Things to come

“This is not a once-in-a-century event,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, a former director of the CDC. “It’s a harbinger of things to come.”

I think that’s a critical baseline to consider this summer.

Predicting the future is a real racket, but it seems helpful to visualize the near-term — the next decade, say — as passage into a strange new frontier. We are unwitting pioneers, but aren’t we always?

There’s a tendency to disregard the historical in this country. We like to think in short bursts. And earlier this year, when “flattening the curve” was a ubiquitous phrase, we measured the future in weeks. By the end of June, maybe this will all be sorted out, right? But there’s ample reason to think now that we’re stuck with the coronavirus pandemic — stuck with the viral transmission and the cultural division and the lasting bruise on our economy. The fear. The idea of it, if not the actual thing itself. If it’s not SARS-Cov-2 ravaging our society, then pick a coronavirus, any coronavirus.

This is where I might make some goofball remark, like, “What we’ve learned is that our culture was the virus all along.”

When I write that America is sliding into collapse, I don’t mean it as a fire-and-brimstone trap door that might open up on us all one day. In a lot of ways, collapse can be invisible and unfelt, especially from positions of economic and racial privilege. But I do mean to tell my friends and family that public institutions are crumbling, and there’s no clear recourse. I do mean to suggest that the ingredients are present for things to get very bad in America. A global pandemic is terrific fuel for authoritarianism (politics), fascism (culture) and depression (economics), each a branch of what we might call society, each failing miserably in an hour of great need. What that means for how we’ll need to adapt or not in the years to come, well, that’s very hard to say. By the end of August, maybe this will all be sorted out, right? Whatever this is, it’s unprecedented territory, and it’s something we should talk about while there’s still time.

“A harbinger of things to come.”

Think about that phrase. It’s a fucking knockout if you’re reading closely.

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