The World Beyond

Author: Gary Hart

Like wars and depressions, pandemics are a test of national character.   How we as a nation respond tells us much about who and what we are.  It may make us worse.  But, it could also make us better.

Wars, depressions, technologies, and pandemics have a way of disrupting established systems, norms, and conventional behaviors.  With the possible exception of Donald Trump, few if any others believe our current global viral attack will disappear soon and we will return to the status quo ante.

The dominant realities impacting life since the end of the Cold War have been globalization and technology, both of which have shrunk distances, eroded political boundaries, permitted if not also encouraged mass migrations south to north, upset political systems, parties, and institutions and, seemingly, slowed if not halted the forward march of democracy as well as the world order created at the end of World War II.

All this created a vacuum, and political nature abhors a vacuum.  Into it, has seeped national populism or populistic nationalism.  Either way, this phenomenon has raised legitimate fears of a restoration of the kind of authoritarianism, including in the United States, last seen in the 1930s leading up to fascism on the one hand and communism on the other.

Wars against fascism were fought and won in Europe and Asia and communism wound itself down a few decades thereafter.

The relative peace and homogeneity that followed proved too good to last.  As if to signal the demise of that brief era, along came the coronavirus.

Those of us congenitally inclined to peer over the horizon, especially that subset of us who do not see a near term-restoration of pre-virus life, search history for lessons, consult the wizards of the age (mostly self-appointed), and put moistened fingers in the wind for guidance.

Having seen much of human folly, those of us in advanced age are tempted toward cynicism and the tendency to think we are incapable of learning from history and are therefore doomed to repeat it.  Thus, the politics of Groundhog Day.  Another virus is creating itself ready to go shortly after this one retreats.

Of course, there are better outcomes if we are mature enough to find them.  If Trumpism can be retired to the shelf, there can in fact be a smarter, less political, world health organization prepared to anticipate, not just react to, pandemic crises.  Likewise, we might soon turn our attention to the looming climate crisis threatening whole economic systems and destabilizing virtually all seacoast nations.  Technology giants, mostly in the U.S., can become serious about devising cyber security that protect against manipulations of democratic elections.

Political parties must be sanctioned from voter suppression.  Our judicial system must be returned once again to judges selected on merit not ideological rigidity.  As impossible as it may now seem, a fairness doctrine must be restored to electronic media.

Sheltering in place has now vividly reminded us that we are not only a nation, we are also a society.  It will be a while before very many people will say “leave me alone” or wish to go bowling alone.  We are social animals and we need each other.  But post-virus society must become more fair, more open, and more just.  Poor people and minorities are becoming infected and dying in significantly greater numbers than upper class whites.  Revolutions have been caused by much less.

We must raise up the civics of duty to accompany the economics of profit.  So long as a chance exists for a young man or woman to rise up and accumulate wealth, we will be a capitalist nation.  Horatio Alger still holds the seductive promise of material success.

But Horatio Alger also has a duty to our society, a duty greater than building museums and libraries named after him.  We all bear a duty of public service to those left out, to hungry children, homeless families, unemployed workers, and support for those who provide our health care and are saving lives at minimum wages.

“Ask what you can do for your country” should be printed on every high school and college diploma, and maybe even brought up by stockholders at annual corporate meetings.

Our Founders consciously and purposefully created a Republic, and it is a Republic whose flag we salute.  Republics have always known that civic virtue, citizen participation, is the vital key that prevents the Republic’s decline into corruption.

If this virus, and all the disruption it is creating, produces one single important achievement, it will be to restore the sense of duty and civic virtue to our society.

Otherwise, we cannot say, “we are all in this together” and mean it.

 

25 Responses to “The World Beyond”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Thank God for the WHO or we would all be next to lost in this pandemic. It is amazing to me that is never recognized. And thank God for the many Americans and others who make this organization work in a less than favourable environment in the context of 194 member states.

    What did the WHO organization do wrong? What did it do right? And how do other responses compare? Will that review even be credible?

    I am sensitive on this issue, especially in view of the US pause on funding when that funding is for life-saving interventions to help people who form the most vulnerable populations in the most destitute circumstances in the world.

    God help the WHO!

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    We SHOULD all be in this together. From my vantage point, there is only one organization in the world who preaches this, demands this, endeavours to make this happen every single day and it ain’t the USG and may never be.

  3. H Patrick Pritchard Says:

    Stop and think about how many resources at what cost were poured into the Vietnam War compared to the merger resources and funding to fight the Coronavirus. It is not difficult to assume that at a minimum twice as many more people will die in this country from the virus than in the Vietnam War by the end of this year. War is a highly profitable business. Fighting a deadly virus not so much although some profit is being made off of the public misery. What does this say about us as a society or as a civilization?

    Individual citizens risking their own lives have contributed much more on a day to day basis to fight this deadly virus than any of the politicians in the nation’s capital who continue their petty partisan squabbles for some mysterious political advantage! We are better than this!

    We need to reorder our priorities!

  4. Neil McCarthy Says:

    “‘Ask what you can do for your country’ should be printed on every high school and college diploma, and maybe even brought up by stockholders at annual corporate meetings.

    Our Founders consciously and purposefully created a Republic, and it is a Republic whose flag we salute. Republics have always known that civic virtue, citizen participation, is the vital key that prevents the Republic’s decline into corruption.

    If this virus, and all the disruption it is creating, produces one single important achievement, it will be to restore the sense of duty and civic virtue to our society.”

    So, how are we to obtain this? What conditions are necessary to “restore the sense of duty and civic virtue”?

    I think it might be useful to compare the condition of the Founders in the 1770s and 1780s with the condition of Americans in 1960. I think this might be useful because it might enlighten us on at least some of what might be necessary for duty and virtue to be restored.

    The Founders were well off. It is probably accurate to say that they were among the richest, the most economically blessed, of their era. The owned plantations (e.g., Washington, Jefferson), had farms and/or successful practices (e.g., Adams, Hamilton), and were generally in good shape. So, as a group, they had the time and wherewithal to think about and attempt to embrace/practice the type of republican virtue they believed necessary to the success of their proposed experiment.

    Now fast forward to JFK and his “Ask not” in 1960. America was at its economic zenith. We had created an enormous middle class, the post-Depression generation that, by then, did not worry constantly about going bust and for whom Kennedy’s plea fell on fertile ground and led to things like the Peace Corps, VISTA, and the later mass/youth movements.

    If the Founders had the somewhat unique (economic) space within which civic virtue could be advocated/practiced, the baby boomers listening to JFK were probably the first industrial era mass society with similar (economic) space to embrace a demand for civic duty/virtue, which at its heart is what Kennedy’s “Ask not” was about.

    In my mind, the pre-condition to “Ask not” was the New Deal. I do not think you’d have gotten the former without the latter. And today, I think a pre-condition to restoring republican duty/virtue on a mass basis — which I believe is what is necessary to extricate our society from the cesspool that is Trumpism — will be a 21st century version of that.

    Without FDR, there is no JFK.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Finally, the countries that listened to the WHO and understood the role of the WHO have responded to their epidemics as advised.

    The WHO can give advice; it can’t make countries follow it. That should certainly change and be one of the lessons learned.

  6. Ken Cody Says:

    Our political parties have differences but I hope we are able to put them aside over this pandemic. President Trump and our news media need to learn that we need to be in this together instead of causing a divide that pulls our nation apart.

    Senator Hart, thank you for your posts they are always intelligent and make common sense. Hope you and your family are well and stay safe.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Ken,

    You are absolutely right about this. But, I don’t think president Trump is capable of seeing this pandemic or even the US epidemic that way.

    Clearly, America is not united. Heck, even the states are not united. That spells bad news, anyway you slice it.

  8. Michael Says:

    I’m not sure whether in the post virus world people will be eager to come together again or whether fear will keep them apart longer than we now think. The biggest and most lasting impact could be on the economy. The longer it is shut down the bigger the effect will be. Many small businesses won’t survive, destroying the dreams of those who took the risk and worked hard to start them. The balance sheets of many corporations will be a mess leading to permanent layoffs and more corporate debt. The finances of many households will be hurt for a long time to come, limiting their ability to spend. All this will necessitate a bigger role for government in the economy, upending the dominant dogma of free-market neoliberalism of the last 40 years. Will the government have to re-regulate the airlines to insure their survival? Will we need a national energy policy, or industrial policy? Will we finally become accustomed to the idea that the country will have to assume a historic debt burden if we want to maintain our standard of living? The next president, assuming it isn’t the idiot in orangeface, is going to have to be not just a chief executive, but the explainer-in-chief. Speaking of ‘asking what you can do for your country,’ I recently watched JFK’s July 25, 1961 Berlin crisis speech. It was interesting not just because he was sweating and visibly uncomfortable, or because of the uneven delivery in which he stumbled over his words. But in that half hour he gave a complete presentation, including maps, explaining the postwar history of Berlin, and why protecting the city was so important to the free world. Then he went on to ask sacrifices of Americans, from increases in the number of draftees to possible tax increases to finance a military buildup, explaining lager deficits, and even preparing the country for a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets. I have seen many presidential addresses in my time, but never one as comprehensive at that. If Obama had done something similar when taking office, using charts to demonstrate why a large debt load was necessary to keep the economy from collapsing, he might have blunted the Republicans’ call to stop the spending that led to the Tea Party and their takeover of the congress in 2010. The Right, even if beaten in November is not going to stop its malevolent ways. It may make them even more toxic to the body politic. A President Biden had better be up to that task of explaining his actions if we don’t again want to take two steps forward only to take three steps back in the next midterms.

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Sorry, Michael. But, below is my re-post of your post. Just so that I could read it, you know. 🙂

    Michael wrote:

    “I’m not sure whether in the post virus world people will be eager to come together again or whether fear will keep them apart longer than we now think.

    “The biggest and most lasting impact could be on the economy. The longer it is shut down the bigger the effect will be. Many small businesses won’t survive, destroying the dreams of those who took the risk and worked hard to start them.

    “The balance sheets of many corporations will be a mess leading to permanent layoffs and more corporate debt. The finances of many households will be hurt for a long time to come, limiting their ability to spend.

    “All this will necessitate a bigger role for government in the economy, upending the dominant dogma of free-market neoliberalism of the last 40 years. Will the government have to re-regulate the airlines to insure their survival? Will we need a national energy policy, or industrial policy? Will we finally become accustomed to the idea that the country will have to assume a historic debt burden if we want to maintain our standard of living?

    “The next president, assuming it isn’t the idiot in orangeface, is going to have to be not just a chief executive, but the explainer-in-chief. Speaking of ‘asking what you can do for your country,’ I recently watched JFK’s July 25, 1961 Berlin crisis speech.

    “It was interesting not just because he was sweating and visibly uncomfortable, or because of the uneven delivery in which he stumbled over his words. But in that half hour he gave a complete presentation, including maps, explaining the postwar history of Berlin, and why protecting the city was so important to the free world.

    “Then he went on to ask sacrifices of Americans, from increases in the number of draftees to possible tax increases to finance a military buildup, explaining lager deficits, and even preparing the country for a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets. I have seen many presidential addresses in my time, but never one as comprehensive at that. If Obama had done something similar when taking office, using charts to demonstrate why a large debt load was necessary to keep the economy from collapsing, he might have blunted the Republicans’ call to stop the spending that led to the Tea Party and their takeover of the congress in 2010.

    “The Right, even if beaten in November is not going to stop its malevolent ways. It may make them even more toxic to the body politic. A President Biden had better be up to that task of explaining his actions if we don’t again want to take two steps forward only to take three steps back in the next midterms.”

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael,

    I hoping that Biden will choose a running mate who will be able to explain anything and everything. 🙂

    Biden doesn’t tend to be a very good explainer, at least in the setting of a media interview. It may be a very different situation with regard to speeches from the Oval Office or elsewhere. In fact, I believe it will be.

    I’m just remembering all of those frustrating times listening to him try to explain something to an ill-informed reporter with me screaming at the TV. Heck, I can explain his plan for federalism in Iraq better than I’ve ever seen him explain it in any media interview!!!

    Having said that, though, I’m fairly confident that you won’t be taking two steps forward only to take three steps backward with a Biden presidency.

    Hopefully, there will be a Biden presidency … if he can shake these false allegations he is now facing.

  11. Gary Hart Says:

    Congratulations to all followers and commentators for anticipating the following NYT column in tomorrow’s paper as to whether the plague would lead to a new New Deal. We did so in the submission of March 26, a good five weeks ahead of this column. (After the Plague) GH

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-new-deal

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    All good things come to those who wait. 🙂

  13. Edward Goldstick Says:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-new-deal-ubi.html

    That’s the corrected URL, Gary…

  14. Michael Says:

    Elizabeth, sorry for the block of text; a hazard when typing into a phone. Biden will indeed need a charismatic VP, (I’m hoping for Warren), but he also needs his own Ted Sorensen to write clear, concise and compelling speeches.

    The article that Senator Hart linked to provides hope. I can imagine history books that describe a general discontent at the way the Great Recession was handled setting the table for a new progressive era that grew out of the pandemic crisis. “The era of small government is over.” It has a nice ring. It would be even nicer if gave way to an era of good government.

  15. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael,

    As far as I’m concerned Biden has always made great speeches and I’ve learned so much over the years just listening to his contributions during hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Judiciary committee.

    Did you hear his farewell speech to the senate? It brought me to tears.

    Here I was all excited about seeing a piece in the NYTimes written by Senator Hart. You can imagine my disappointment. I’m not a fan of the author but, I’ll check it out.

    As for how the Great Recession was handled … you can refresh my memory but we didn’t suffer another Great Depression, did we?

  16. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Okay, I read it.

    My take away … Biden needs to win the presidency.

    Not just because he will be the Democratic nominee and the de facto best choice available. But rather because he is Joe Biden and the right man for the job. Period.

    Progressives should waste no more time getting on his bandwagon.

  17. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Biden knows quite a few more qualified women than I do who would be a good fit for his running mate and vice president.

    I’m hoping we haven’t heard her name bandied about yet but, I’d be happy with former Governor Jennifer Granholm.

    I had initially hoped for a Joe Biden/Jerry Brown ticket but then Biden said he’d choose a woman. Whatever.

    Then I thought, what about a hybrid or fusion ticket with a sane Republican – anyone know of a woman who fits that bill?

  18. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Just checked back on that NYTimes piece again and the comments that go along with it – completely and utterly depressing. 🙁

  19. Michael Says:

    Elizabeth,
    No, we did not suffer another Great Depression in 2008-09. But the recovery was handled in a way that bailed out large financial institution and left the little guy hanging. After the initial stimulus, which was far too small, congress and the president abdicated their responsibilities and became obsessed with deficits, leaving it to the Fed to provide further liquidity through QE, which only exacerbated income inequality. And no one went to jail.

    I did not see Biden’s farewell to the Senate speech, unfortunately.

  20. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Well, Michael, I will try to find a link to the Biden farewell address to the Senate speech. It was powerful. At this point, it should be required viewing.

    As for, the Great Recession, I look at it from 60,000 feet, as they say. This was not just an American crisis. This was a global financial meltdown that Senator Warren believed – and probably believes to the this day – could have and should have been resolved by bankruptcy laws, bless her heart.

    I hazard to think what would have happened to the little guy on Main Street – and, this little gal – if the financial institutions had not been bailed out. Actually, it is unimaginable.

    Congress abdicated its duty to protect Americans by voting down the first big stimulus bill. I can remember being at work, absolutely dumbfounded by the news. I couldn’t freaking believe it!

    The Dodd-Frank legislation that would institute “death panels” ( I miss Barney Frank!) by putting so-called too-big-to-fail institutions out of their misery and ours if, in future, they fail to act responsibly. I understand those provisions have been watered down to some extent and that is a bad thing.

    Did anyone go to jail? No and I guess that would have made people feel better. And, surely there were some who deserved to be locked up! But, given the global circumstances that we all found ourselves in, count me in the group that is forever grateful for the way in which this crisis was successfully handled in the overall by all concerned, far from abdicating responsibilities.

  21. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michael, and everyone!

    Biden’s farewell address to the US Senate, a body he loved so well, was a lot easier to find than I thought it would be. So, here it is …

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?283385-2/senator-biden-farewell-address

  22. Michael Says:

    Elizabeth,
    Thank you for posting this. You were right, it was a very moving tribute by Biden to the institution of the Senate. I could not stop listening to it. But I fear that Biden still has illusions about the Senate working the way it did during his tenure there, even as his own experience in the Obama administration should have taught him otherwise. His delivery was also different. No sign of the stutter that sometimes resurfaces now. Not sure what that means.

  23. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Don’t worry, Michael, Biden will be one of the best presidents America never had, probably …

  24. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    New column up!

  25. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    This marvellous article is inspiring and encouraging us to do and be better.

    I remind our host and it’s author that his fabulous faith in and advocacy for his republican ideal is as possible, in a constitutional monarchy, especially when nearly all a population have affection and admiration for the Head of state, far more than can in a one sided two party system producing a head of state much liked or loathed accordingly!

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