What Has The Coronavirus Revealed About America?
I've been way more engaged in consuming mainstream politics for the past ~4-5 months than I usually am.
I guess that's what happens when a deadly virus is running rampant across the United States of America during an election year.
I've been thinking about what I would say about the pandemic for a long time. Criticizing Trump for a non-existent federal response to the crisis or blaming Americans for not adhering to wearing masks would be just beating a dead horse. Those critiques would be too easy to make.
I'm trying to get at something deeper here. Something that hasn't been said yet.
A respected journalist had words of wisdom related to what a pandemic means for society:
"...history actually teaches us that epidemics are more like revelatory moments than social transformers."
COVID-19 has revealed the complete and utter the absence of the common good in American society.
(Note: this does not imply that the common good doesn't exist. It does as an inherent consequence of living in a society. However, just because the common good exists doesn't mean it has a central presence in public discussion, hence the absence I refer to. In other words, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.)
What do I mean by the common good? I think the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution gives a reasonable conception of it:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The "common defense." The "general welfare." All to construct and sustain a "more perfect Union."
Does the U.S.'s response to coronavirus look anything like trying to protect and preserve these ideas we enshrined in our founding documents?
It goes without saying that the Trump administration has failed in containing coronavirus, or that groups of Americans have been irresponsible in adhering to public health safety guidelines.
The U.S. has virtually done everything wrong in preventing the virus from spreading. I'm not going to bother in listing the explicit actions taken (or more importantly, not taken) to get us to this point.
The results speak for themselves: 3.6M+ cases, 139K+ deaths.
Do you see any respect or priority for the common good here?
The results are damning on their own, but I need to drive home my point. The clearest example of the absence of the common good is how we discuss wearing masks.
When the discussion around wearing a mask ceases to be a matter of public safety and turns into a political debate, that is the absence of the common good.
At that point, it's not a matter of what public health safety measures should be adopted to protect our most vulnerable; it becomes a matter of whether wearing a mask either enhances or inhibits one's freedom (freedom to infect others?).
It's such an immature conception of freedom, and the debate over wearing masks is pathetic in how it supersedes common sense.
I could go on. So what does that mean for individuals such as myself who do respect the existence of the common good?
The unfortunate conclusion I've arrived at is being involved in any further discussion about American politics is utterly useless. When matters of collective survival are reduced to petty, individual politics, that's the sign of a culture, of a society, that has become functionally stagnant.
A lot of people are making the argument that America is collapsing or will collapse, or go far in making extreme anti-American statements as a response to the failures of our government.
America will not collapse. If anything, it will continue bumbling along, only being able to provide a declining standard of living for the majority of its citizens.
Anti-American statements are not helpful in fixing the problems we face either (although its a neat way to get tons of likes and retweets on Twitter!).
I've just come to the conclusion that COVID-19 as not only revealed the unavoidable decay (not end!) of our society, but also American's utter inability to solve the problem.
America's fundamental issue is not one of lack the technology or money to beat coronavirus, but one of imagination.
Americans cannot collectively imagine the common good as everyone's safety from COVID-19.
Thus, here we are now. For those who individuals who still can, I'm happy to count myself among your ranks.
I will still wear my mask when I go out in public. I will still social distance when I am out and about. I'll still abstain from seeing friends and going out to parties. I will do this as a sign of respect and value for your life and your loved ones, as I would hate to inadvertently transmit the virus to them.
But I will do all this knowing that other Americans won't do the same in kind for me and my loved ones.
And that's ok.
I won't be upset.
I'll make sure to stand six feet away from you per public health safety recommendations.
But I won't lie to myself and pretend we have any shared mutual interest on the basis of us being Americans.
Just don't be surprised when your calls for help go unheard when you need it the most.
As a great President once said:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.
It's sad - those words ring hollow now.