Tom Durkin
: What’s in it for us |

Tom Durkin
: What’s in it for us

A woman took a stone from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. A reporter confronted her. He asked her why she stole the stone from the sacred site. He noted people stealing stones was decimating the religious monument, and if the thieving continued, the ancient wall would soon be gone.

“So what?” she answered. “I got mine.”

To me, this seems to be the attitude of rugged individualists, libertarians and many Republicans who are enjoying the American Dream at the expense of others.

Closer to home, a former friend of mine told me, “I’ve earned everything I’ve got. I don’t want to support other people.”

Without taking anything away from the admirable achievements of this “self-made,” single mother of a disabled child, she didn’t build the house she lives in, grow or butcher the food she eats, manufacture the car she drives, or fabricate the computer she makes a living with.

And then there are the roads she drives, the internet she uses, the police and fire protection she depends on.

What killed our friendship was her I’ve-got-mine-screw-everybody-else attitude.

What she and the other “conservative” (for lack of a better word) people don’t seem to get is that we’re all in this together.

We all benefit from the capitalistic exploitation of those who were born into the “wrong” race, religion, culture, socio-economic class and/or gender.

And it’s especially cruel to tell these victims of a rigged system to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps when they don’t have any boots.

Besides, it’s physically impossible to pull yourself up by your own boots.

Personally, I have had to bootstrap my life several times, but I couldn’t have done it without the social safety net my taxes pay for.

The system worked for me partly because I had the privilege of being an educated, white male. I was treated better than many women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) citizens.

All this leads up to why I believe health care and education should be “free,” and everyone should be entitled to food and shelter. As William Jefferson Clinton said, “Don’t ask, ’What’s in it for me?’ Ask, ’What’s in it for us?’ ”


When I say “free,” I mean health care, education and subsidized housing should be paid through our fair share of taxes, because unhealthy, under-educated and homeless people cost us all a lot of money … in taxes.

People who can’t afford or won’t pay for health insurance often defer seeking medical treatment until it becomes an emergency, and a public expense.

Most doctors and economists will tell you prevention and early treatment are far less expensive and have better outcomes than late stage and emergency medicine.

Educated people tend to pay more in taxes and commit less crime than uneducated people. (This, of course, excludes white-collar criminals and some politicians.)

I believe you should be able to get as much education as you need and want — as long as you can get the grades without cheating.

By education, I mean anything that prepares you for a living-wage profession or trade. It doesn’t have to be college. Legitimate trade schools and apprenticeships would work.

But if you get caught cheating, your education is over, and you owe tuition.

Meanwhile, it is a national disgrace to have hundreds of thousands of homeless people living in the streets and camps of the richest country in the world.

The fact that we tolerate such cruel neglect says more about us than it does about them.

Many homeless people are too damaged or disabled to provide for themselves without help. Many more just can’t find housing because of exploitative low wages and the shameful lack of affordable housing.


I expect to get blowback on this opinion piece, mostly from white, male people of privilege. I expect to be denounced as naive, Marxist, socialist, snowflakey, unAmerican and worse. (Just don’t call me a Democrat.) I expect to be told it’s impossible, and we can’t afford it.

A vaccine in less than a year? Impossible. Cost-prohibitive.

This is America. We can do whatever we set out to do.

To do what I envision requires we drop the “I got mine” attitude. We can make America genuinely great, but only if we stop exploiting our citizens and start investing in them. We can only get there together.

It’s not all about you. It’s about all of us.

Tom Durkin is a writer, editor and photographer in Nevada City. He may be contacted at

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