Alan Zendell, May 26, 2021
If you think like I do, you looked at the title and thought – what does that even mean? People remark that we’re returning to normal every day and I want to ask each one: “How do you know?” I don’t because they can’t.
Are we back to normal with respect to generations of families re-uniting? Most people seem to be, but it’s not the same as before. If people have to travel long distances, despite airlines claiming flights are full again, many aren’t ready to get on a plane or a train yet. Many others are behaving as though the pandemic is gone, and too many never changed their behavior even during the lockdowns. We continue to meet via video conferencing, and I doubt that will ever change.
What about vacations? Are you going to be willing to board a cruise ship any time soon? I’m not, but then, I always thought cruise ships were floating petri dishes waiting to explode into a deadly epidemic. Ocean cruising will never return to what it was; river cruising might, as river boats are smaller, almost entirely open air, and if you’re on, say, the Danube, you can’t be quarantined at sea. You can jump off the boat and wade to shore in most places.
And road trips? I took one recently that covered 2,000 miles. It felt comfortable and normal, compared to a year earlier when driving 1,000 miles to get home felt like tiptoeing through a series of minefields. Big chain hotels and restaurants had done a great job of adapting, and fuel costs were still low because of reduced demand earlier in the pandemic. Speaking of which, here’s another sign of returning to normal, albeit an unpleasant one. After the Suez Canal blockage in March, gas prices soared to levels not seen in years due to uncertain supply lines. Two months later, there’s no longer any uncertainty, yet prices are still at their peaks. The oil companies and their distribution networks are as corrupt as ever, reaping every penny of windfall profits they can until someone stops them.
Discussing returning to work again, we must realize that people define normal according to their own circumstances. If your job no longer exists, you run the risk of falling through the cracks as the government begins to report that the economy is roaring again. Unemployment rates and hundreds of thousands of new jobs created each month don’t mean much if you have no prospect of getting one. As the 2022 elections approach, neither major party will want to focus on the millions of Americans left behind.
Assuming you still have a job or found a new one, is work like it was before the pandemic? Employers learned that working from home and substituting video conferencing for in-person interaction can save a ton of administrative costs, though some have concerns about monitoring productivity. For many people, like single parents juggling job, school, and day care, working from home is a huge benefit – no hours wasted commuting, minimal wardrobe concerns, and more quality time with kids are hard to give up. People who used to spend weeks and months in business travel have realized how useless most of that travel is. Now that they see how productive they can be sitting in front of a computer screen, most won’t want to pack their suitcases again.
Most school systems concluded that returning to normal means all students attending in-person classes, and the majority will not be offering virtual learning in the fall. But teachers know that while most children need to be in school to learn, there are many who do better in virtual settings. Let’s hope alternative learning platforms don’t completely disappear.
I left government for last because it’s so profoundly depressing. In previous pandemics, our government put partisanship aside for the public good. But this time, the government was dominated by a craven president who cared about television ratings and stock market indexes more than human lives. Four months into Joe Biden’s presidency, Republican lawmakers’ preoccupation with currying favor from Trump, regaining control of the Congress, and suppressing the votes of minorities, are allowing partisanship to continue unabated. The destructive politics of Trumpism continues to eat away at our national soul.
Racist, divisive voices like Marjorie Taylor Greene’s have always been a fact of life in American politics. But with Trump continuing to dominate his party and threatening ruin to all who oppose him, our government is running on fumes and hypocrisy. Trump didn’t create spineless leaders like Kevin McCarthy, but he knew an ambitious politician who would sell his soul to be House Speaker when he saw one, and he was only too happy to draft a bill of sale.
Despite President Biden’s effort to achieve a measure of bipartisan cooperation, it’s not going to happen. The single exception may be the police reform bill thanks to South Carolina’s Tim Scott. Scott has a conscience, and even if he didn’t, he knows his political future depends on African American voters believing he cares about racial justice more than receiving an endorsement from Donald Trump.