By Frank Blechman
It is not hard to imagine a day early in 2021:
- A new administration has been sworn in. New congressional leadership is in place in both houses.
- A vaccine is in wide use to restrict the coronavirus. Masks and social distancing are no longer required, though many continue to follow those rules out of caution.
- Restaurants and theaters are reopened. Sports activities have resumed.
- Many schools have returned to five-day-per-week-in-person instruction.
- Unemployment is still higher than before the crises, but falling steadily. Public budgets are recovering.
- Reforms are underway to change the basic structure of our criminal justice and public safety systems.
- The simultaneous health, economic, and social crises of 2020 have passed their peaks. Active efforts are in place to identify and squash any “second waves.”
Many (if not must) folks will heave a HUGE sigh of relief. Reasonable, thoughtful people will be tired of all the changing rules and mandates. The nightly bad news long ago stopped being motivating; the stories weren’t even interesting after a while. Even responsible public leaders will want to declare that the crisis is over. The pressure then will be enormous to get back to normal (or something like early 2020, before the coronavirus shut down our everyday lives and crippled our familiar economy).
The pressure … will be enormous to get back to normal (or something like early 2020, before the coronavirus shut down our everyday lives and crippled our familiar economy). Should we do that? Will we do that? Right now, I think we should say “NO.”
Should we do that? Will we do that?
– – –
Right now, I think we should say “NO.”
The current crises create opportunities to redesign our health, economic, and social systems. The failures of each have been vividly revealed by recent events. If we don’t commit to needed changes now, we won’t do them. We will then be as vulnerable to the next wave of unexpected events as we were this time.
- Health care systems. We need to move further toward universal health coverage. Our pandemic preparedness must be much stronger. Epidemiology should be part of basic public education. Mechanisms must be in place to enforce policies to protect community health.
- Economic systems. Unemployment insurance, displacement, and retraining assistance need to be rebuilt from the ground up. Economic development will have to integrate much more closely with educational systems, land-use management, environmental planning, and sustainable infrastructure. Progressive taxation will have to pay the bills.
- Social system. It will take an extraordinary effort to reconstruct the broad belief that “we are all in this together” to address the gross disparities we see today. We must begin with reform of the criminal justice and public safety systems. Lifetime education, affordable housing, sustainable energy, and clean air and water are the basic infrastructure of civilized living, not luxuries.
As we make these changes, we have to be much more honest than we have been about how we got to 2020. Greed? Short-sightedness? Ignorance? Racism? Sexism? Stupidity? Vanity? Sure. All of those are true, but simply acknowledging these factors won’t help us move forward. We have to abandon very comforting myths we use to explain ourselves to ourselves.
We have to abandon very comforting myths we use to explain ourselves to ourselves…. We all played a role in getting here…. WE ALL were wrong and WE ALL have to change ourselves if we are going to change the systems around us.
It’s nice to think, for example, that a problem came from one person or group. “They” screwed up. Now “we” will fix it. No, we all played a role in getting here. We all accepted injustice and inequity. We tolerated broken health systems. We imagined that a poisoned economy and environment would not poison us. WE ALL were wrong and WE ALL have to change ourselves if we are going to change the systems around us.
We cannot go back to “normal,” particularly a normal that never functioned well for most people. The old systems that didn’t serve in the past won’t work any better in the future. We know better.
Now is the time to make our commitments to do better. Now is the time to begin the processes to change these systems.