Leonard Zwelling

The last time Americans felt this unsafe and filled with disquiet was 9/11. We had been there before. Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and various stock market crashes come to mind, but this is decidedly different.

The novel coronavirus is a worldwide threat to every human on the planet. It emanated from somewhere but no one will own up to releasing it into the world. The Chinese explanation is that it either came from bats to another species to us or was actually released by the United States. Both of these explanations are hard to swallow given where the plague began (Wuhan) and with the presence of the Wuhan Institute for Virology there and the general sentiment that gain-of-function research with coronaviruses was going on there.

And remember the key question to ask—who benefitted? The Chinese probably will gain the most from the pandemic as Western democratic economies have been sent reeling. Supply chains have been interrupted severely. You cannot find a new car let alone a new refrigerator. But even more devastating is what the coronavirus has done to our collective sense of security.

I feel it everywhere. Even here in Hawaii where the governor is discouraging tourism, there is an unmistakable disquiet permeating all human interactions. The restaurants here are open, but the tables are far apart by order of the government. People are far apart on an island state that prided itself in aggressive friendly human interactions. Most Americans haven’t been to a movie in a year and a half. We are not comfortable with one another. We must mask up before going into grocery stores. Despite all the warnings of the experts to get vaccinated and use masks, there is a stubborn percentage of Americans who refuse vaccination and will not abide by mask mandates. No wonder there is no trust in each other. There is none in the government. There is none in authority. There is no trust in science. Thus, the virus is still out of control.

It seems to me that this is all the product of a long, slow decline in American excellence starting with the education system which has clearly done a poor job informing young people who are now adults over the past forty years of how the immune system, vaccination, and infections work. It is also a product of a disastrous political system that has been poisoned by extremism on both sides and the disappearance of the former wide middle. There are no liberal Republicans and few conservative Democrats. Instead we have people like Ron DeSanctis, Greg Abbott, Nancy Pelosi and AOC making the most noise and the least amount of progress to improve the state of the American body politic. Along with the disease in that body is the many diseases in our own bodies that are preventable—including covid-19.

There was little that could have been done by most Americans to prevent 9/11. We counted on our intelligence and security network to prevent a terrorist attack. Those networks failed us. The same was true of Pearl Harbor and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Covid is different. We could have done an infinitely better job preventing a lot of death and disease once the vaccines became available. Instead, many Americans acted like idiots denying the benefit of the remarkable science and refusing simple things like mask wearing. The vaccine deniers are upset because the establishment doesn’t take them seriously. They are anti-intellectual, anti-science fools. Why would anyone besides DeSanctis and Abbott take them seriously? For intelligent people to play to the beliefs of the fools of society is cynical. The vaccine believers are upset because a more collective approach to the pandemic could have warded off a lot of disease. All deaths could not have been prevented, but a lot could have.

Everyone is upset with everyone. No trust. Much disquiet. No right thinking person feels safe.

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