Pollyanna here! (I know– this is a rare appearance of my positive side…)
What prompted my question was a series of posts on my neighborhood listserv, which is usually dominated by complaints about trash pickup, potholes and porch thieves. The first of the series was this one:
If there are any elderly or immunosuppressed neighbors who have an errand they cannot run, I’d be happy to help! I work in a nursing facility and know there are many elderly that are fearful of getting to the store.
That was followed by one titled “Be Kind,” which read
Please keep an eye out for neighbors, friends, kids, even people on the street that look stressed. Be kind to everyone since we cannot know the problems they are having with the stress of this slow moving crisis. Whether emotional or financial, it will bring out depression in those trying to keep it together. Domestic violence is likely to increase. It is unlike a hurricane in that we don’t know when, where, how, or how long.
Forty-nine neighbors had responded to that post when I last checked, and the comments were uniformly positive, thanking the poster for the reminder, suggesting ways to be helpful to neighbors, and indicating an intent to check on the well-being of older residents or those with medical problems.
I live in a downtown neighborhood–often referred to (scornfully) as “the hood” by people who assume that urban life is dangerous, faceless and anonymous. I actually know most of my neighbors, who are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, so I was gratified, but not surprised, by the attitudes expressed in these posts.
Also on the potentially positive side is growing recognition that a robust social safety net doesn’t just help “those people”–i.e., the poor or marginalized. If people living paycheck to paycheck (and there are more of them than you think) don’t have paid sick leave, they are likely to come to work when they shouldn’t, and to infect “us.”
And it probably goes without saying that if everyone had access to healthcare, it would be easier to identify and isolate sick folks and thus contain pandemics. Perhaps the virus will help more people understand why a society that protects the most vulnerable is actually better for everyone.
Finally, despite the best disinformation efforts of Faux News, there are signs that this public health challenge is creating a renewed appreciation for the importance of a properly functioning government.
Periodically, America’s historic penchant for anti-intellectualism and distaste for “pointy-headed” experts facilitates the election of a “politically-incorrect” public official. Previously, this has been a more common outcome at the state and local level, but in 2016 it elevated a toxic and profoundly ignorant man to the Presidency.
When resentment of knowledge unites with fear of social displacement–in our case, the escalating panic of less-educated white “Christian” males facing loss of their dominant status–it creates an opening for the con men and would-be autocrats who view government office as an opportunity for graft rather than a call to serve.
Unfortunately, when an emergency arrives that requires a government solution, the utter inability of these bozos to perform–to use the powers of government for their intended purpose– becomes too obvious to ignore.
The Trump administration’s multiple transgressions against science, the environment and the most basic principles of good government will be responsible for many deaths that might have been avoided. There isn’t much average Americans can do about that at this point–but going forward, we can and must learn a lesson: competent government matters.
And at a time where so many Americans have displayed their ugliest sides–their racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and more–we can take comfort in the humanity and genuine goodness of so many ordinary citizens.
It may not be enough, but it’s important.