We are living through a crazy historical time. The whole country literally has shut down almost two full months, schools, offices, gyms, colleges, restaurants, street corners, all closed, all in response to a pandemic disease that so far has in the USA alone had killed over 55,000 and infected nearly a million. No riots, no resistance, not even much grumbling.
It’s changed the culture, economy, politics, even human physical contact. No touching, no talking to strangers, face masks, gloves, what they call “social distancing.” Again just in the USA, 25 million people have lost their jobs, financial markets took a nose dive (but are much recovered), the government has committed trillions in bailout money (about $4 trillion via the Federal Reserve and trillions more from Congress; more on the way). Daily briefings by Trump and Andrew Cuomo have become must-see TV, unexpected people like Fauci and Birx, health care workers, Amazon delivery guys, retail workers, food bank volunteers, are heroes. And the villains? A long list.
It feels likes its changing the world, but impossible yet to see or predict how. People haven’t absorbed it yet, and we still don’t know the outcome. How many will die? How many people we know? How badly will lives be disrupted? By what – the disease, the lost jobs and failed businesses, hunger side-effects? Who will get blamed? Will people get used to staying home, working less, change basic living habits?
Nobody knows. Not yet. It still feels unreal, partly because we’re all still so isolated in our homes. I hear occasional names of people I know getting infected, even dying, but nobody’s advertising that fact. Me and most people we know are radically sheltered, in nice houses with plenty of food and TV galore. I think most of the country probably feels like us, especially across the Midwest. It’s all very abstract; infections or deaths touch one in thousands.
We go though motions because we’re told to and we’re trying to be good citizens and understand the logic – again in an abstract way. People in the severe hot spots, of course, see if differently.
For younger people, in college and high school, how totally strange this must seem – the fear, the conformity, the crisis coming out of the blue, nobody seeming to expect it, nobody being prepared. All the focus on other things – presidential elections, sports, weddings, family events, all our work preoccupations and crises – all abruptly cancelled.
“Man makes plans and God laughs,” goes the expression. What a good laugh He/She must be having this year.
And topping it off is the strangeness in the White House. This disease began in China but, of all countries on earth, it’s the USA that’s seen by far the most deaths and infections. How could this happen? Aren’t we the most prosperous, technologically advanced country?
Its unavoidable, at least to me, that when this crisis is over, people, especially young people, will be far more cynical and feel far more aggrieved – by the trashed economy as much as by the disease. The country will gag for years on its $24(?) trillion debt. Finger-pointing will dominate discourse, fanned by partisanship.
Its hard to see any good resulting, but that’s always the case in the heat of events. Too many moving parts. New leaders will emerge. New directions. But that takes time.
The biggest near-term tests will be (a) the presidential election, whether Biden beats Trump and whether it matters, (b) the second wave of the covid-19 disease next fall, and whether the US is ready, and (c) how the economy bounces back by year-end. With all the Federal money poured in, wealthy people have been well cared of. Stock portfolios will do fine. But all those lost jobs and crippled industries could take years to bounce back. The memories of the endless food lines. Many will be left behind.
The bigger impact will come later, next year and the year after, when people can look at this disaster from a safe distance and make judgments. That’s when the real unknowns begin. Stay tuned.