Guest Op-Ed by Jonathan Goldstein. This piece originally appeared at Broad + Liberty.
The picture is clear: A handful of governors mismanaged their excessive coronavirus shutdowns and destroyed lives and livelihoods. They used “public health and safety” to justify stripping freedoms and confiscating small business owners’ ability to earn a living and serve their community.
Local small businesses are the engine that powers our economy and the glue that holds our communities together—but they’ve been abandoned at every turn. This didn’t start with coronavirus: Philadelphia, for example, became the “poorest big city” in America because its core of neighborhood job creators is subjected to over 200 local taxes and the worst licensing regulations in the country.
Big-government governors abandoned local small businesses with dubious shutdown orders. Business owners across PA and elsewhere personally sacrificed to continue paying their workers. Others eventually succumbed to bankruptcy, seeing their life’s work destroyed. A recent survey shows a third of small businesses will never reopen, and more than half will lose employees.
Government failed them during the pandemic, then failed to keep them safe.
Just weeks after governors in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere sent troopers to intimidate, fine, and shutter small businesses that reopened early, these leaders and their local subordinates like Philly Mayor Jim Kenney pulled back law enforcement while rioters took advantage of peaceful protests to devastate their property.
Already, 2020 America has seen a surreal mix of anarchy and tyranny: Violent criminals get free rein, while law-abiding citizens and business-owners face crackdowns. Looting will result with a slap on the wrist in Philadelphia — but pity the woman who wants to get a haircut or attend a worship service after three months in isolation.
Our elected leaders failed to protect the most vulnerable by forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients, especially in Pennsylvania and New York, causing tens of thousands of deaths. Then, as fires devastated major cities, government incompetence became even more apparent, failing in its fundamental role to keep the peace.
The lesson is clear for anyone relying on the government to protect their future: prepare for disappointment. Instead, Americans should realize this hope lies in us, our neighbors, and our communities.
Local employers are the bedrock of a neighborhood and key to preventing community breakdown. Just ask Stephanie Wilford, a Black woman in Minneapolis who wept openly as her street was looted: “They went straight to Office Max, to Dollar Store, and every store over here that I go to. I have nowhere to go now. I have no way to get there because the buses aren’t running. These people did this for no reason.”
Millions of Americans feel the same, because entrepreneurs and independent business owners have always been the standard-bearers of the American spirit. Local small businesses glue together diverse neighborhoods by providing stable employment, places to socialize, and products and services that meet customers’ needs. When America faces hard times, it’s not big government or Wall Street who steps in—it’s Main Street.
When did these local businesses become expendable?
Those who attack business owners by looting them must understand they are pulling the rug out from under their own feet. Without job creators we don’t have cities or towns. We don’t even have a society.
America cannot heal without a resurgence of local small business that allows us to look past our differences and join as one American people, united in our shared enterprise. Safely reopening—and then supporting—small businesses won’t solve all of America’s problems, but it will allow businesses to rebuild our neighborhoods where government has failed to keep order.
In times of intense crisis, too many governors — Tom Wolf and Phil Murphy included — have cowered instead of leading. It’s time for entrepreneurs to take the lead in opening the path to success that is currently denied to so many. Let’s take these small steps together as one nation, and offer the American dream to everyone with the determination to achieve it.
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Jonathan Goldstein is a founding partner of Goldstein Law Partners and also owns a number of small manufacturing companies across Pennsylvania.