As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, theories abound on what a re-opened America will be like. As to my outlook, I turn—as in the past—to a favorite comic strip.
Some people believe the nation will be better—purged?—after experiencing over 600,000 Americans killed by the virus. “Pearls Before Swine,” written and drawn by Stephan Pastis (San Francisco Chronicle, June 22), begs to differ.
Rat asks humans in a bar if they used the past 15 months to get smarter or less annoying. They rousingly answer, “No!”
Yes, some people paid more attention to reading, music, online and Zoom classes, and digital social conversations. Rat sees people reverting to the mean—resuming usual behavior—and so concludes the strip with, “I miss stay-at-home orders.”
Going forward, Washington may put more money into researching viruses and developing medications to prevent disaster when the next pandemic strikes.
Yet tens of millions of Americans deny COVID-19’s lethality, citing pre-existing conditions as the culprit. Conservative states Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia have the lowest vaccination rates and so the highest vulnerability to the deadlier Delta variant (usafacts.org). For many Republicans, COVID presents a political issue rather than one of public health.
Coming out of lockdown, the Biden administration has faced Congressional opposition to a new voting rights act and is only part-way towards funding critical infrastructure. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell may prove a difficult obstacle even though a majority of Americans favor infrastructure measures. Our political system over-weights minority influence, so the Senate filibuster remains, enabling Republicans to prevent debate on pending and new legislation. (Democrats favor the filibuster when they constitute the minority.)
Has the pandemic produced positives? Many Americans will continue using “new” technology to restructure their lives, often working from home part- or full-time. This will provide more time with their families, possibly a mixed bag. Years ago, I worked from home to help take care of my kids. My productivity and earning potential faced limitations. Ultimately, my business growing, I moved into an office north of the Financial District.
Some people will live far from their offices. Friends left San Francisco, where they worked, for Phoenix. Both work remotely. They plan to move elsewhere—115-degree days can be a bit much in the Valley of the Sun—and will continue with their jobs.
Still, violent crime, surging in big cities, may continue to plague us. The gap between rich and poor shows little sign of narrowing. And culture wars fanned by right and left will keep the nation divided.
I’m no Pollyanna seeing everything as blue skies and roses, and I’m no Cassandra predicting imminent doom. But the last pandemic a century ago, the Spanish Flu, indicates that human nature often resists change. The American economy boomed in the 1920s but didn’t eradicate poverty. Jim Crow continued. The Depression created great misery. Abroad, Nazi Germany militarized and imperiled the world. And that was just the start.
We move forward and backward, prisoners of our complex natures. We might wish to keep our hopes in check while maintaining our determination to build a better future.
The Mishna (Pirke Avot 2) quotes Rabbi Tarfon: “You are not required to complete the work, but you are not free do abandon it.” We have lots to do.
The blog will take next Friday off with a new post appearing on July 9.
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