Between Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd, the resultant political unrest, and the myriad of governmental and societal problems that gave rise to the unrest, it is impossible to conclude that we are not living through dangerous times. Add to this the issues with how the Trump administration has responded to both the virus and the unrest, and the depth of that danger becomes more obvious.
It would break no new ground to review the recent developments that gave rise to where we are now. Suffice it to say that we have health issues nowhere near a solution, political issues that are worsening, an economic crisis that will likely be long-lived (despite a drop in new unemployment claims and a lower than feared unemployment rate), and nobody to lead us out of the woods. Yes, a major part of the crisis is how our President is responding to it. But we need not review the horrors of that response here.
More useful, I hope, is creating a list of things that should happen to mitigate what could be a long, hot, bloody, and risk-filled summer. Better minds than mine might add to or amend this list, but here is my start:
Renew and reinforce efforts to combat the spread of the virus. The protests and increasing indications that some of us believe “the worst is over” are likely to lead to new spikes in infections and deaths in coming months. Most likely, we will experience a spike this summer and a second wave this fall and winter. Given that the identification and wide-spread distribution of a vaccine is not expected before the new year, our best, perhaps only hope, is that people use masks, wash their hands, judicially venture forth out of their homes despite “the re-opening” and redouble their efforts to support adoption of these practices by everyone.
Commit to learn from the murder of George Floyd and be part of a process to find solutions to the issues behind police misbehavior, economic and social injustice, and widespread racism. A dialogue is necessary in which we open our minds to new information and new solutions. For example, despite accepting the need to stop police misconduct, I am perplexed by recent calls to “defund the police,” or to disband police forces and create community entities to meet what were once seen as policing needs. Clearly, I am missing something, but, before calling the proponents of this idea a name, maybe I need to step out of the box, learn what is being proposed, and then open my mouth.
Do everything necessary to preserve our democracy, the Constitution, and civil peace. Right now, many of us perceive the leadership in the White House as unstable. Given that the next opportunity to elect new leadership doesn’t come until November, we need to voice our opposition to things being said and done at the White House, Congress, and state and local governments that are inconsistent with our shared values. Yes, this means peacefully protesting to reinforce our strong convictions that practices such as engaging the military to “dominate” cities and suppress dissent are not acceptable. This also means doing things like writing to General Mattis to thank him for his courage in speaking out should you agree with him that using the military as a domestic police force is both bad for the military and destructive to civil unity.
Be part of the revival of our economy. Despite signs that parts of the economy are clawing their way back to life, it will be an exceptionally long time before we see the levels of economic activity that were common before the virus hit. Between now and then, we will see hundreds of thousands of small businesses go out of business if they do not get help from people like us. This means using restaurant take-out, judiciously venturing out for a meal in a safe restaurant, most likely al fresco dining, and returning to retail shops wearing masks. Unless people do this, things will get worse, much worse.
Be patient. Most of us are not so upset with the continued “lock-down” and slow re-opening of our communities that we consider lugging an AK-47 to a public meeting, but many of us are getting anxious. Cabin fever is more common than the Coronavirus. If we let our need to attend live sporting events, concerts, and social gatherings trump our interest in putting the pandemic behind us, we are only hurting ourselves. To do so is to send an engraved invitation to the virus to stay with us another year.
Be optimistic. Although recent civil unrest prompted some of us to wonder how bad things are likely to get before they get better, we are starting to accept that some good things will come from this. First, we have seen unprecedented racial diversity among the protesters in virtually every city and state. Hopefully, this means that a growing number of us, of all races, are accepting the need to break new ground in combatting racism. Second, there is an unmistakable light at the end of our long, dark, and dank political tunnel. It is too early to call the November elections, but all indications suggest change is on the way. If we can hold this house together until then, one part of the current mess will be cleaned up.
We are living in dangerous but also historic times. With a little luck and effort on everyone’s part, we will learn from the pandemic, making us better prepared for the future, and embrace new laws and policies as a result of the messages sent by millions of protesters who are still taking to the streets as this piece is being written.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.