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Assault on America, Day 440: Seeking a slight glimpse of future hope among coronavirus doom

Shelter in Place
“We're all about to enter ‘The Real World’. That's what everybody says. But most of us have been in the real world for a long time. But I have something to tell everybody. I've glimpsed our future, and all I can say is... ‘Go Back’.” -- Diane Court (played by Ione Skye in the 1989 movie classic, Say Anything.)

This semi-famous movie quote reminded me of what’s taking place today in America with many of us living in virtual lock-down (self-imposed or otherwise) due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. While hundreds of thousands or even millions will go to the polls today in Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Florida to cast their votes for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders (or Tulsi Gabbard, we can only hope, right?) -- or President Donald Trump, if these states are conducting GOP primaries -- tens or hundreds of millions more will be watching at home, waiting to see what happens with the pandemic.

Very few of those trapped in their houses will give a hoot about the Democrat primaries, the results practically preordained and the outcome virtually decided in Biden’s favor. Perhaps it’s a positive that the liberals’ ultimate establishmentarian, Grampa Joe, vaulted from near political death to the undisputed -- and nearly unstoppable -- frontrunner within the span of two weeks’ time. Biden’s return from the wilderness lasted only about a third as long as the Lenten season (40 days for you church challenged folks, not including Sundays), which is pretty remarkable considering the entire country (world?) was bracing itself for an epic ideological battle between Sanders and Trump this fall. It ain’t happening.

Polling numbers, historical trends and common sense all indicate Biden will prevail so impressively today that the race will be all-but over, the Democrats’ proportional delegate awarding system precluding any kind of massive reversal of inevitable defeat for Sanders (who would need winner-take-all type power to start accumulating delegates by the bunch). All the better for the country, some would argue, because it frees people to concentrate on the battle against contagion and coronavirus engineered sickness.

Which is where we’re at now. Like the fictional Diane Court hinted at above, coronavirus has allowed us to glimpse our futures and many think they’d simply rather “go back.” Never in our wildest dreams could we have envisioned the present, where churches and other houses of worship, schools, sports leagues, movie theaters, amusement parks, businesses and (you-name-it-here) have agreed to or been ordered to temporarily shut down with the full knowledge that the period of confinement could last longer than anyone ever anticipated, or what the authorities are telling us to expect.

As everyone knows by now, there won’t be any “March Madness” NCAA basketball tournament, the NBA’s and NHL’s seasons are in limbo, the major league baseball season opener’s been pushed back indefinitely and The Masters may or may not be rescheduled for a later date. A year ago, who would’ve ever guessed Tiger Woods (who returned from his own sense of obscurity to capture his fifteenth major championship) wouldn’t be permitted to defend his title this year?

It certainly doesn’t end there. Will Easter observances be impacted? The calendar won’t change no matter who suggests it isn’t safe to go outside or congregate together. And sooner or later the hording of toilet paper will have to stop. Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but there won’t be any traditional parades and here’s thinking the drinking and revelry at local watering holes will be a fraction of what it would usually be (a good thing?). We live in strange times, for sure.

Debate is ongoing as to whether any of this is necessary, and if the last two-plus weeks are a guide, the political bickering will continue on where it (the virus) all started, whether sufficient measures were taken at the outset to try and stop the flow of disease and panic and if it was ordered quickly enough. No doubt Biden and Sanders will spend their last remaining pre-vote hours trying to fan the flames of anxiety in hopes of motivating fence-sitters (are there really any undecided voters left out there?) to go to the polls for them today.

Like it or not, nothing will be the same from here on out. One aspect of life that certainly could change -- in a constructive direction -- is more people will be working from home, which could have irrefutable benefits for lots of folks. The Editors of the Washington Examiner wrote over the weekend, “…The ability to work remotely can add two to three hours back into a typical office worker’s day — nearly 20% of his or her waking life. Remote work eliminates the costs, exhaustion, and environmental effects of commuting. It reduces traffic and, in the long run, the need for and expenses of car ownership. It allows employees to live in less expensive areas and regions, making the workforce less costly to maintain.

“Remote employees also enjoy the flexibility they need when children or family members are ill. Even while working, they can be a reassuring presence for their children returning home from school — no more ‘latch-key kids.’ Remote work allows employees to give their families the experience of extended vacations, during which they can work as needed as if they were right back at home.

“There is no reason to think the coronavirus will move most or all employers to shift to a remote workforce. But hopefully, many of them, upon giving it a try under the current duress, will come to appreciate its advantages in a way they hadn’t previously. With any luck, they will expand its use, showing employees that they are valued and trusted, and improving the psychological well-being of the white-collar workforce as a whole.”

Yes, thanks to rapid twenty-first century advances in computing and telecommunications technology, the white-collar workforce is afforded the luxury of performing their duties from the comfy confines of the home office (or even the couch). And as the Examiner’s Editors point out, the future would seem to point towards more and more of the gainfully employed working remotely. There aren’t a whole lot of encouraging things to be said about government imposed virtual quarantine, but the potential cultural shifts from home-based productivity can’t be discounted.

Needless to say, paper pushers from coast-to-coast don’t need to exit their front doors to put in their workdays and still receive a paycheck. These folks aren’t the ones to be worried about where coronavirus is involved. It’s the small business owners, restaurateurs, shopkeepers, amusement park workers, sports venue security guards, fast food managers and staffers, tradesmen and anyone who couldn’t possibly “dial it in” that are at issue. For them, the coronavirus panic and government-mandated change in routine are devastating.

Sure, Congress passed a money-stuffed bill to help those who can’t work through no fault of their own, but where does it logically conclude? Here in Williamsburg, Virginia, for example, the entire economy has been utterly disrupted. Local businesses are dependent on travelers from elsewhere as well as thousands (8617) of students at The College of William and Mary, and since tourists and visiting parents won’t be taking flights, trains or buses -- and staying in motels and hotels -- who’s going to make up for the lost economic activity?

There’s also the matter of local tax revenue. No tourists, so sales taxes, hotel taxes, etc. How will the shortfall be made up?

What about all the students who’ve all-but lost an entire semester to this crisis? Will the seventh graders who’re missing weeks or months of instruction ever catch up? Will summer “vacation” be canceled to try and account for the lost time? Can the travel industry sustain an entire year’s worth of cancellations? Who pays for it all? If it’s the federal government, this isn’t good either, since there’s sure to be a measurable dip in collections and explosion in borrowing.

The political class gushes about bipartisan efforts to appropriate and distribute tens of billions of dollars to those affected by economic malaise, but who qualifies for the aid? What forms are being thrown together and who’s tasked with reviewing the millions of applications for fraud? Having lived through the aftermath of the Northridge (southern California) earthquake in 1994, I can personally attest to much if not most of the “relief” money being squandered and wasted by greedy individuals who gamed the system and took full advantage of frightened people unable to glimpse a future beyond the contemporaneous devastation.

In the present emergency there aren’t any physical scars to gaze at knowing that eventually the bulldozers will clear the debris and crews will file in to erect newer and better structures. No, today’s desolation is almost entirely psychological. Anyone who thinks this all culminates with a declaration from Trump, Biden, Nancy Pelosi, “Chucky” Schumer or Mitch McConnell is sadly mistaken. Fears concerning coronavirus -- or any virus -- will never be the same again.

Folks I know are already dreading the day when the media catches wind of another foreign-borne anomaly that’s causing sickness and death half a world away -- and there will be one (or more) before we know it. As I’ve pointed out recently, there was Ebola, swine-flu, SARS, etc. COVID-19 appears to be more dangerous than some of these, less hazardous than others. But we’ve glimpsed the future of the next mass panic and yes, we’d like to “go back.”

Forget Russian “collusion” or purported interference in our elections. From now on, all an enemy needs to do to wreck our economy is spread fears of pandemic and people are ready to leap into the precipice of self-paralysis. Or might it be different next time? The future is mighty uncertain.

For now, are we really doing enough to head this off before it gets worse? Madison Dibble reported at The Washington Examiner, “Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday he would rather be criticized for ‘overreacting’ than to watch the illness spread further.

“’I would prefer as much [of a shut down] as we possibly could,’ Fauci said in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press. ‘I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.’

“He said the Trump administration has been ‘generally’ following his team's advice, but that he needs to see more ‘social distancing’ from the public. ‘I think Americans should be prepared that they're gonna have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,’ Fauci said.”

Like with everything else surrounding the COVID-19 scare, the definition of “hunker down” is open to debate. From the looks of it people are complying with “social distancing” for the most part, with few openly defiant individuals risking cultural banishment if they so much as glance at you funny.

If all the closures and hour after hour of news coverage isn’t enough to get holdouts to comply, then nothing else will. Human nature takes over at some point. This isn’t Russia, is it?

There aren’t many moments where we receive an opportunity to glimpse the future, but the coronavirus pandemic appears to be one of them. Whether we’re ever able to “go back” is another question entirely. There’s no stuffing the genie back in the bottle on this one -- and we’ll need to live with the consequences when things die down.

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