Thursday, March 26, 2020

How will the pandemic change America

Here are a couple of items from Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American .

National news media finally gets it.

Trump is using his daily briefings on the coronavirus in place of his rallies, and media channels are trying to figure out how both to cover the briefings and to avoid spreading disinformation that will hurt Americans’ ability to respond to the crisis. It is clear Trump is relishing the constant television coverage, and is using it to advance his reelection campaign. In the process, he is playing fast and loose with the truth. Media channels are aware that Trump got scads of free press coverage by engaging in shocking behavior, and are trying to cover the news without repeating that mistake. Today an NPR station in Seattle announced that it will no longer cover his briefings because they disseminate misleading or false information. On Monday, CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing after an hour, saying that “the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.” Deputy White House Press Secretary Judd Deere said their decision was “disgraceful.”

How will the pandemic change America?

I blogged about this previously.

The country is reordering itself as we hunker down for this crisis. Already our work habits, our social habits, our shopping habits, and our personal lives have been knocked into new grooves. It is a mistake, I think, to imagine that when we finally get a handle on this disease, America will go back to what it was before coronavirus. Observers cannot help but note that such profound dislocation presents a perfect opening for an authoritarian power grab.

It’s happening!

The Department of Justice’s recent attempt to get Congress to pass legislation permitting the arrest and detention of defendants at will during a time of emergency is a troubling step in that direction. (I thought the DOJ story might well be untrue and said so when I wrote about it; I was wrong, it is true.)

During past crises, a number of Americans have welcomed such authoritarianism, hoping to ditch the slow messiness of democracy in favor of quick, strong fixes. Notably, during the Depression, fascism didn’t strike everyone as a bad idea.

But while it is imperative for citizens of a democracy to watch for and resist the rise of such authoritarian power during a crisis, these times are also open for a redefinition of the nation, not only of our government, but also of how we live. We are learning that many of us can work from home—how will that change our urban and rural spaces? We are learning that our lives depend on a strong government response to pandemics and economic dislocation—how will that change our government? We are learning that our families and friends are even more important than even we knew—how will that change our priorities?

The questions raised by this life-changing crisis are open… and so, suddenly, is America’s future.

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