“I can’t wait to get back to normal” is a frequent refrain today. How likely is it that the world-wide coronavirus pandemic will permit such a return? One certainty is that our journey forward will not end any time soon. But now that several states have begun to open up, it’s worth thinking about changes that are likely to come, or not to come. With a keen sense that I may be mistaken, I submit the following:
The economy: Though some politicians predict a quick recovery, Bill Gates says it will be “slow and fitful.” Already, unemployment numbers surpass those of the Great Depression. Attuned to market demand, companies will move slowly. Moreover, thousands of small businesses will declare bankruptcy or simply disappear. Large ones, utilizing technology, will inch back with fewer workers, and new starts will favor online marketing and sales.
Health care: The pandemic has reminded us that our health-care system needs reform. While the federal government will cover coronavirus-related medical bills, unemployed millions not eligible for Medicaid will be on their own. The American health-care system, often tied to employment, is the world’s most expensive; yet in terms of life expectancy, childhood mortality and other quality measures, the U.S. ranks in the lower half of industrialized nations. It is unlikely that the opposition of health and insurance sectors with their high-powered lobbying efforts will be successfully overcome.
Respect for science and facts: For a generation we’ve seen combat between experts and partisans, between facts and “alternative” facts. When we speak of health, climate change and large matters of public policy, we need leaders who talk straight, who avoid going down rabbit holes about the boundless powers of untested drugs or the possibility of injecting disinfectants into our bodies to “clean” our lungs. So stark have been the advantages of science over naive thinking that one of the positive consequences of the pandemic may prove to be renewed appreciation for data-based analyses.
Climate: We are better able to see that climate change is here in full force. CO2 emissions are down and city air is cleaner. Compare a photo of any industrial city two months ago with one taken today. They clearly demonstrate that we can do something to improve our climate – and our odds of healthy living. For now, polarization stands in the way of people doing what is necessary.
Higher education: Colleges and universities are empty for the most part, their students at home, while some are taking online courses. What now? Will colleges be able to open? And if so, will students – with their unemployed parents – be able to make tuition payments? Elite universities and big-name public universities, with endowment funds north of a billion dollars, will weather the storm. However, small tuition-driven private colleges are at risk. For many it is emergency time. They face enrollment decreases that will cause some to founder, even close.
World politics and cooperation: With most of the world’s nations reporting cases of coronavirus, perhaps the biggest global crisis since World War II, it would appear reasonable to expect a new era of cooperation. Richard Haas, American diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is not so sanguine. ‘’The world that will emerge from the crisis will be recognizable,” he writes. “Waning American leadership, faltering global cooperation, great-power discord: all of these characterized the international environment before the appearance of Covid-19….They are likely to be even more prominent features of the world that follows.”
Politics and culture wars: Earlier this month several historic bills designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus have passed with bipartisan support in Congress. A poll recently conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that government recommendations on the prevention of Covid-19 infections are about right.
Together with an awareness that we are all in this together, positive signs of a more cooperative spirit are emerging. However, those who have observed or participated in two decades of corrosive partisanship and self-indulgent culture wars have good cause to feel uneasy about the outcome.
Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.