Covid Mid April Update: The New Phase?

So, phase one (shock/denial) appears to be over.

Over 20 million people are out of work, roughly a 20% unemployment rate.

Unemployment

There are almost 700k total cases, and 32k deaths. This is just from people we know had the disease.

Whatever “rainy day funds” most people had are exhausting. Quickly.

It seems clear, this is going to be somewhere between the “Great Recession” and the “Great Depression.” And honestly: There’s no end in sight.

Schools are officially “distance learning” through the end of the school year.

Observations

Some observations so far:

1: Cracks Widen

On 9/11, we came together. The country wasn’t (yet) so split. We hadn’t had 20 years of unending overseas warfare, and while pundits made 3-hours-a-day of hay out Bill Clinton’s sex life and George W. Bush’s buffoonery, there was common ground. Many had lost significantly in their newfangled “401-Kay” plans in the dot-com bubble bursting. We were under attack, and “The Terrorists” didn’t care if you were a Rebpulican or Democrat.

Blogging existed. MySpace existed. But “Social Media” as the always-on phenomenon we know today did not exist.

What followed:

  • The War on Terror. Epilogue: We just gave Afghanistan back to the Taliban in 2020, tens of thousands of lives and ~5 trillion later.
  • Cheap interest rates and lax lending guidelines led to a housing bubble, leading to the Collapses in the Fall of 2008.
  • Massive Federal bailouts, largely helping the investor-class.
  • The backlash against Republicans, leading to defeats in 2006 midterms and 2008. Democrats handed power in both executive and legislative branches, including a supermajority in the Senate. (That is: they could’ve passed anything remotely Constitutional. New New Deal, Single-payer healthcare)
  • Obamacare flops.
  • Mass shootings become a near-daily occurrence. Nobody cares, ultimately.
  • Unemployment reaches ~10%
  • “Globalization”, the Opioid crisis, the rise of Meth hollow-out the nation’s interior. Culture war begins on the airwaves (Fox -v- CNN/MSNBC), then gets personal on social media. Silos and echo chambers form.
  • The “recovery” bifurcates the nation. The Stock market from 2009 -> 2020 goes on a simply ridiculous tear. Most are left behind with stagnant wages and (once again) rising cost-of-living.
  • Donald Trump wins in 2016. There’s no one cause, but repudiation of Globalization’s effects on the interior clinches it via the Rust Belt.
  • Any moderation in the Left or Right (I’ll not call them ‘Democrats’ or ‘Republicans’) evaporates. Extremist wings of both parties whip both bases into frenzies not seen since the 19th century.
  • A doomed impeachment attempt fails in January 2020; a triumphant Trump consolidates power with loyalists in all positions.

So we went from a fairly centrist nation with braying extremist minorities to a polarized conglomerate of nations (Coasts -v- Flyover Country coallition) in 20 years. The “Cracks” were there.

Then CoVid happened.

Like a battering ram at the gates, CoVid continues to pound at the cracks. The white-collar class (me included) can continue “working from home,” earning our pre-pandemic paychecks while “essential workers” paid a pittance deliver our necessities (medicine, utilities, food). So far “society” remains intact because supply chains of food, power, and streaming video entertainment keep those on the “Great Lockdown” anesthetized.

But, March became April. April is going to turn into May. When does it end? When can we get back to work? Leading to observation 2

2: What does the new phase look like?

People are simply tired of being on house arrest.

We’ve moved past the novelty of “We’re all in this together alone,” sloganeering down to the reality. We’re all dependent upon the government, and the government has become the executive branch with dictatorial powers.

Of itself, that’s not a bad thing. During a crisis, strong unified leadership saves lives, with examples dating back to Roman times. But the thing is “dictatorship” and the imperium that comes with it must be limited term. The “crisis” can’t continue indefinitely or you get North Korea. Or “V for Vendetta.”

There’s considerable angst about how open-ended this thing is. There’s no vaccine right now, and best-case estimates are next year.

Next. Year.

So, some people have started rebelling, mildly. There have been protests in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan. Some are shouting-down those with objections, aligning with the governors, reinforcing the slogans.

These protests are incompatible with the distancing guidelines….but they’re a Constitutional right. which leads me to…

3: This virus has hacked America

Americans have the right to free speech, free assembly, free religion. The virus guidelines require we abrogate those rights to keep people safe. People can’t congregate or the R-sub-naught gets greater than 1 and we’re screwed.

It’s untenable.

So what?

All that to say: We’re at a tipping point. The many possible futures yawn before us and each seems plausible:

  1. It goes back the way it was. We peak, and we go down. We reopen the country for business. Demand returns and half the economy doesn’t just evaporate. Unemployment goes back under 10% and most people can find work. With people employed, the prime driver for our economy–individual spending–returns to pre-crisis levels. Businesses can profit again.

  2. We cede dictatorial powers and it never ends. For the Napoleons, Peter Wiggins, and Hitlers of the world this is an IDEAL time to sieze power. Information isn’t flowing. Power is narrowed to an imperious executive worldwide, and people are both scared and tribal. They’ll happily bleat like the Sheep in Animal Farm: “Public gatherings baaaaad, following Leader beeeeeeeetter.” Or Hunger Games with the Capital and the Districts. Dystopia.

  3. Something in between. Socialism of some ilk. Hyper inflation and the redistribution of wealth. Social upheaval. Likely the dissolution or transformation of the country into something unrecognizable.

From where I sit, (1) seems like a pipe-dream.

That’s the story from 15 April. Let’s hope it’s a better story by 15 May.

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