My mind wanders. Worlds are changed by severe crises. What will our many faceted world look like in 2021?
I have a faint recollection of the polio epidemic. And especially Jonas Salk and his invention, the Salk vaccine. It came over 60 years after the first polio epidemic occurred in Vermont.
Today our rhythms of life will not accept two years, much less 60; we are impatient after ten minutes. Impatience can be constructive energy. I suspect, looking back and forward, we will once again be in awe of the technologies that allow us to shrink time. Science, not opinion. Capitalism will also help.
One thing is certain; the world was not prepared for a biological threat even though, in a general sense, one had been forecast. Looking back, we prepared for a potential nuclear strike during the Cold War 60 years ago.
In September 1961, the Federal Government started the Community Fallout Shelter Program. A letter from President Kennedy advising the use of fallout shelters appeared in the September 1961 issue of Life magazine. The 1961 widely viewed thriller, Twilight Zone, featured an episode “The Shelter”, from a Rod Serling script, dealing with the consequences of actually using a shelter.
We, to the extent we think about it, believe we have shaped a world in which physical risk has largely given way to the psychological kind. If we take our shots and pills we will be okay. But what if there are no quick remedies and we are forced to change our lives—prepare?
What happens if the planet is critically ill? Humanity is much better with discrete and contained threats that submit to laser focus. When threats unfold, over time, our habitual reaction is that we can adapt—we are anesthetized by the present. We have, on reflection, seen this phenomenon often, as we have made nature subordinate and then found that something we did poisoned the water.
Perhaps our response to the virus portends some level of hope. Dr. Fauci comes to mind. Opinions on how concerned we should be have rained down. Police carry guns; politicians and pundits carry opinions, often informed by prejudices. Dr. Fauci has been data driven and succinct. He has been the first Federal Government spokesman in some time that chose not to edit his comments to make the President happy.
America has pivoted. At first it was said we could only use Center for Disease Control (CDC) test kits. As it became apparent there wasn’t an adequate supply, nationalism met its limits and we bought them from the World Health Organization (WHO).
COVID 19 quickly breached borders. Global supply chains were threatened. America’s citizenry discovered our pharmaceutical companies depend on China for the supply of some critical elements for important medications.
Is this a time for international organizations to invest their resources in renewal? I believe it is, but it must be based on equitable reciprocity.
What about rebalancing our spending or taxation as we emerge from this debt laden rescue? What about an adequate response to climate threats? What about a reengineered supply chain to reduce our dependence on foreign rivals?
What about an election process that rewards real performance and not the theatrical kind? Is it time to do some soul searching? Or is soul searching out? What happens when the physical leaves no room for the metaphysical? Or to put it another way, who has my back?
Let’s see: social distancing, no sports, no cruises, and staying at home. Whew!
Drama is the state of the affairs of humanity. Viruses mutate requiring medicine to catch up as we look on helplessly. The new, new thing arrives making jobs obsolete. Global supply chains break down. We find out that nothing we do is beyond the knowledge of the Masters of the Internet. And who knows, our neighbors might be infected so we forego neighborliness.
We are a bit over seven months away from choosing a new President. We need to do some real soul searching! Debate moderators need to ask 2021 questions.
Perhaps a good project for Gallup or Pew or some polling/research firm would be a straightforward analysis of the universe of opinion writers. Each morning I browse a sample of news sites including Real Clear Politics. It is as if most of the writers are embedded in amber. At the risk of oversimplification, they divide along Trump lines. The President draws a vivid line each day and few of those who are given by-lines by news organizations cross the line regardless of the subject or action.
I wonder whether any of these worthies took courses in analytics, statistics or even history. Today’s divide is over diagnostic testing. Did the Federal Government effectively roll out methodical testing for Covid 19? It didn’t, but Trump apologists excuse him.
Presidents earn their marks in history as their decisions and actions are parsed by credible historians. Historians, as they look back, research the news. I wonder how the 4th Estate will be graded.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.