1942: Worse Than 2020


Leonard Zwelling


         A big thank you to one of my favorite columnists, George Will, for pointing out this forgotten bit of American history. There have been worse times for the country than now. I always think of 1968. He went back a bit further—to 1942.

         Obviously, on New Years Day 1942, America had just entered a war for which it was not really prepared. The country was still recovering from the Depression and that recovery included physically recovering from widespread malnutrition such that many early Army recruits were unfit to serve.

         Racial strife was far worse in the country then than now and, in fact, it was the WWII experience that began the trend toward integration. That was surely not the case in 1942.

         Japanese-Americans were thrown into concentration camps on the West Coast.

         It was not until 1942 that the first person was cured of what would have otherwise been a lethal infection by the use of a new drug, penicillin.

         There was rationing all over the country of “gasoline, tires, sugar, and coffee.”

         It was a bleak time in America and far worse than today. Nonetheless, we need a way out of 2020’s plagues just as we needed a way out of 1942 and let’s hope the way out is short of war.

         The key will be leadership and I don’t just mean in the White House.

         The federal government is simply not functioning. At a time of a great public health crisis the CDC is not leading. And when it tries to lead with specific recommendations, the president undermines those reasonable recommendations and urges an opening of commerce which many states did long before they were ready to do so according to the CDC. Had the original CDC guidelines been followed months ago, we might be out of this now and would certainly be in a better place economically and more ready to try to get schools back in session. Instead, the president and a handful of irresponsible Republican governors opened up their economies too soon and too broadly and signaled the people that life was back to normal. It was not and in America, it still is not. We have de facto followed the Swedish model and suffered the economic AND health consequences of inept management. Falling into outright herd immunity that included nursing home patients and the elderly was foolish and the congregation of the unmasked in bars only served to spread the disease especially in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. A blog reader informed me that the worst infections with the coronavirus in the reader’s state is from visitors from—wait for it—Texas.

         This year will go down as one of those seismic inflection points in the arc of America. It has pointed out a couple of hard to swallow truths.

         Our leadership and the way we choose it is highly flawed. It’s time to ditch the Electoral College and introduce term limits if the federal government is ever going to serve the needs of the people. It’s not so much that Trump is the worst president ever. I really don’t know if he is. We’ve had some really awful ones, but the process that would lead a man like that to become the most powerful person in the free world is frighteningly in need of revision. Forget about the guy. The process is broken.

         Congress seems to be accountable to no one because it is in theory accountable to everyone, but only a few people pick each member. Heck, the same number of senators represent the millions in California as they do the hundred thousands in Wyoming. What’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps it’s time for a Constitutional Convention to consider whether or not we are optimally structured for the future. I understand checks and balances and Great Compromises, but if the President of the United States can send unmarked federal troops into a major city when the mayor wants them out, we have problems. Of course, the fact that the mayor couldn’t really deal with the chaos is a problem, too.

         1942 was bad year for America but it led to the greatest victory in our history and one of the great economic expansions of all time. We need something to move us along again and I surely hope it is something short of a world war. Unfortunately, it is neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden.

         “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”

         Might it be Kamala Harris? You heard it first here.

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