While my teenage son and I stood in the long checkout line at our New York supermarket on Thursday, the news flashed that Broadway would shut down for the next four weeks, effective all but immediately, in an effort to contain the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus. As we walked home with our hodgepodge of canned goods, I turned to him and said “I hope you remember this as the time the adults panicked.”

I don’t think he will. I suspect that he will remember it instead as a marker, of when “before” stopped and “after” began. I hope that “after” is a better world than the one we live in now.

Our moment of crisis is decades in the making, the endgame of decades of embracing the idea that we are not interconnected, that it is each man and woman for themselves. The results are all around us: Income and wealth inequality soared. When a global financial crisis occurred in 2008, the government bailed out the banks and financial service sector, while allowing millions of American households to go into foreclosure. The rich got even richer, while almost everyone else fell behind. A majority of people say they cannot come up with $1,000 in a pinch without resorting to credit.

Intent on extracting wealth for an ever-smaller elite, we failed to invest. Corporations put money into stock buybacks, not into their employees or research. School funding fell, and our infrastructure — well, it’s a solid D+, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Roads are filled with potholes, and bridges literally fall down.

Nowhere was this pullback more deadly than in health care — as we are no doubt about to learn. The number of hospital beds fell dramatically as pressure mounted to cut “slack” in the system to meet profit goals. Pharmaceutical companies pulled back on researching antibiotics, while pursuing more lucrative cures (for, say, male pattern baldness). At the same time, they offshored to China production of drugs vital to our national health, heedless of what would happen in an emergency.

We deemed health care itself a profit center and refused to make it low cost and universal. One in 4 Americans say they’ve forgone necessary doctor visits or prescriptions because they can’t afford treatment. Gallup reported that 13 percent say they know someone who died because of the same. Even this week, hospitals were quoting prices of more than $1,000 for coronavirus tests.

Trump may think he can sugarcoat coronavirus, but media critic Erik Wemple says it is time for the government to speak with one clear voice about public health. (The Washington Post)

In place of a robust and generous social welfare state, we turned to self-help nostrums. We told people challenged to pay for health care to “stay healthy” and suggested those who fell on hard times didn’t need a helping hand so much as a kick in the pants. The word “co-dependent” became an insult.

It all culminated in the election of Donald Trump. He presented himself as a self-made business guru but, in fact, was a to-the-manor-born serial bankrupt. True to form, when the coronavirus crisis struck, he turned to positive thinking, insisting that only a few had tested ill. That was true — because thanks to his inaction, there were nowhere near enough testing kits. Now, he is frantically trying to bluff his way out of the global coronavirus pandemic.

But the fault is not Trump’s alone. Too many of us were deluded, convinced that we ourselves would be fine while others suffered around us. But it was absurd to think money could protect us from all danger. Viral diseases don’t check your wallet before striking, and they find you at Hamptons summer houses and hidden bunkers alike.

We are all connected. We all need to take on the task of rebuilding our society and putting protections in place so that when the next the crisis comes, we are ready to take it on. That looks like Medicare-for-all. Paid sick leave. A strong unemployment system — one that covers gig workers — so that people losing their jobs don’t run out of money almost immediately.

That’s not a radical left agenda, it’s one that protects all of us. It also happens to be humane. And if we do it, some good will come out of this terrible calamity. The world will almost certainly never be the same. It’s in our power to make it a better one than before.

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