. When asked how he and Biel were adjusting to the quarantine, Timberlake said: "We're doing good. We're mostly commiserating over the fact that we ... just, 24-hour parenting is not human."

Guess who isn't getting a Father's Day card this year. The entertainer was pilloried on Twitter, mostly by parents.

Who wants to be the one to tell Timberlake that, for millions of Americans who live ordinary lives, parenting is always a 24-hour-a-day job. Pandemic or no pandemic. A comment that detached makes you wonder how many nannies, cooks, drivers and private tutors it normally takes to keep the Timberlake household running.


Sorry, Mr. Jefferson. We're not equal. It's not that some people are better than others. It's just that some are better people.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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