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We're Never Going Back to 'Normal'
It never existed, and it's sure as hell not coming back.
We’ve reached the part of quarantine where—if you were privileged enough to perhaps have enjoyed a honeymoon period where working and being at home all the time still felt novel—things are starting to feel long. I’m sick of my shows, I’m sick of new shows, I’m sick of eating at home, I’m bellyaching at my easy-going partner, I want to be helpful, I want to be numb and drop out. Perhaps most of all, I really, really don’t want to be working.
But it’s my job to know the news. I used to cover politics, but the current landscape feels somehow far more bleak than presidential politics ever did. I often don’t seek out the day’s corona-news but it finds me, in push notifications and tweets, throughout the day. The pitter-patter sounds something like: de Blasio, Cuomo playgrounds May 15, Trump tweet, Republican governor, news conference, death toll rises. There’s a lot of sameness if you don’t zoom in further, but one consistent baseline, even among the well-meaning people I know, is that they can’t wait for things to get back to “normal.”
Pining for “normal” has become something of a liberal fetish during the Trump years. Now more than ever, an appear to normalcy would seem to make sense: We are living through extraordinary, fearful times that even the worst actors among us would like to come to an end. But it’s also wildly misguided. “Normal” for whom? Even if things looked pretty good for you under what you think of as “normal” times, what about the working class, the uninsured, the undocumented? Upholding normalcy means power consolidated among the wealthy, with little support for everyone else.
This crisis has already laid bare how threadbare our social safety net is after decades of lawmakers hacking away at essential programs. We’re already seeing unprecedented levels of unemployment claims, likely still kept artificially low by the fact that large swaths of people simply can’t get through. The corollary is that even after this thing “peaks”—whatever that means—we’ll just be getting started, with the economy on life support, tens of millions unemployed and in need of government assistance, and the worst kinds of people—say, Jeff Bezos—standing to benefit even more as the value of labor dives even lower.
The Republican death cult is fully mask off about wanting to re-open state businesses, which they’ve long, but more quietly, prized as one of the “more important things than living.” Meanwhile, the Democrats, our supposed opposition party, are once again caught flat-footed. In a moment where the case for single-payer healthcare has never been more obvious, Nancy Pelosi is busy making Trump’s attack ads for him, and Americans are left with the distinct feeling that, yet again, elected Democrats don’t give a shit about them. Liberals’ favorite governor has left inmates to die in our jails. And the next standard-bearer for the future of the party, former Vice President Joe Biden, was bizarrely absent when this crisis began, then encouraged people to risk their lives to vote, and is now spending his days spouting off nonsense like this:
What’s clear is that we’ll be atoning for our moral failure in this crisis for many years to come. We’ll also be fighting to claw back whatever economic safety or semblance of power we had before the pandemic with little help from a state that’s not equipped in the slightest to address the magnitude of people in need. There’s a strong case to be made that what comes “next”—if you view this thing as having a distinct beginning, middle, and end, like a children’s book—will be even worse as millions compete for waning government resources, jobs remain scarce, and empathy from wealthier Americans begins to dry up. This moment in time is not normal, but the way our pitiful social welfare programs and our overtaxed hospitals and our defanged politicians are responding is—the system chugs on, as designed, but hey, at least you got that one-time check for $1,200.
“Normal” is dead, if it ever existed, and it’s not coming back. What’s left to do is make sure our organized response isn’t also what the powerful are expecting: selfishness, apathy, taking what we’re given out of desperation. Normal was their time, this will be ours—if we’re willing to fight for it.