‘Life may change for us all’: How we respond to the coronavirus crisis will be defining, historians say

The coronavirus has quickly become a defining moment, historians say, but whether it is a new 9/11 or a looming Great Depression is partly up to us.

3/30/2020 7:50:00 AM

There could be a silver lining, historians, economists and writers say: We as a nation can choose to seize this moment to create an even greater society better poised to protect its citizens from future crises.

The coronavirus has quickly become a defining moment, historians say, but whether it is a new 9/11 or a looming Great Depression is partly up to us.

case.Since then, this global crisis has mushroomed into a national defining moment with as yet untallied cultural andeconomic repercussions. No one questions whether we will be talking about this for generations. If there is debate, it is over the proper historical comparison.

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Is this like the 2008 financial crisis, 9/11, World War II? Or perhaps, as some economists predict and news that3.3 million people applied for unemployment last weeksuggests, will this be remembered as a period of deep loss and poverty, something like the grim 1930s when unemployment hit 25%?

“This will be very economically disruptive, and an analogy to the Great Depression is the closest to what we may face,” says Stanford University economics professor Matthew Jackson. “These huge events can have profound changes on the views and beliefs people have.”

That we are in for difficult months and perhaps years ahead seems commonly accepted, as virus deaths mount, hospitals are overwhelmed and a decimated service-based economy spursa $2.2 trillion wartime-scale bailoutpackage in Washington, D.C.But if there is cause for optimism in these bleak times, historians, economists and writers say, it is born out of the fact that we as a nation can choose to seize this moment to create an even greater society better poised to protect its citizens from future crises.

There are precedents for bold responses to watershed American events.The Depression gave rise to the Social Security Act, which promised citizens financial safety in their later years. World War II drew women into the workforce and minorities into the military, leading to the equal and civil rights movements. And the 2008 financial meltdown gave rise to banking regulations and renewed scrutiny of illicit financial tools.

The possible positive national reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic – which as of this writing hasinfected more than 120,000 Americansand killed more than 2,000, out of a global tally of 680,000 sickened and more than 30,000 dead – are myriad.They could include a renewed appreciation of government’s role in grappling with unprecedented crises, a remaking of manufacturing pipelines so they rely less on foreign suppliers, and a

rekindled appreciation for friends and neighbors, experts say.“As tough as things look now, I do see us possibly demonstrating a sense that we’re all in this together,” says Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Cornell University in New York and author of “What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity.”

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Margulies notes that in contrast to WWII, when Japanese-Americans were rounded up and interned, and the Red Scare, when those suspected of Communist leanings were blacklisted, this debacle has “governors from New York to California saying the same thing, 'stay home,' and they mean everyone, not one group.”

'Life may change for us all'At the moment, most cultural observers note that the sharp political divide that existed before the virus arrived still persists.That’s evident in everything from the squabbles that erupted as Congress debated the size and scope of the bailout, to the tension between President Donald Trump’s desire to see

the nation reopen for business next monthand a range of health officials countering that the worst is yet to come if life is allowed to resume prematurely.But some semblance of a unified national direction will be crucial to rebounding from this historic moment, given the as yet unknown shifts in the way we shop, work, travel and learn, says Matthew Continetti, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

“Clearly, the cost of the virus in lives and resources will pale in comparison to the way life may change for us all,” he says. “Just like terrorism before it, this pandemic may present real challenges to civil liberties that we’ll have to grapple with.”

Continetti points out that at the core of the American ethos is freedom, which also can translate into a rejection of government-issued rules meant to ensure public safety. That could create problems if, say, the government were toand track virus carriers via their cellphones and closed-circuit TV cameras.

“I don’t think most Americans are ready to embrace that,” he says.The coronavirus has robbed us all:Let yourself mourn the loss, experts say.As this emergency eventually turns into a state of persistent vigilance, what could be on the horizon for us is in fact is a difficult push and pull. On the one side, a desire to return to our pre-virus lives at all costs; on the other, an acknowledgement that nothing will ever truly be the same.

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Continetti says that what is coming next will represent a true paradigm shift, one in which a society long driven by the pursuit of happiness at all costs may have to rearrange its social and moral priorities.“It’s a noble and frightening future we’re facing,” he says. “But it may also give us a newfound sense of national solidarity.”

A few things should happen rather quickly as a result of this seminal moment in our history, one that undeniably has parallels to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, says Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley.Among them are a renewed appreciation for science, a rekindled admiration for doctors, and a funding bonanza for government health institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a

once mighty and now underfunded institutionthat by most accounts has been caught flat-footed by this pandemic.“In U.S. history, whatever rises to a level of national concern gets funding, and health should rise sky-high,” says Brinkley, noting that, in contrast, the impact of 9/11 was felt mostly in the Northeast and Hurricane Katrina in the Deep South. “Coronavirus is touching everyone, so what officials won’t want to be prepared for the next outbreak?”

Brinkley, who is working on a book about the environmental movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, is hopeful that another reaction to this historical turning point will be a more urgent focus on curbing climate change. Read more: USA TODAY »

Sure...but unfortunately, mass media has done an excellent job over the past couple of decades, selling themselves to the highest bidder. Thus, no trust in media, economists or writers. Things would be okay if everyone maintained some integrity. Unfortunately, they didn't. However, the old silver lining will have to be replace by a new golden lining. And if there is going to be a silver lining as per this tweet, it doesn't state 'a new silver lining' is very problematic: It's more of the same when America moves into the post Covid-19 Era

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