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Stop the Coronavirus from Killing the American Dream
We are not living in a “new normal”. We are suffering a dystopian nightmare. We have created a narrative designed to break people down.
Consider the destruction we have done to ourselves in the last six months. We have decomposed social order. We have wiped out the rules of right and wrong. We are systematically empowering the favored to destroy whatever they want. We are stigmatizing good people declaring all unfavored thought to be subversive.
Remember those everyday interactions with the old world? The grumbling about the obstacle course of the commute, the non-verbal mingling of sights, sounds, and smells of the workday, the ritual of lunch, the social theater of non-task one-on-one and group interaction. That was normality. All of it was suddenly yanked out from under America’s workforce.
We became refugees in our own homes. We were restricted from leaving unless we could prove necessity and then only under strict conditions. But we also see the unfairness of others allowed to roam freely, more favored by the newest powers that be.
The closest thing to that kind of mass social upheaval is having a conquering army invade and drive everyone into refuge. Everything goes upside down. People muster their inner strength and tell themselves this is temporary. Thus, starts the brain rot that builds inside people’s souls that ends, inevitably, in despair.
After half a year of mental trauma, I am seeing even the strongest and most focused among us beginning to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It does not bode well for our nation unless we find the strength to reverse this malaise.
Life in 2020 is a little like reading “The Metamorphosis” by Kafka. We are reduced to laboratory specimens. Rats in a cage that do not deserve life, liberty, or the pursuit happiness. We are only here to serve as the tools by which the scientists carry out their mysterious experiments. How the animal farm feels about it is immaterial. We were no longer humans.
At the beginning of 2020, America surrendered its trust to a small band of scientists and public health officials because of an invisible threat that we knew little about and, at the time, feared was an escaped germ from the very facilities that these people came from. We put our faith into people that we should have known were not equipped to look out for⏤nor wisely balance the needs of a society of 330 million people. This was a strategic blunder on everyone’s part. We trusted. But we did not verify. We need to fix this.
Individuality is “Canceled”
In the America before COVID-19, each of us would have asked such questions as a matter of common sense in how we interact with every person we encounter. They would have mattered to us, and we would have mattered to them.
In that lost world, if you knew yourself to be around people at risk, you would instinctively up your game to look out for the less fortunate, in that moment, for that person. Because it was the right thing to do. It is a gesture of human kindness in a world that is often far too unkind.
COVID-19 has taught everyone to view everyone else as suspect. Anyone within six feet is a stranger danger. Anyone without a mask is a mass murderer. Zero tolerance. Guilt without trial.
The emergence of the vile “Karen” personality type that attacks first and must be shamed, prosecuted or sued back into normal behavior is the fault of a system that ceased to see us as individuals.
This is plain wrong. It’s the abandonment of too much of the American social compact. The only way to reverse that is to make US public policy⏤one that says both officials and individuals have a responsibility to do so as part of any decision or encounter in our lives.
But I do not hear officialdom doing this. Now, even corporations are beginning to think about avoiding reputational risk by telling their employees to call the cops if someone is not wearing a mask. Ah those in the Environment and Social Responsibility departments, the industrial strength version of “Karening”. What will they write into the employee manuals next? Will we wait until it gets out of hand before mitigating their behavior? Note, the cops are being defunded and this is probably not a priority 911 call.
The Non-Essential Must Disappear
I am seeing a growing social problem manifest in people who are not part of any frontline role in the fight against COVID-19. The mental trauma of being non-essential is debilitating to people’s souls. The initial euphoria of “we’re all in this together” has long ago faded into the dung heap of platitudes.
What’s left are people with lives and senses of well-being shattered by the realization that they are not essential. Officialdom bought time by printing money and giving out massive aid to buy time for the coronavirus to be brought under control. But it was not brought under control. That much, people have figured out. And people are beginning to give up.
We see people beginning to let go of their old dreams. We are seeing lifetimes of self-image and pride shatter. Small businesses are closing. Their former owners leave sad notes on the glass windows of vacated strip malls apologizing to their communities that they just could not hang on anymore. Entrepreneurs cashing in. They say there may or may not be another day. Many say they just do not see the point of the chase anymore. People abandoning urban cities. These are one-way migrations. There will be many more Detroit downtowns soon. These are things that will take decades to repair. For the former employees, nothing to replace the loss. On the scale of 330 million people, that changes the rules of operation of the world’s largest economy worth $16 trillion dollars in gross domestic product.
Most office workers may never see a workplace again even if COVID-19 passes into history. The economics have been altered and these people will have to learn to live more permanently isolated lives. This is a proven formula for mental distress because people are social creatures. Living in a cage may seem normal to some; but for many others, it is a disaster.
In the principles of neuro linguistic programming also known as brainwashing, if a person is exposed to the same story long enough, no matter how untrue that story may be, the human mind will begin to absorb and adapt to whatever alternate reality that story is.
Everything has consequences. Cooped up people go stir crazy. They latch on to artificial things with little in the way of human interaction to moderate wild hair opinions. It turns people into zombies. What happens to the unruly on the internet is simple, they disappear. And it is possible to do that by throttling as few as 4 or 5 companies, much the same as the social scoring system is attempting in China.
But these are real people and they do not disappear in the real world. They linger. They suffer. They die.
That is the old model of social upheaval and reconstruction anyway. There are numerous instances of it in human history. All brutal. All not what we should want in America. I believe we can do better.
The immediate problem that no one wants to address is that the non-essential scheduled to be forgotten in America already number in the tens of millions. So far there is no substantive discussion of plans on how to change society to accommodate them. This is despite the fact, for all practical purposes, their displacement has already happened.
It will not do. Not for me anyway. I am of a mind to argue to replace this rule of engagement with a better alternative. We must not accept the disappearance of so many Americans from our economy or our society. I believe that in America, for the sake of the American Dream, life must find a way.
I find myself asking where is the debate about four-day or even three-day work weeks and job sharing as a new model for the American economy? Where is the narrative about how we are going to redefine what a living wage is in America? What quality of life means?
I think it’s time to consider big questions like⏤if more of Americans are working from home and what work there is only takes 4 days of the week per wage earner, do we really need the babysitting cost of K-12 education anymore? And if we rely more on remote education, shouldn’t we offer the same access to all those adult’s that were left behind so the entire American workforce catches up?
Let me put this another way, in the real world everyone is on the front line. There is no such thing as a non-essential person in America. I am not willing to give up on my fellow Americans.
Official Loopholes are Stupid
This is probably the dumbest and most destructive artifact of the American experience with the coronavirus. We have let politics become a legitimate loophole to do too many ridiculous things. The notion that one careless person wipes out the efforts of thousands of people is true. What we must also remember is that the careless person may be the public official.
The practice by public health officials as well as state and city governments to selectively favor some causes and condemn others because they do not want to upset constituencies is malarkey. It shows that these officials do not believe their own words. It has evaporated all trust that the public put in them at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, every word is suspect. There is no one to blame here except the public officials themselves.
There is Little Faith Left
I have little faith that a second round of quarantine will accomplish anything because the ineffective strategies of the first one being applied a second time will yield the same outcome medically and double the destruction to the economy and society. That is clearly the dumbest thing we can do.
Before I trust public officials again, I want to see the plan to test every person in America free. We need to get a clearer picture of how big a problem we face. This statistical guessing game of the last six months brings me little comfort or trust at this point. It is time to demand better accountability.
I also want to see better information on more finely tuned risk management given the learning that has been gained at great cost over the past six months. This bludgeoning a dead horse with lowest common denominator pony tricks is old news. Other countries have progressed well past this witch doctor level of coping. Is the American medical establishment so far below the necessary level of competence that they do not know how to communicate effectively with the American public?
All I have seen lately is statistics and “trust us”. Nope. That is not good enough anymore. You want cooperation tomorrow? Better earn it with real data presenting in an understandable form that individuals can use. And no more of this health department makes the call alone hocus pocus. Our economy is in trouble and I am not really of a mind for it to lose anymore ground.
As to the political process, let us be real, votes in November will not fix this. There were no votes to create the train wreck of the last six months. COVID-19 was a story of one-side taking advantage of the other side’s complacency. The cost to the nation is that the natural balance that kept the social compact evaporated. This was a street level phenomenon that resulted from official incompetency. The only solution to re-establish trust is to rebuild that balance from the ground up, one American at time, valuing all Americans equally. Only then will whatever deficiencies in leadership there are⏤correct themselves.
Heads up D.C. I really do not care whether that means Donald Trump wins the election because it might accidentally look good to see the US pick up steam again before November. Americans are not dumb. If the economy continues to tank, we already know who to blame for interfering with getting to yes.
Dennis Santiago is an author and commentator on national policy and global stability issues. His subject matter expertise was developed during the Cold War as a strategic warfare systems analyst, missile defense architect, and arms control analyst. He is the author of the US Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense. Dennis has worked on conventional warfare, nuclear warfare, and asymmetric warfare. His expertise includes combat aircraft, ordnance, electronic warfare, command and control, campaign design, and game theory.