[Editor's Note:  This is homeschooling.  The school year has ended and thus Wyatt has more time to devote to writing, setting his own goals and an ambitious schedule.]

It could be said that I am the absolute worst person to take the long view of current times. I’ve only been around for 15 years and haven’t known the slightest thing about current events until at most three years ago, when I took to them like a fish to water. And I live in New Hampshire, the whitest state in the Union. This is hardly beneficial to interpreting recent events, whether they be the long term effects of coronavirus, or the recent riots that have shaken the country. However, sometimes the unattached observer is best. It is a terribly interesting time, from a historical perspective. Of course, we must remember the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” I don’t think it was meant as good wishes.

First of all, things are not all doom and gloom. We must remember that the standard of living is higher today than ever before. We would all be living at the highest standard of living a major industrial country has ever had, if not for the coronavirus. The Spanish flu was just as deadly as the coronavirus. Yet, everyone went out, and many died. This was because, a hundred years ago, the world couldn’t afford to shut down. Now, we can all stay inside for three months, and our biggest concern is our social life. The sixties were a turbulent time, as turbulent as today politically. The seventies were marked by gas shortages. Life may have been better four months ago, but this is the first dip we’ve seen since the 2008 crash, and all the aftershocks of that. It has taken us all by surprise. We’ll be recovering from this for a long time. But, we will recover from it, in some form or fashion. How much we will lose forever, and how much will continue as it was before, remains to be seen, but we will recover.

I think that the recent riots are as much an indication of economic downturn, perceived as being forced by the authorities, as of the tragic death of George Floyd. The police have enforced lockdowns and have become quite unpopular in some places. It is a simple fact that, while the death of George Floyd is tragic, it is far from the first of its kind. Many examples of police brutality have taken place before, on both blacks and whites. So, why did these ones produce an unparalleled amount of rioting and destruction? I think it is the economic downturn, which has hurt many in the black community. Therefore, there are lots of poor people, black and white, who aren’t allowed to work. Thus, they have nothing to do, other than try and spend unemployment checks. They get into the streets because they dislike the police, and the police have given them another, poignant reason to dislike them. It is thrilling to finally break the social distancing guidelines, thrilling to put oneself at risk for a cause. Then, when they find out that the nation is by and large behind their message, some of the more reckless ones begin looting, and burning police stations. I think it is the natural result of keeping all these people locked up for so long. There was dry wood. The death of George Floyd was the match. That is how I view the situation.

It is amazing how swiftly social distancing was abandoned. If you protest and loot buildings, you are immune to coronavirus, apparently. The rapidity with which the social distancing rule was dropped was amazing. One day, nobody ever talked about anything else. The next, every major player in the world was silent, except for maybe right wing outlets, though I doubt that the protesters’ health is the first thing on their mind. Now, former Vice President Biden is going to attend George Floyd’s funeral, where no social distancing is being mandated. That is quite the risk for the Vice President, who is already elderly, the number one thing to make you vulnerable. It is now politically expedient to ignore social distancing, so it is ignored.

This is leading us into one of the most bitter games of political maneuvering I’ve ever seen, either myself or in history. Usually, when there is a crisis, the nation comes together. We did it in WWII, we did it in the Mexican war in the 1840’s, we did it in the Great Depression, we’ve done it many times. So, why can’t we do it now? It is because both parties have tried and succeeded to make things black and white. Democrats are terrible, say the Republicans, because they want to steal your money and give it to people who aren’t working. Republicans are racist, say the Democrats, because they don’t want to give their money to poor people, and everyone knows that colored people are poor because of Republicans’ racism. And so it goes, getting nastier and nastier, until each side has been convinced the other is entirely evil, and if “those people” get control of the country, it will fall apart. I think this has prevented us from coming together.

It has come up for an interesting election, in that if either candidate were not running against the other, I would assume that they would lose. Vice President Biden is going senile before our eyes, and I don’t think he can physically handle the presidency, the most stressful job on the planet, for four years. I cannot judge his chances until he picks his VP. President Trump was turned to by the Republicans as their last desperate hope. And it worked. However, while he started off well enough, events out of his control have led to him being in a bunker for fear that the White House might be stormed by protesters. Though no one could have stopped the coronavirus, any president that has to be in a bunker has begun to lose control of the country. This is why a European political system with more than two parties would be nice.

So, times may look grim these days. But, they are in some ways the nicest days ever. Remember that oil was once so sought after that wars were fought for it, repeatedly, in the Middle East, not so long ago. Now, we are pulling out of there, a place the United States has been fighting since before I was born, because we don’t need oil anymore. We will need oil again, surely, but I don’t think we’ll need as much for a long time, as people become more accustomed to not driving. It is a time of change. I don’t like it very much, and I think that some of the things being lost will hurt American culture for many years to come. But there are benefits, and I think that the world will come out a new place. The only question is to whom the prize of shaping it will go. Democrats or Republicans? The United States or China? Only time will tell.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 7, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Edit
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Wyatt - A great post! Thank you. Some ideas for your summer: For the long view, see the Big History Project, the writings of Jeffrey Sachs (at Columbia), Yuval Harari's "Sapiens," and Will and Ariel Durant's "The Lessons of History." For a point of view that may be a little different than yours, subscribe to Heather Cox Richardson's daily letter (fashioned on "Letters from an American Farmer"). If you can get to George Will (he might be behind a WaPo firewall), he's a long-time conservative on the warpath right now. (He spoke at Gettsyburg last fall and, behind the scenes, he just wants to talk baseball. His "Men at Work" is a classic!) And when your brain gets tired, try Jill Lepore's new podcast, The Last Archive, which focuses on the history of evidence but gets to questions about how we know what is true and what is not. And keep writing!

Posted by Eric on Monday, June 08, 2020 at 8:04 am
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