The Fog of Pandemic: We Can’t Afford to Be Distracted
The Millennial Republican by S. Nagle
Two weeks ago a friend of mine forwarded a picture of herself wearing her new t-shirt.Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands. It was a cute moment in a dark week of dealing with the economic fallout of “shut-down” and the emotional confusion of this new age of “The Corona.” Quite frankly I was glad of the laugh… there was something brave about it, silly, good humored and responsible. Like me, Liz was self-quarantining. Not because either of us were sick —not that we knew of—but because, like so many Republican women of every generation, we were trying to do the right thing. We were trying to be responsible. And just over four weeks ago a San Francisco Bay Area official decided that “social distancing” was the responsible way to save lives. Shortly thereafter the Governor of California leaped on the shut-down bandwagon and I got distracted. The rest of the time-line is something I will figure out later. I lived through it. I am living through it. But like most of us normal folks —most of us non-political types, non-governmental types — I got lost in the fog of pandemic.
My life got weirdly busy and weirdly boring. I spent a week and a half cancelling things. Cancelling business trips. Cancelling a trip for pleasure. I was supposed to be at a wedding this coming weekend. Not my wedding —so far I’ve always been a never the bride, never the bridesmaid, always the polite and genuinely happy guest type— but I had been looking forward to showing up at Our Lady of the Sorrows in my green dress. Drinking a toast to the new couple at the reception. The wedding has, like so many life events, been postponed due to coronavirus. The airlines at least made it easy to cancel flights. So easy it was sad. I tapped a button and it was cancelled and I sat for a moment in front of my laptop wondering how many lost life events and cancelled plans were disappearing in the digital wilderness. The markers of life victims of coronavirus.
But… needs must. Keep calm. Wash your hands. I had work to do. And as the weeks went past —as I write this it is the beginning of week five of “shut-down”— I was increasingly grateful for my work. Because it was increasingly obvious that regardless of the individual victims of coronavirus the American economy was also a victim of coronavirus. And no matter what my semi-employed part-time DJ not-giving-up-on-artistic-dreams-by-just-giving-in-and getting-a-job Millennial quasi contemporaries say the American economy isn’t about corporate fat-cats. The American economy consists of tens of millions of individual workers, millions of small businesses. The American economy isn’t about numbers, it is about people. If you aren’t living off student loan debt, trust funds, parents or retirement savings, your job or your business is how you live.
But, for most of us, a job isn’t really just about money. During the American Revolution the French aristocrats who volunteered to fight with Washington against the British were perpetually impressed by how happy their American friends were to talk about their businesses and farms. For the next two hundred years genteel Europeans continued to be impressed —not always in a good way— by how commercially motivated and work focused Americans were. To outsiders it seemed crass, crude… lacking in artistic sensibilities. In a weird way my contemporaries who don’t want to “give up” and just “get a job” have the same sneering disdain for working America as any class conscious 19th century Aristocrat cruising for a rich American heiress to marry. And they are equally out of touch.
A job doesn’t have to define you. But it does shape you. Even if you hate your job you often like the people you work with. Even a tedious job often feels relevant. And… if nothing else, a paycheck is nice. A paycheck is a lot nicer than waiting for an unemployment check.Basically, the way I see it a job isn’t about giving up. A job is about taking control of your own future. A job gives you choices and opportunities. Even a modest paying job offers opportunities and choices of how you spend your money.
I miss choices. I’m now living in a world where there don’t seem to be a lot of choices. I can go to a supermarket. I can go to a pharmacy. I can buy gas at a gas station. I can go to the Post Office. I can take a walk in my own neighborhood. (But I can’t drive to a local park and walk there… there are signs… even the cold mile long beaches of northern California are “closed for public health concerns.”) But I can’t go to a movie theatre, or play miniature golf, or eat in a restaurant. I can’t go to a shoe store and buy a new pair of shoes. (I kind of need a new pair of sneakers, I’ve been walking a lot. Running up hill is the only time I don’t feel upset right now.) I can’t see friends. Or take a class. I can’t go to a gym. I can’t buy paint. I can’t get my haircut. I can’t drive down Main Street and see an open store. I can’t go to church. Ironically I can have cannabis delivered to my home legally if I want to… but in the age of social distancing, in the most stressful period millions of Americans have ever lived through, we can’t go to a religious space, can’t meet with friends, can’t even go to an AA meeting. (Disturbing if you think about the fact that one of the few places lonely, scared and depressed people can now legally go is the liquor store.)
Next week I may not even be allowed to shop in a supermarket without wearing a mask. Three weeks ago officials on television were saying masks don’t do any good for the general public. Two weeks ago the same television officials said masks do help… in fact masks are such important life saving items they should be reserved for medical workers. So… the American people were lied to… for the good of the system. A week ago a friend mailed me a mask she sewed herself. She downloaded the pattern off the internet. An act of kindness… an essentially American sort of thing… When you have a problem you try to make something that will fix it… or at least tied you over. I felt both sad and happy when I opened the envelope… Happy she had thought of me… sad that this is what we have come to as a country. I wore my homemade mask today when I went out to buy groceries. I felt blissfully happy to have eggs and cheese and milk again. It is the first time I have bought groceries in 13 days. But I felt sad too… buying a box of eggs shouldn’t feel like negotiating an illicit deal.
So tonight I had an omelette for dinner… and I thought about what we have lost in the fog of pandemic. People have died. Over twenty thousand Americans have died in the past two months as a result of Covid19. Over fifteen million Americans are now unemployed. The economy has, frankly, been gut shot. Economically we aren’t on life support. We aren’t in hibernation. We aren’t even on a ventilator. We are in free fall.As a nation we are falling blind through the fog. People are going to food pantries who have NEVER gone to a food pantry. Twenty five to thirty percent of renters didn’t pay their rent on the first of the month. Businesses are shuttered. My California suburb looks like the set of a one star zombie movie. And me? I’m blissfully happy I managed to score some eggs and cheese. The optimistic side of me tells me this will teach us to appreciate the little things… Make do and mend… The pessimistic side of me worries that we will lose so much that the gains —however precious— will seem like cold comfort indeed.
For the past four weeks we’ve been lost in the fog. Acting and reacting… Sadly political pork, partisanship and pettiness haven’t been casualties of the pandemic. Tens of millions of Americans have been forced off the job, millions of businesses have been forced to close their doors… but the relief act passed by Congress included millions of dollars in “help” money for some of the most well endowed art institutes in the country. I love art… a day out at a museum is a good day for me. But if I have to choose between kids getting fed and the Kennedy Center getting a few bucks…. well, as far as I’m concerned the kids win every time.
It isn’t just the money. We are throwing away money and mis-spending money just to cut a deal and get something done… But we’re distracted. Frightened… and people are taking advantage of that to push personal agendas that may hurt us all for years to come.
Mail in voting? It may happen. And it will almost certainly lead to a corrupted vote tally. Early release of prisoners? Sounds fair… it always sounds fair. Older prisoners, non violent offenders, etc. But we all know some name will be added to an early release list that shouldn’t be… Predators will be released to prey upon the weak, the vulnerable and the innocent. Meanwhile law enforcement officers will be tacking up signs at barely visited parks telling people to stay home. And small businesses? Well… small businesses are the engine that creates jobs for the middle class in this country. And everyone says they want to help… but the small businesses are being crushed. Worse, their complaints are being ignored.
We are lost in the fog of pandemic. We are being told to panic. Social media has turned Stay Home into a hashtag and a meme. My Millennial contemporaries who looked the other way when their friends were overdosing have now turned into the social distancing police proudly chiding those they feel aren’t “compliant” enough. I’ve turned aside for the past week or two whenever I see a “friend” trumpet their social media delight and pleasure when someone they disapprove of politically gets sick. But they aren’t thinking… they are reacting. Masks are the new fashion accessory! Panic! Its a pandemic! Haven’t you heard? People are dying!!!!!!! If you ask questions, slow down…well…you just don’t care or you don’t understand! Panic, it is a pandemic! The problem is I’ve been reacting too… I’ve spent the last thirty days solving my little problems, not paying attention to the people out there taking advantage of the situation. And people are taking advantage of this situation. Forget the price gouging of fancy hand sanitizers sold in its bits bottles… Imagine the wealth of a country raided and squandered… the election process corrupted… local officials shredding the Bill of Rights. That is what is happening. And we aren’t even asking questions.
But it should be o.k. to ask questions. We need to ask questions. We need to think. And we REALLY need to pay attention. Because while we’re distracted, worrying about the economy, our friends, our relatives, how to buy eggs, people who never bother to worry about anything other than their ideology will take advantage of the situation. Chip away at our liberties, steal our future… create a generation of pain… and destroy the futures of millions. We can’t afford to get lost in the fog of pandemic. We can’t afford to stop paying attention.
So yeah… keep calm, wash your hands, laugh if you can, make jokes, whatever gets you through the day… but pay attention. We need to pay attention to save our way of life… because I don’t like the crazy new world of the new normal of coronavirus. As individuals and a nation we can’t afford to get lost in the fog of pandemic.