The Great Distancing
America’s involvement in WWII lasted 3 years and 9 months, and 405,399 Americans perished (297 per day). U.S. forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for 19 years, and we’ve lost 2,285 servicemembers (1 every 3 days). In WWII almost a third of fruits and vegetables were harvested from “Victory Gardens” planted in people’s backyards. You couldn’t find chocolate or nylons. Diapers and food staples were rationed, and you could be kicked off a plane to make room for servicemen.
Despite the formidable financial stress of wartime, households were asked to dig deeper and buy war bonds. Within three weeks of Dec. 7, 1941 Ford, Fisher Auto Parts, and Goodyear Rubber were turning out B-24 and B-25 bombers, using fabricated auto parts. Kelvinator, which made refrigerators, was told by the government to stop and start making propellers and army helmets.
Fast forward to 2020: Americans don’t want to wear masks and expect the government to send them more money. We’ve been unable to produce cotton swabs and personal protective equipment. Most Covid tests still take 5-7 days to yield results, while other countries have had rapid tests since March.
Since the first recorded U.S. case in January, we have lost 159,588 Americans, or 806 people a day. The economic cost of the stimulus will likely surpass the conflict that reshaped the world order. However, we’re not spending this unprecedented amount of money on fighting the enemy, but ensuring the NASDAQ (the net worth of the wealthy) doesn’t decline. Our leadership seems to think a return to school should be doable even though our Covid-19 testing is extremely slow and below need. University leadership is convinced the virus received the memo that the nobility and business model of education should be an immunity, cauterizing spread.
We have a forest fire and are borrowing trillions from future generations to Venmo people sitting at home as the inferno in their neighbor’s yard rages. Personal income was 7.3% higher in Q2 versus Q1 because of stimulus payments and extra unemployment benefits. The personal savings rate hit a historic 33% in April, the highest by far since the department started tracking in the 1960s. Do the 89% of people who still have their job need additional stimulus? It appears, as is the case the last several decades, that the only bipartisan action is reckless spending that flattens the curve for rich people while throwing some funds at the neediest for optics.
And the enemy marches on.
Donald Trump was right, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes. Mistakes that cost us almost 7,000 American souls, 208,102 Iraqi and 111,000 Afghan civilian lives, and $1.9 trillion (inflation adjusted). But Covid-19 will register an even greater toll of American blood and treasure. The response to the novel coronavirus would have been swifter and more disciplined if the pathogen had brown skin and worshiped a different god. Americans can’t seem to wrap their head around an enemy 10,000 times smaller than the width of human hair.
What does success in America look like? Brash, optimistic, a vision for how technology will solve our problems that results in billions of shareholder value. Recently I’ve been participating in Zoom calls with Masters of the Universe and “experts” from various fields to discuss all things pandemic. Some are small groups of CEO and hedge fund titans where I’m the entertainment, while others have had real experts. In June a CEO of a large investment bank assured us the first vaccine would be available by the fall. In July, the CEO of a big tech firm was certain frontline workers would have received the vaccine by September latest.
Yeah, hope so …
But even if these men are right, does a vaccine defeat the enemy? Let’s ignore the fact we may not get a vaccine (HIV, 40 years and counting). Let’s assume that, despite formidable production and distribution hurdles, we get a vaccine in reasonably short order. If we have the silver bullet, does it get fired? The journal Science reported that 50% of Americans say they will not take the vaccine. We need at least 70% of Americans to take the vaccine. To be clear, I will take it and advocate for others to do the same.
But we should be fighting on multiple fronts. In the middle of the last century, 120,000 Americans spent 4 years and more than $23 billion to find a vaccine for tyranny. The Manhattan Project was a research and development undertaking during WWII that produced the first nuclear weapons. The successful splitting of the atom would end the war, and we had reasonable confidence we would get there. However, between 1942 and 1945, we still built 297,000 aircraft and 86,000 tanks. We still sent young men to die on the beaches of Normandy and the island of Luzon. Keep in mind, this enemy, at present, has a greater toll on American lives each day than WWII. We are lacking a unity of purpose.
The Great Distancing
We seem to have developed immunities to learning from others. Specifically what’s worked elsewhere — non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI). A fancy way of saying “distancing and masking.” Restricting a virus of proximity to another organism for 14 days is what Valyrian Steel is to the Dark Knight. Yet 3 in 10 Americans “sometimes, rarely, or never” wear a mask. We can wait for the splitting of the atom, or we can … distance and wear a mask.
There are 129 million households. Corporations have enjoyed the greatest profits in history, and the 1% have seen their wealth increase during the pandemic. I believe corporations and citizens are capable and willing to be the key instruments of a battle to change the course of this war. People decry the lack of leadership, but is it time to lead from the bottom up? The president has decided “it is what it is,” and Speaker Pelosi and Representative Jim Jordan are purposefully undermining the credibility of Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.
About half of U.S. households have an occupant who works for a company with more than 2,500 people. Let’s call these firms “guardians.” I’m suggesting they adopt their employees’ households for two weeks. We can also enlist volunteers from the top 10% income-earning households, and those that have the resources (time, money, organizational skills) to adopt the other “citizen” households. Connections could be coordinated/assigned by state and local health agencies to establish a dialog and provide support. Under guidelines issued by the CDC, each household works with their “guardian” or “citizen” to prepare for a 14-day lockdown. This guardianship would include, but not be limited to:
- 14 days of supplies/groceries
- Living space that is adequate (if not, the guardian finds other living quarters)
- Remote medicine/therapy where needed
- Streaming video platforms
- Content/learning programming for kids, including daily play dates for kids under 10 where kids and chaperones observe safety measures
- Smartphone with an app that schedules, manages walks outdoors and exercise that is distanced from all other quaranteams (or a shared Google calendar)
- Enforcement. People in Germany who violate mask orders are fined up to 10,000 euro. Better yet, why wouldn’t we make any form of assistance (PPP/Cares/unemployment) dependent on adherence to the great distancing guidelines? Shouldn’t these lovers of freedom be released from the tyranny of government assistance?
And then we lock down. You know, similar to every other country that has crushed the curve. But, Americans are too fond of their individualism and freedom, no? A fraction of leadership (from the government or citizenry) would meet pockets of resistance, but a groundswell of support would rise as the chaos that is fall in the U.S. comes into plain view.
We’d also need an army of tracers equipped with handheld technology, a U.S. Corona Corps armed with rapid tests, which have yet to be widely available. We know the monster’s weakness. Haven’t we conflated “freedom” with weakness and an unwillingness to make short-term sacrifices for the good of the commonwealth? Can you imagine people in 1944 refusing to wear a mask, or ignoring orders to tune their lights out during a bombing raid?
97% of the time I am fine — at home, with my boys, I can work, my stocks (big tech monopolies) are at record highs, no business travel, living my best life. The other 3%, always late at night when up alone, I’m overwhelmed by anxiety. The anxiety isn’t chemical, or depression … but clarity. My nine-year-old became a different boy without school and socialization this past spring. Anybody who has experienced the most important thing in their life come off the tracks knows everything stops, and there will never be real rest again, as it could happen … again.
My dad, 89, is sequestered in his assisted living facility in San Diego. Nobody can see him. His meals are left at his door. He does take a masked walk every day, but it’s taking a real toll. In the five months he’s been in lockdown, his dementia has begun to march faster. Every time we speak he says he’d like to see me and the boys one last time and would like to come to Florida, forgetting the situation we’re in. I agree, we start talking dates, and he gets emotional. He then says he’s sorry for whatever he’s done to make me mad at him. Thing is, he hasn’t done anything and I’m not mad, but there’s no talking him off it.
As his hearing aids never seem to be working, I end up venturing outside so I can yell … “DAD, YOU’VE DONE NOTHING WRONG, WE HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP, I LOVE YOU AND YOU LOVE US, WE’RE FINE.” He responds, “What?” We do this for about two minutes or until the neighbors’ lights go on wondering wtf is going on next door. He hears me and, again, seems relieved. He’ll then just deflate and say, “This dementia thing. I just feel … I just feel so lost.”
I’m anxious. Anxious I will experience the feeling of falling into a black hole of paternal failure if I can’t prevent my youngest from again losing his sense of place, self, and joy. Anxious I could have to say goodbye to my dad over FaceTime. Anxious a foreign adversary will see opportunity in our weakness. Anxious the markets regain consciousness. Anxious.
It’s overwhelming to try to fathom the pain, despair, and loneliness tens of millions of households are struggling with right now. And we didn’t need to be here. America is about generosity, grit, innovation, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another and future generations. There’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed with what’s right with America. However, at this moment, our nation has never been less American.
Our optimism and technology will not replace sacrifice. In order to, again, embrace life and each other, we need a great distancing.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Had Andrew Yang on the Prof G Show this week. A blue-flame thinker. Have a listen.