When It Is Over

Author: Gary Hart

Friends of this site may recall an invitation from its moderator to speculate what our nation would be like after the pandemic receded.  That was in late April.  And here we are, in an expanding pandemic with no end in sight.

Nevertheless, that kind of speculation is claiming participants.  Most recently, David Leonhardt of the New York Times (“It’s 2022.  What Does Life Look Like?”, July 10, 2020”, with the help of a variety of predictors, sees some fairly dramatic outcomes ahead.

He begins by writing that near-term success in taming the virus by this year’s end will result in few major, long-term changes in life as we used to know it.  However, as is more likely the case, if the virus continues into next year, vaccines are slow to arrive and even slower to massively distribute, “the long-term changes could be truly profound.”

Under the latter scenario, whole industries could disappear.  He lists cruise lines and theme parks as victims.  Also, movie theaters and minor league sports. (What about the majors?)  Major department stores are already teetering and more will follow.  He predicts the demise of thousands of restaurants, but hold open the projection that they will eventually be replaced by others.

Sadly, experts expect further losses in the local press.  Newspapers have been shrinking, both in terms of column inches, but also in terms of advertising and staff sizes.  With notable exceptions, the journalistic industry is diminishing.

As to retail, department store failures will bring down the shopping malls they had all come to inhabit thirty or more years ago.  Internet shopping had already eaten into sales and therefore profits, and the pandemic have left many or most as deserted waste lands.  As with all other set-backs, jobs fall with profits.

Sadly, colleges and universities, higher education, are on the chopping block.  Enrollment had begun to decline, for the first time in a hundred and fifty years, even before the virus.  Now, it is predicted that marginal institutions, especially those without large endowments, are in jeopardy.  This trend is not only a blow to education, it is a tragedy for democracy.  Even before the pandemic a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education was entitled “The Looming Enrollment Crisis.”

Leonhardt points out that all this economic impact will be enormous but might lead to restructuring and innovations that will be creative.  There are dangerous side effects, however: “When local newspapers close, corruption and political polarization tend to rise, while voter turnout tends to fall.  Cuts to higher education budgets could make it even harder for poor and middle-class students to graduate.”

Even though white collar workers are finding the Zoom profession helpful, millions of others must return to the work place to do their jobs…if the jobs still exist.

The political implications of all this are harder to discern.  A Trump re-election will encourage further industry concentration without antitrust fears, continuing deregulation to the benefit of profits and the costs to worker and environmental health and safety.  A Biden victory will almost certainly lead to action, some of it dramatic, on climate change, expansion of health care and coverage, antitrust enforcement, and higher taxes on wealth.

But much of that will depend on the make up of Congress and not just the executive branch.

Since few believe the short-term success scenario, we are in for a changed nation and a changed world.  Much of this, but not all, will be damaging, certainly to a way of life already undergoing great change even before the virus.  The middle class was shrinking.  Poverty was increasing.  And wealth was once again headed toward the top.

The current president has encouraged all three.

But if America can restore its creative instincts and egalitarian hopes, all is not lost.  But men and women of good will, decency, collective respect, restored integrity, and optimism must make the different.

It has always been thus.

13 Responses to “When It Is Over”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>>>Since few believe the short-term success scenario, we are in for a changed nation and a changed world.

    Well, don’t be too surprised if, in the midst and aftermath of a Trump re-election, the world passes you by.

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    As I was reading that Leonhardt column, I was thinking of your April piece … and how I dismissed it as being a bit premature.

    I still not only think it’s premature but it will be a veritable waste of time if Biden doesn’t get himself elected.

    At this point, your country is going backwards with no end in sight because there is no national leadership in sight that is capable of fighting this virus, comprehensively using all of the knowledge we have about what that fight will take.

    Now, in a mind-bending development, president Trump is out to destroy your top scientist.

    Good luck!

  3. Michael Says:

    Certainly, the pandemic is going to accelerate the economic dislocations that had already been occurring while creating new ones at the same time. The American economy is, however, extremely resilient and innovative. It will find ways to continue to generate tremendous wealth. The problem, as stated, will be how that wealth is distributed. Even if Biden wins and has healthy majorities in both Houses of congress, what remains of the malignant Republican Party will try and thwart him at every opportunity. The fact that it will likely be in disarray after the defeat could mean it has nothing to lose by playing a destructive role. The Trumpists already operate on an ideology of spite, and seek to wreck things for the pure joy they find in wrecking them. There is no reason to expect that they won’t turn it up to eleven after the election.

    In order for Biden and the Democrats to have a chance of succeeding, they are going to have to be bold, not only in their policies, but also in the steps they take to marginalize whatever is left of the Republican opposition. That means eliminating the filibuster and not compromising their objectives to try and win Republican support. They need to make clear that the country is in the fix it is in because of Republicans. They should never stop talking about the damage Trump and his Republican enablers have done to the country, and the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of Americans it has to answer for. Democrats cannot play the politics they have been playing for the past 25 years. They cannot continually fret about losing some marginal seats in the House, or whatever Senate seats they pick up in Red states, (which won’t be up for reelection for another six years). They will need to aggressively attack the notion that adding to the national debt with large the large public investments necessary is bad for the country, and never stop talking about Republican hypocrisy on that subject.

    In short, if the voters give the Democrats all three branches, they are going to need to take the ball and not just run with it, but use it as a wrecking ball to demolish the Republican opposition. I hope they’ve got the balls to do it.

  4. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Elizabeth,

    Your comment “I still not only think it’s premature but it will be a veritable waste of time if Biden doesn’t get himself elected.”, ah there’s the rub. It is not up to Biden to get himself elected. It’s up to us to get him elected. We cannot be mere observers sitting on the sidelines of history noting and bemoaning the deterioration of our beloved America. We must join in the fight regardless of our age and infirmity. It’s all well and good to ponder the universe and the outcome of the human race from the sanctity of our homes and the protection of our invested income stream, removed from the day to day melee and total destruction of individuals and society. That is no longer a permissible choice. We have to enter into that roaring, uncontrolled current of change and do our damnedest to make our best attempt at making a difference in the mounting catastrophe of doom, that is drawing closer daily. I keep getting this vision of what I thought was whirlpool, where the river that we are in starts to be sucked into its gaping maw and into the depths of despair and ruin. However, with the advent of our technology, I now update my vision from the whirlpool of the river to the enormous intake of a black hole in space. We are approaching the event horizon and just sitting back and noting the events as they transpire will no longer suffice. This is an “all hands on deck” event that can no long afford the luxuries of voyeurs of history.

    Stephen

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Well, Stephen, Biden is The Candidate, after all. If Hillary had been a better candidate, she may have won … 270+ Electoral College votes. 😉

    But, you’re right. It’s on y’all. Don’t frak it up! 🙂

  6. Dean H Cowles Says:

    And America, “the greatest country on earth” continues to be a joke to the rest of the world in the way we are not responding to this world wide pandemic. They are doing their part but we have allowed this to be a political issue instead of a public health one. Disgraceful and shame on us. Fortunately we live in Kenya where they too are doing the right things to keep Covid under control. Imagine that, we feel safer living and serving as missionaries in Kenya than living in the US. Time for more of you to join us, Luke 10: 2

  7. Dean H Cowles Says:

    What if Biden asked Condi Rice to be his running mate and offer an olive branch to help heal the deep divide in this country? That would go down in history as a great decision and boost his image for the ages since I doubt he will be a two term President. Then in 2024 maybe we can wake up American and find Presidential candidates that are worth the title. How often do we hear, “is this the best we can do?” The Political party that survives will have to reach back to the middle, the moderates, those with common sense or they are doomed and so are we.

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Well, Dean, that wouldn’t be the first time that Biden has announced a Republican running mate, the first one being Chuck Hagel during the Democratic primary season of 2008. Which didn’t last long for Biden. 🙁

    As for Condi, I would be horrified … er, surprised if he picked her. She’s too tainted by service in the Bush administration.

    Why on God’s green earth would you doubt a Biden second term!!??

    Biden is more than worth the title and he actually is the best America can do … I mean the very best that America could hope to imagine in its wildest dreams. Biden is the perfect antidote for the sad state of affairs in your society and government.

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    …okay, okay, he’s as close to a perfect antidote as you can ever hope to get.

    Don’t get me started, Dean! 🙂

  10. Michael Says:

    There should be no ‘olive branches’. The Republican Party has become a white nationalist party. It is an anti-democratic party that practices voter suppression with an increasing disdain for our democratic institutions. It is a party that is willing to see Americans die rather than confront their leader, who was installed with the help of a hostile foreign power and is obviously indebted to it. The Democrats need to relentlessly pursue their agenda without regard to the Republicans. Obama make a huge mistake in not using the momentum of 2006 and 2009 to bury the Republican Party. Instead he extended ‘olive branches’ which were always rejected at the expense of the Democrats. If Biden makes the same mistake the country as we know it is over.

  11. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Michale,

    >>>>>>There should be no olive branches … if Biden makes the same mistake, the country as we know it is over.

    The 2008 Democratic primary season is light years away from the 2020 presidential election and, in fact, you can’t even get there from here. And, there is no Republican woman who I’m aware of who would fit the Hagel pick, anyway.

    But, as for the quaint idea of working with congressional Republicans to move a positive agenda forward, you are right in saying that they have demonstrated absolutely no willingness to engage in that way. If Biden doesn’t know precisely how to handle that, then he has no business running for president. He knows! 🙂

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Oops … Sorry Michael … there is a Michale at my other favourite blog and his unusual name has become second nature to me …

  13. Michael Says:

    Elizabeth, I hope you are right. Biden gives conflicting messages about that.

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