Like many of you out there, I’ve been quarantined to my house for the past month. I’m fortunate to work in an industry where doing my job is sometimes easier to do from home, so it hasn’t really affected me there. This makes me one of the really fortunate ones, as there is now an estimated 15 to 20 million people in the US who are now unemployed (and this is based on just people filing for unemployment — the number could be significantly higher).
I live in a good neighborhood, and although we generally stay on our property, we can still go outside and talk with the neighbors next door. Some neighbors are still gathering like they used to while others have definitely been keeping distant. Other than the fact that we leave the house a lot less, it would be hard to see that we are even in a pandemic.
A great number of people in this world, however, don’t have it so good. They live in poverty, squeezed into tight living spaces that are literally on top of each other. Some have no choice but to share bathrooms and kitchens and other common areas, making it difficult to prevent the spread of any disease. Some can’t just stay at home but have to continue going out so they can keep a job to feed their families.
Protests are starting to spring up claiming that we are being unfairly confined. That we are doing more harm by keeping businesses closed and forcing people to stay home. Some leaders even claim that it is more important to keep the economy going than to try and save lives. All of this is happening while over 50,000 people have already died in the US alone, about 5 times as many as the flu killed all of last year (and we are only 1/3 of the way through the year).
Our leadership continues to make promises that life will return to normal soon, even pushing to fully reopen the country by May (which is only 11 days away). Despite the fact that this push sounds like an attempt to get us back on track, deep down I feel that it is more about stopping the damage that this pandemic has had on the upper class. The government passed a stimulus bill which sounded like it was intended to help everyone, but most of that benefit went to companies and a lot of individuals haven’t received any benefit yet.
Some of us have already accepted the fact that this is likely to be a way of life for most of this year. Opening up the country again would simply turn the curve back upwards and cause more people to die. There are some concerns that this disease may be seasonal, and even though we may see deaths level off for a while, they could start going up again later in the year. Vaccines and a number of other treatments are still a long way off — vaccines won’t likely be generally available for 18 months.
The government has started talking about additional stimulus funds — possibly giving everyone a marginal income or forgiveness on rent and mortgages. While this sounds good, nothing like this comes for free. We will end up borrowing more and sending the deficit even higher. Countries that are lending us money will likely be more concerned about loaning to us, especially considering that our president would likely have no issue with simply defaulting on the loans and refusing to pay if someone comes to call.
We have an election coming up, and it is clear that the president has a lot of interest in appearing to be doing good while still maintaining the trust with his supporters. Both major parties will likely try to use the pandemic as the most important issue of the campaign, and although they are playing nice now, things will get really ugly if this pandemic is still a major factor in our lives around November.
One thing that is clear, though, is that a disaster like this was overdue. We have staggering economic inequality and a large portion of the population living in poverty. Our president has gradually rolled back a lot of protections against corruption and eliminated a lot of social programs that help people when things go sour. The country has become polarized and divided and our leadership has been largely ignoring it as a problem.
For Trump, this will definitely be his defining moment. The lies and false promises were a cornerstone of his presidency, but this will really test whether he actually has the ability to guide a country through a major crisis. So far, it doesn’t look good, and we haven’t even seen the worst of it yet. We can only hope that reason will eventually prevail and that our country will get back on track, whether or not Trump is at the helm.