Americans do not have what it takes any longer to deal with the pandemic. We are tired of it. There is fatigue around the country. We want to go back to normal. If we were in the midst of a global conflict, which the pandemic is the equivalent off, Americans will not sacrifice for the common good. We have become a fully transactional nation, with transactional values. Out culture is based on consumption and instant gratification, and cannot think medium to long term.
The president is the perfect person for the job right now. He is transactional and narcissist. So are large segments of the nation. We can see it clearly with college students, who are returning to college and going to parties. Why? We have a collective failure of civil society. Many of these students are leaving home for the first time in their lives, and they want to party. Moreover, more than a few believe this is either a hoax, or it will not affect them greatly.
This is why things like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally still happened. This is why a gym can continue to function in the midst of a pandemic without fear of legal retribution. This happened in my town, the city attorney and the police seem unable to issue tickets. While they are part of the emergency orders, they are very gun shy about issuing them. They are not alone. This is happening across the country.
We also live in a culture that is ignorant (and proud of it) of things like science. This is why Americans in general will not reject the bad science peddled by Federal Agencies at the moment, for political reasons. The perfect storm is brewing. We are heading for a bad winter. Possibly the worst winter since 1918, with high numbers of American dead. For many, these are just numbers.
The President and his Men
Then we have Donald Trump, currently serving as President, He is not just abusing his powers, but also continues to give mixed messages. He is also engaging in wishful thinking, with his people, however, continues to ignore expertise when possible. Republicans continue to talk about the pandemic in the past tense, which is imitated by followers. It’s over. Masks are for sissies, and let’s open up. Some believe the economy is above human life and want to follow the Sweedish model of herd immunity. Worst, they spread lies that the number of dead is not that high. They tell us that hospitals financially benefit from a COVID diagnosis. These are QAnon lies, which were weaponized and used to further divide the nation and make us falter in our resolve. When this started the president wanted to be a wartime president, and given the nature of the global pandemic, it can be seen this way.
However, in wartime, these lies and rumors could be seen as treasonous. Why during World War Two people were told not to spread rumors. Americans followed this instruction out of a sense of patriotism. Now the president engages in rumors and innuendo that go against the messaging of health authorities. In other words, he is undermining career professionals at the CDC and other government agencies and experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Ours is an instant gratification world where the individual is above all. Social pressure has little effect in this environment. With the exception of military bases, the tristate area, and some regions, Americans still refuse to wear a mask. One has to wonder if the only way people will get it is if they themselves get the disease? Very selfish people react exactly this way. This is not real until they end up with a case, perhaps in the hospital, or dead. I am sure some of them did create some havoc during World War Two, but they were the minority, Now the minority are those who value community and civil society.
The PSAs that mask as a sign of respect for you is ineffective in this case. So is the idea that my mask protects you. If all that matters is the individual and instant gratification, protecting and serving others is out. The president has magnified the narcissistic nature of American society. He is, after all, the narcissist in chief.
It is time to ask how we went through the sacrifices of two world wars, and a cold war? How did we do it, because now a simple mask and six feet distance is too much to ask. We know that during the Second World War people gladly went through no drive Sundays. We also used ration books, and children peeled the aluminum foil from a bubble gum wrapper. The Boy Scouts collected scrap metal and old tires that were recycled for the war effort. People planted victory gardens to supplement the at times meager rations they got every month. Men left their homes for years, for the front lines. Some never came home. Some were so broken that they suffered through it, in silence, for the rest of their lives. Some had very obvious disabilities stemming from their service.
Yet, we complain about a mask. Or not being able to go to the movies. Perhaps not going to dinner. It’s not as if we are the only country doing this. The shutdowns we have experienced are nowhere near as draconian as Italy or Spain, let alone China. All required individuals to get a pass to go to the store for essentials or the pharmacy. All required a lot from pet owners as well, since walking the dog could be a problem for shutdowns. They used drones and very heavy fines that they issued. Early on there were concerns that China was going too far in the containment measures taken, from a human rights perspective. However, the three nations have much lower death counts than the United States, and their curves are flat.
All these nations can test and track do contact tracing, which they learned from us. They jump on any outbreak and shut down locally if need be. There are few political concerns, partly because their people were educated early on as to why you need to do this.
We are exceptionally selfish and at this point stupid. We prefer what we perceive as freedom than the necessary public health measures that would allow us to have some of that freedom. We all could have a more reasonable life if we all wore a mask every time we leave the house. Instead, we continue to open too fast and are surprised when positivity rates go up, and we have to close back down. Historians will note this moment for its selfishness.
We also blame others, such as college students. Yes, they are partying like there is no tomorrow, and are maskless. They are not alone. The beaches were crowded with people not wearing masks this weekend. We are going to see a spike. The police did not say if the fines they gave were over mask orders. Given that, likely they were for underage drinking. So don’t blame the students,. They are following what we all are doing. It is not you, the individual I am talking to. I stay home, I wear a mask. But obviously the larger society is not, which makes my efforts fail. We need at least a seventy percent compliance rate. We must ask, when did this attitude start? We can point to the symbolic moment. After the attacks on 911 Americans were told by President George WBush to go shopping. He is not the originator of this selfish attitude, but that was very symbolic. This likely started to take root with the Reagan Revolution, where money and how to obtain it became central to everything. While business is part of American life, the values of Wall Street and the prosperity gospel became mainstream. We became me culture, where the needs of the many are ignored.
Rebuilding Civil Society
There are remnants of that other culture in our society, chiefly among marginalized communities. They rely on others to survive, so helping each other and being there for each other is natural. Mainstream American culture is still trying to stamp it out, why it’s called Socialist and Marxist, particularly in the far right. It’s not. It is much older than the 19th century in fact. It is the reason communities survived and thrived during the last ten thousand years.
Functioning societies need a measure of negative freedom, this is what you cannot do if you are part of society. It is also understood as that which affects others, from your actions. Not wearing a mask at this point is positive freedom, what you think you can do. However, that concept affects the health of others and could lead to somebody dying. If it’s you I suppose it is your choice. But it can be an older family member, a friend, or a neighbor. society.
These concepts of collective action to protect all of us need to enter the mainstream again. The COVID crisis may force some of these once selfish individuals to realize this is not a hoax or a liberal figment of our collective imagination. , but I am not holding my breath. This will not happen until me culture is touched by the epidemic in more than incidental ways. Marginalized parts of the society have already internalized the threat because they are the front line workers who have to deal with the Karens and Chads who berate them for wearing a mask or even asking them to wear one. They are also the ones who have been shot for trying to enforce the mask rules their employers have rightly put in place. Mostly, because they are required, not because they want to.
A functioning civil society requires that people see each other as allies and friends. We live in an increasingly fractured one. It also needs that people see themselves as part of a group that will help each other and sacrifice when needed. This is not just a society that sees itself as exceptional. It is a society that sees problems that affect all that need tackling. War is a good example of that. And when one came to our shores the last time around, less than one percent served, with only five percent directly affected. The rest of the United States went shopping in both literal and figurative ways.
So are you surprised that we cannot wear a mask?
We need to rebuild a civil society where we matter. It is a society where we would spend our collective funds, think taxes to better all of us, in things like quality public education for all, and health care for all. But in order to do this we need to also change the mainstream culture, and the values we live under. We need to ask ourselves, can we face a great challenge? So far, we are mostly failing the test of COVID.