Sunday, May 31, 2020

Journal of the Plague Months: Vol. 3, No. 3 --- Reflections at the end of a sorrowful Sunday

We may not be free to move around in it at the moment, but the world is nonetheless a sorry mess.

Consider only these few headlines from Sunday's newspapers:

"Fury in the Streets as Protests Spread Across the U.S." -- The New York Times

"Unrest spreads as police cars, government buildings set on fire" -- The Washington Post

"Across the country, cities take stock after a night of protests" -- The Boston Globe

"Street patrols, anger and fear follow a night of escalating violence" -- The Los Angeles Times

“George Floyd protests: National Guard to have 'limited presence' in Chicago; 240 arrests, 1 fatal shooting, city reduces access into downtown area" -- The Chicago Tribune

"Swift show of force in Mpls. pushes out curfew violators" -- Minneapolis StarTribune

You get the idea: This is a sad Sunday in America, a day in which racial disparities, the coronavirus, unfocused and focused outrage, and a general mood of despair are proving that we are all in this together. The problem of course is that the "this" in which we all find ourselves is the chaos that has come roaring to the surface of a country that until recently has been closed for business.

As society's doors began to swing open, a lot more came rushing through them than the desire once again to dine at restaurants.

And all of this is happening during a time when we can't even agree on whether to wear masks that protect our communal health.

According to a recent article in Vox, Shan Soe-Lin, described as Yale global health specialist, said that if the US "had masked up sooner, I think we could have prevented a lot of these infections."

But some still see mask-wearing as an assault on their freedom. Freedom to what? Get sick or make someone else sick?

By the way, if you're against mask-wearing and you ever happen to need surgery, insist that your doctor not be "masked up" because you don't want to violate his or her inherent rights. Perhaps doctors who want to defend their freedoms also should be permitted to operate without gloves or protective surgical gowns.

I know the slogan that animates some patriots is "Give me liberty or give me death," but I don't know that Patrick Henry had Covid-19 in mind when he said it.

You can find a variety of studies that support the efficacy of mask-wearing, but that's not my point.

My point is that we find ourselves in a sorrowful state or perhaps it's a state in which our woe has become more painfully evident than ever.

America had racial issues before Covid-19. Police-community relations in minority neighborhoods were far from idyllic. The erosion of even a modicum of goodwill between the country's polarized political factions was apparent long before anyone had thought about "social distancing" as anything more than the search for a little peace and quiet.

But, as others rightly have observed, Covid-19 has turned up the temperature and no feel-good bromides can lower the heat.

If you think about the US as a Venn diagram, you get the picture. The more the circles overlap, the more coherent and stable the society. But the now unavoidable truth is that the circles are moving further apart: black and white America, masked and unmasked America, armed and unarmed America, religious and secular America, rich and poor America, hungry and well-fed America, and more.

We mostly knew this to be true, but the fragmented nature of society seems so much clearer now that we don't have multiplex mega-movies and sports to blur the view, distracting us and creating a fragile impression that we share the same culture. Given our current deprivations, it seems pointless to channel our furies into arguments about whether Joker is an anarchic beauty of a movie or an exploitative piece of crap.

These days, you can't bury your head far enough into the sand to deny that we're mired in a dismal, balkanized morass. More serious thinkers than yours truly have taken to wondering whether the US has become "a failed state."

If you're not already alarmed enough, you should read George Packer's Atlantic article, "We Are Living in a Failed State. The coronavirus didn't break America. It revealed what was already broken."

As I worked my way through the Sunday papers, my heart sank; I could find little to prove Packer wrong.

It's enough to make you weep.

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