Searching for Optimism

We’re halfway through the worst year most of us can imagine and it’s difficult to feel optimistic about the future. In the United States there has been a resurgence of coronavirus cases. The economy teeters on the brink of a depression. And President Trump has abandoned his post. Nonetheless, there’s a ray of hope: once you acknowledge the social order is broken, you can set about rebuilding it.

A June 30 Pew Research Poll (https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/06/30/publics-mood-turns-grim-trump-trails-biden-on-most-personal-traits-major-issues/) found Americans to be angry and unhappy: “As the United States simultaneously struggles with a pandemic, an economic recession and protests about police violence and racial justice, the share of the public saying they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country has plummeted… to just 12% today.”  Citizen understand that we have a serious problem.  Conditions are ripe for change.

At this point it appears certain that the November 3rd presidential election will be held in the middle of a pandemic and an economic depression.  It looks like Joe Biden will win and that Democrats will take control of Congress.  On November 4th we’ll still be in a deep hole, but we can begin digging out.

Because we’re experiencing a catastrophe, there’s opportunity for transformational change. Change in three areas: personal, communal, and societal.

1.Personal Change: slow down.  One of the consequences of the pandemic is that it has forced most of us — those who take COVID-19 seriously — to slow down.  It’s more difficult to travel so many of us are working at home.  It’s more complicated for us to do all of our daily chores so all those activities take more time and effort.  For those of us with children, we’re having to spend more time with child care.  Most of us are not going out to restaurants and bars.

It’s a good thing for us to slow down.  American capitalism is stressful.  It takes a toll on our health and sanity.  Americans are chronically sleep deprived (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html).  Compared to other developed countries, U.S. citizens get less time off (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/15/statista-how-far-behind-us-is-in-paid-time-off-compared-to-the-world.html).

Of course, to actually change the pace of our lives requires more support from the larger society.  Many of us live fast-paced lives because we have to work long hours, or more than one job, in order to make ends meet.  For Americans to be able to slow down means that the social safety net has to be substantially strengthened.  There’s a personal element involved — the desire to slow down — and a communal element — support for life at a different pace.

2. Communal Change: invest in people.  The pandemic has reminded us that while technology can help us, people save us.  Community support is essential for survival.

The pandemic has made it clear that we need healthcare professionals and emergency-service providers, in general.  We rely upon the folks that provide our food supplies.  And the workers that keep the lights on and the mail delivered and the trash hauled away.  None of us live in isolation; we rely upon all sorts of folks to keep our support systems running.

Sadly, most of the “essential” workers, that I have mentioned, are the same folks that often have to work long hours, or two jobs, in order to make ends meet; the same folks that are chronically stressed.  We need to pay these workers a living wage and make sure they receive decent benefits like healthcare.  (78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/09/shutdown-highlights-that-4-in-5-us-workers-live-paycheck-to-paycheck.html )).

The theme of the coming transformation should be to invest in people.  We must dramatically strengthen the social safety net for all American workers.  In order to do this, we will have to tax the rich in order to provide a humane lifestyle for working Americans.

3. Societal Change: prepare for climate change.  The coronavirus pandemic is a forerunner of the devastation that will be wrought by climate change.  As temperatures increase, sea-levels rise, and weather patterns  becomes more extreme, many Americans will have to make wrenching changes in their daily lives.

Covid-19 has caused a public health crisis.  Climate change is causing a public health crisis.  The coronavirus requires us to either shelter-in-place or flee.  Climate change — for example,   catastrophic storms — means that we either shelter-in-place or flee.  Covid-19 disproportionately impacts challenged populations: the poor and those without good healthcare.  Climate change disproportionately impacts challenged populations.  Etcetera.

Pandemic politics and climate-change politics are similar.  There are pandemic deniers and there are climate-change deniers.  Anti-science Americans rail against pandemic policy — such as mask wearing — and they will rail against climate-change policy such as carbon taxes.

As bad as the pandemic will get, things will get worse with climate change because many U.S. regions will have to be depopulated — for example, because of sea-level rise.

Summary: There’s a lot riding on the November 3rd presidential election. It appears certain that this election  will be held in the middle of a pandemic and an economic depression.  It looks like Joe Biden will win and that Democrats will take control of Congress.  This is reason for optimism.

On January 20, 2021, we can begin rebuilding the United States.