Our Abnormal New Normal

I was driving with my grandson last week, and we passed a long line of people winding around a building.  He asked why all those folks—who were “sort of” practicing social distancing—were lining the sidewalks, and I explained they were waiting to shop at our local marijuana dispensary.  After a few seconds of forehead-furrowing thought, he had just one more question: “Why are the stores selling drugs open, but my school is closed?”

Out of the mouths of babes, right?

I am not certain our nation will ever be the same after today’s Coronavirus-induced panic finally gives way to the sad effort to salvage what we can from this self-created catastrophe.  The determination of both the media and politicians to justify their statements and actions will mean we will be relentlessly exposed to a narrative that bears little resemblance to daily reality, and we can be certain that they will assure us that they are utterly blameless for the misery all around.   

We will be told—with a jackhammering persistence bordering on desperation—that we must struggle to recover from the damage done to our nation by the virus itself.  This lie will be repeated each hour in the vain hope it will eventually acquire a patina of truth.  

However, the fact of the matter is starkly different.  We will not be recovering from a virus; we will be recovering from the insane overreaction to the appearance of a virus.  Errant political decision making and media-induced madness has led to a societal pandemic of panic that has transformed a health problem primarily afflicting those who are elderly and/or already ill—which is what viruses always tend to do—into a calamitous economic disaster that, in the final analysis, will cause far more misery and death than the Coronavirus ever could.

It must, of course, be recognized that early assessments of the risks to the public pegged the possible death toll much higher, and it was reasonable for elected and appointed officials to proceed with caution and plan for the worst.  However, what is both remarkable and puzzling is that no adjustments were made and no restrictions eased when the initial projections were shown to be both wildly inaccurate and entirely unreliable.  If anything, the noose grew yet tighter as those in charge continued along the same path of shutting down most commerce and demanding all Americans stay in their homes in order to avoid infection.  

The twisted logic behind this stubborn adherence to a course of action certain to inflict maximum pain and result in minimal health benefits—it would, for example, have made much more sense to simply quarantine nursing homes—is difficult to discern without a microscope.  Consequently, it is hard to escape the suspicion that some must have thought that there was political benefit to be had from sabotaging what was only a couple of months ago a roaring engine of economic growth.  I hate to have to think this way, but I cannot understand why a course correction was wholly out of the question when more reliable information was made available to those whom we elect to watch out for the best interests of our nation and citizens.  Our nation’s current leadership is either incredibly stupid or deliberately duplicitous—neither of which warrants their reelection in November.

So here we are today.  We live in a nation facing catastrophic unemployment, exploding government budget deficits, vulnerable pension and retirement systems ready to be rocked by the economic blowback, businesses shuttering their doors, our systems of education preparing to be ravaged by budget cuts and closures, futures put on hold or constricted, drug and alcohol abuse on the rise, families and individuals pushed to the breaking point, and unsurprising unrest pulsing throughout our nation as people of all political stripes endlessly argue about the best way to walk on two broken legs.

It is neither unfair nor unreasonable to point out that the cure has been far worse than the disease, and perhaps we are learning some hard lessons about the consequences of governmental overreach and excessive partisanship.  Although it is certainly true that there is a huge gulf that now separates our two major political parties in terms of philosophy and priorities, we are also receiving an object lesson regarding the problems sure to result from continuing to make governing decisions based solely on what will advantage one’s own political party or loyal voters.  If every discussion descends to a bare knuckle political brawl, both sides are left bleeding and vengeful, and the same ugly process is certain to repeat itself—again and again.

It is also the case that decades of magical political thought is crashing headlong into harsh reality.  The expectation created over many years by smooth taking politicians and their media enablers that everyone could have everything they ever wanted in unlimited quantities and delivered in the most convenient and nonjudgmental manners imaginable—while also ensuring that joy and comfort would be never ending—just crashed into a fiscal wall.  

Perhaps the so-called “V-shaped recovery” is just over the horizon, but having now terrified Americans into cowering in their homes, I am not holding my breath in expectation of a consumer-driven recovery.  Our economic renewal will be largely dependent upon human interaction, trust, and hope, but all of these—like toilet paper—seem in desperately short supply at the moment.

The psychology of the shutdowns and lockdowns has been unbelievably damaging; their practical applications have been beyond ludicrous.  

The sales of booze, weed, cigarettes, and lottery tickets—all of which (surprise!) put money in the state tax coffers—have been subject to no restrictions at all.  I can go to the hardware store and buy a curtain rod, purchase a candy bar while gassing up my car, and shop at a grocery store.  However, I can’t go to a shoe store, exercise at my local gym, or attend a house of worship.  Schools, sports, and swimming pools are out, but I can still pay for my curtain rod, gasoline, candy bar, and groceries in cash and have the change returned to me by a bare-handed clerk whose mask has drooped down to their weary upper lip over the course of the work day.  

Should I feel safe or angry as I look to the uncertain and dreary road ahead for our nation? I know I am not the only American asking this question today, and the answers we all arrive at will determine the course of our country for a great many years to come.

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