Thanks to the pandemic, millions of jobs have been disappearing–many of them, hopefully, just on hiatus, but many probably for good.
What will America and the world look like when this pandemic has played out? What lessons will we have learned, and how will those lessons change us?
The New York Times has introduced an entire series devoted to the question. Daily Kos recently predicted eleven ways America will change in the wake of the coronavirus. Like many of you, I’ve been discussing with my children and grandchildren the likely reasons for the deadly incompetence of America’s federal governance and the likely consequences for the future.
We have a son who lives in Amsterdam and a granddaughter who lives in England, so we have an international context within which to evaluate successes and failures; of the two, the Netherlands has clearly (in my view, at least) exhibited the better approach: in addition to the country’s already-robust social safety net, the government has imposed a moratorium on firing people and is subsidizing payrolls for the duration. The Netherlands is predicting an unemployment rate just under ten percent when the pandemic is gone; here, of course, joblessness predictions are far, far higher.
The real question for Americans, of course, is: what cultural attitudes will the pandemic experience change? And how?
Every news show, every advertisement, currently ends with “We are all in this together.” True. Will that recognition outlast the crisis? We are all on this planet together, too, but the threat of climate catastrophe hasn’t notably affected the fossil fuel predators and others more concerned with their bottom lines than with global survival.
Will the pandemic–and its incredible mismanagement–finally awaken Americans to the importance of competent government? To an appreciation of the people conspiracy nuts call “the deep state,” and rational people recognize as committed civil servants?
What about the escalating reports of corruption–reports about how this despicable administration’s “best people” are enabling looting and polluting while the pandemic provides a distraction? Will American voters and the American media finally understand that character–defined as honesty and “servant leadership”–matter?
Will we finally join the rest of the world, and provide access to health care to all of our citizens, or will America’s “original sin” and continued tribalism prevent us from supporting universal programs that help all people, including black and brown people? For that matter, will we respond the way we did after the Great Depression, with a new “New Deal” that recognizes that we really are all in this together—and that the pursuit of rational self-interest requires that we build a society that works for everyone?
Will we at least recognize that government’s obligation to protect its citizens extends far–far–beyond maintaining “law and order,” anti-terrorrism efforts and foreign wars (justified and unjustified)? One of the most unforgivable acts by this unforgivable administration was dismantling the efforts put in place by the Obama administration to plan for pandemics–can’t you just see Trump thinking, who will notice, right? That task force is just sucking up resources that we can use to reward donors with subsidies and tax cuts.
When I look at this very incomplete list, and think about other lessons we should learn, they all require a renewed appreciation of the importance of an appropriately structured and constrained government. Once this election is over, and voters have (hopefully!!) ejected this utterly unfit administration, Americans need to engage in a national conversation about what government is for–what government should and should not do.
That conversation will be critical–and we absolutely cannot allow it to be hijacked by the ideologues and conspiracy theorists and looters.