Ruben Navarrette: Government can't save us, so we have to save ourselves

Summary: If any or all these things is true, then, my friend, you have bigger problems than COVID-19. For what ails you, there is no vaccine.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO β€” As every columnist eventually learns, there is a difference between what you write and what people read.

In a recent column about life lessons I've learned from the coronavirus, I threw out this firecracker: "Money isn't as important as we make it out to be. There is always more opportunity around the corner. Or you're standing on the wrong corner."

An angry reader wrote back: "You're an idiot! Money is not important? Do you know how many people are flat broke and can't even feed their families?"

You see that? "Money isn't as important ... " became "Money is not important."

Still, the response got me thinking. And, I think, it's time for some tough love in this quarantine. Because the truth is β€” when you live in the land of unlimited opportunity β€” most obstacles are self-imposed.


If you're one of those Americans who is "flat broke" and "can't even feed their families" after missing paychecks for six weeks, there may just be a few contributing factors that no one talks about.

Or a dozen:

  • You put all your eggs in one basket and never even considered having multiple jobs
  • Your work ethic is pathetic, and you think some jobs are beneath you.
  • You consider it your birthright to work only 40 hours per week and spend weekends hiking, golfing or surfing.
  • You never went to college, graduate school, vocational college, or got additional career training so you have no plan B, or C, or D.
  • You never moved out of your beloved hometown, even when the factories closed and the jobs got scarce.
  • You are quick to play the victim and blame all your troubles on external entities, from immigrants to trade deals to the 1%.
  • You buy stuff on credit and have no savings, much less a "rainy day" fund.
  • You don't market yourself or create your own opportunities, and you don't have an entrepreneurial bone in your body .
  • You don't know how to hustle, innovate or re-invent yourself.
  • You're about as far from the example of your immigrant parents, grandparents or great-grandparents as Mars is from Venus.
  • You think the world owes you a living, and that it is the government's job to save you or a union's duty to protect you.
  • You give up too easily.

If any or all these things is true, then, my friend, you have bigger problems than COVID-19. For what ails you, there is no vaccine.
I'm not immune. Some of these items apply to me. I accept that. I won't blame Republicans or Democrats, or China, or anti-shutdown protesters for the bad choices I've made. I own those mistakes.

When was the last time you heard someone say that?

If you're one of the 33 million Americans who has lost a job in the last two months due to the coronavirus, I feel for you. In fact, I am you. For the last two decades, my profession has been a battlefield. Thousands of journalists have been laid off. Where were the fundraisers and virtual concerts for them?

In 30 years of working in newspapers and media, I've lost eight jobs. In fact, because I usually juggle four or five part-time jobs at a time, I sometimes lost one job after another. I'd get knocked down. I'd shake my head, plant my knuckles and try to get up. Then life would wallop me again. I'd land on the mat with a thud, spraying sweat and blood. Even some of my family and friends counted me out.

But then, I got up. That's how life works. You get up, or you die.

I'll be honest. It's no picnic working all those jobs. You miss a lot of time with family and friends, something that those who only work 40 hours a week at one job take for granted. You never really leave work. Because, no matter where you go, there work is.


Now you be honest. When you hear how someone is at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 because they're overweight, or have high blood pressure or substance abuse problems, how many of you shrug and chalk it up to poor choices?

Well, if you're struggling after losing a job, now you know how I feel.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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