Democracy and Us on the Other Side of COVID-19
April 13, 2020:
Tompkins County Legislator Anna Kelles is among my closest friends. Sometimes we disagree on politics. But far more significant, we recognize the importance of empathy, to share both with each other and also with the larger world. As I’ve written here, empathy is that one human attribute we need most from our leaders in these troubled times. It’s a quality too few of them seem equipped to deliver.
On April 9th, Anna, in her quest for higher office, communicated to her supporters, including me, words of insight and inspiration. I found her thoughts both profound and touching. And with Anna’s permission, I’ve reprinted them here. The next day, I responded in kind with my own observations, predictions consistent with what I’ve written here of late.
First, from Anna Kelles:
“Over the last few days there seems to be a theme of settling. It is sometimes hard to know what day of the week it is, and for many the feeling of heightened anxiety is being replaced by a strange introspection. For some we still scour the news throughout the day for updates, and for some we are crafting new versions of a quieter (or sometimes more hectic!) home life. In many ways though we are carving grooves of a new normal.
Tomorrow will bring change; and in these COVID-19 times, change and the unknown are part of the environment in which we live and the pace to which we are setting our internal rhythms.
As I sit and write I am pondering, is this a core of what we call human resilience? It seems so.
Wishing you all sweet dreams,
Now, my reply, the next morning:
As you ponder the significance of this hour, I offer you the words of historian John Meacham, speaking this morning on MSNBC:
“Broadly put, we have not had a common experience of this duration that genuinely affected everyone since the Great Depression. The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962; before you were born, Anna), publicly lasted a short period of time. September 11th; the fear, the anxiety; but it was geographically limited. So the Depression, World War II, are far more analogous in terms of the communal experience. This does have the capacity to change us in more fundamental ways than anything, I think, since Pearl Harbor.”
I agree with John…. As I see it, to many of us, the next pandemic will always lurk just around the corner. Tomorrow, we as a people may change—yes, we will change—in ways few of us can today foresee. And the collateral psychological damage, our communal, never-healing wounds of today, will last for the remainder of our lives, last until the youngest of this moment are, themselves, spending their final hours in the nursing homes and hospices of this century’s final quarter.
The Depression Generation carried its love of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal economic interventionism, and later his call for army enlistments and wartime sacrifice, all the way to their death beds. And when those patriots no longer dominated America’s political landscape, politics turned the corner to what we have today. Anna, those younger than you do not fully comprehend the depths of the Cold War. You cannot. You did not live it. But those of my generation distinctly recall where they were and what they feared when President Kennedy pre-empted prime time to show us those pictures of Soviet launchers and nuclear warheads in Cuba. COVID-19 will carry the same visceral impact. It has scarred us. The scar will never heal.
I cannot predict what road we will travel after our yearned-for vaccine gloriously arrives and abruptly ends this national nightmare. But a changed people we will be when we awake. Like with any nightmare, we’ll try to forget it, but it will haunt us into our new day. And only after the nightmare ends, will we, either in perpetual fear or with boundless optimism, greet our new collective morning and travel the road ahead together.
Peace. Health. Hope.