Wide Awake at 6

I woke up from an otherwise sound sleep this morning thinking Coronavirus. I hate when that happens. I had a whole bunch of questions swirling through my head and that made me want to write an article…blog post, I guess.

Then I came across this article, which covers a good bit of what I was going to say. Not everyone likes Tom Friedman’s work but I’ve been an admirer for years primarily for two books:  The World is Flat, which provided a wake up call to the global economy at a moment when many of us needed it and That Used to be Us, which attempted to sound an alarm to the perils of American complacency that I am afraid most of the country slept through.

I’ll let you read his op-ed from earlier this week entitled Is Sweden Doing it Right? for yourself and make whatever judgments about it that you will. But I want to point out two things about it. One, it ends with a question mark, I don’t know that Friedman is necessarily advocating for Sweden’s approach to Covid-19. Two, although I am writing about and linking to it here, I certainly am not.

However, one of the questions he raises in the article is almost verbatim what had me up with the birds:

“Are we going to adapt to the coronavirus — by design — the way Sweden is attempting to do — or are we going to go the same direction as Sweden — by messy default — or are we just going to say “the hell with lockdowns” and go 50 different ways?”

To the people who have wondered why I’ve been fixated (obsessed?) with the role of Congress and the federal government over the past few years I offer you the mystery grab bag that is behind Curtain #3. To borrow from a popular aphorism on decision making – “to not decide is to decide.”

Assuming that we continue to allow free interstate movement in this country, what does it mean to have people travel from a state where lockdowns continue to one where they have been lifted, and vice versa? Here in Vermont, there are highway signs requesting that people that are coming into the state from away self quarantine for 14 days before heading out. Forgive me for being cynical but I can’t help but notice the irony of the fact that they are right next to 65 MPH speed limit signs that people, many from out of state, regularly zoom past at 80.

If testing for antibodies is the only way to tell whether something close to “herd immunity” is being reached, how can we leave it up to individual states to procure this testing even as the herd regularly wanders beyond its fences?

I don’t have the answers to these questions either scientifically or philosophically but I think we should try to find them even as we look…somewhere…anywhere, for some kind of unified national strategy to moving forward into the rest of 2020 and beyond.

One last thing, I imagine that in reading the paragraph above you are inferring that I am blaming the Trump administration for the lack of that strategy and thus I would like to clarify. I believe that the history books will write the story of how Donald Trump handled Coronavirus and here, as we life through the moment, I’d much prefer to leave it to them. Since you have read this far I implore you to not turn this into a political issue. Our lack of a coherent national policy, I believe, is the direct result of the maddening national tendency to politicize everything rather than acting in a concerted way toward our national interest. Covid-19 doesn’t care whether you are red or blue and it will require much more than a simple majority to adapt to it.

4 thoughts on “Wide Awake at 6

  1. I too am a dedicated reader of Tom Friedman and have read his recent op-ed pieces you reference.  I continue to be perplexed by our complicated response to this pandemic.  I agree that playing the “blame game” is pointless as we attempt to move through the pandemic to whatever the New Normal will be.

    In my view, the heroes of this crisis so far are the medical professionals – at all levels – along with the front-line workers who are risking their lives to keep us in good health, fed and safe.  Further, I’ve been impressed with the governors, red and blue, who are actually driving the actions on the ground in their states.  Living in California – a state with a population of 40 million – I have been particularly impressed with our governor’s policies.  Early action and key decisions have, thus far, resulted in a flattened curve and much fewer deaths than we might have expected. The question is – can we stay vigilant, especially as the weather improves and cabin fever prevails… and a therapeutic remedy is still a year away, at least.

    • Agreed on all fronts Bruce and thanks for the comment. In particular your call out of the people in healthcare and front line service workers who have made it possible for the rest of us to isolate is well done. Your last question seems to be critical to me…I sure don’t know the answer, but I think we’re going to have to come to some broad consensus of what safe and practical long term vigilance looks like and how we can all do our part to practice it over the course of several more months or the bravery and sacrifice exhibited by the many people you referenced will be mitigated.

  2. Bill: as always I enjoyed your thoughts in this post, and not surprisingly I agree with them. As you know I read the NYT most days, and while not perfect I get value out of it. This morning there was an editorial I found particularly stimulating. It too asks questions without proposing specific answers. The subject is “how does the Constitution guide us as to where one persons inalienable right to .(fill in whatever fits), intersect with the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens”

    Much as we need to work together to survive this pandemic, we also need to work together to define how our country should function.

    • I haven’t come across this yet Cal, though I will look for it as I think this is a seminal question with a lot of emotion behind it all the way around. I thought of the topic this morning too when I saw pictures of (apparently) legally-armed protesters inside the Michigan statehouse yesterday. I’m not sure what it means when protesters feel compelled to bring rifles with them to voice dissent but history would suggest it is not a good precedent.

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