As June comes to a close, it is time to update the pandemic diary and provide grist for future social historians. March’s entry was all about fear and anger. April’s entry was about anger and loathing. May was about frustration and caprice. This month is about exhaustion.
I suppose the good news is that some things make a bit more sense. A month ago, Massachusetts was still reeling from the pandemic. In June, infection numbers have dropped significantly, corresponding with observed behavior. Where I live, there has also been a genuine increase in neighborliness. Far more people are perambulating than would have been the case during a typical summer, and people get to chatting. I have started reconnecting with my old high school lunch crowd. Somewhere, Robert Putnam is smiling at all the social capital I am accumulating.
My family was also able to take a real vacation involving a beach, and it was something that approximated normal. Compared with some other vacation locales, everyone wore masks and socially distanced themselves where appropriate. That, in and of itself, was a stress reducer.
You would think that with a proper vacation under my belt, it would be easier to confront the state of the world. A few days’ relaxation, however, is small comfort when the pandemic numbers are getting much worse across wide swaths of the United States.
This is a governance failure, not an inevitability of the disease. pic.twitter.com/A083PtNvD3— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) June 29, 2020
Grim reality is that our most difficult weeks are in front of us pic.twitter.com/EVscLPP34a— Prof Peter Hotez MD PhD (@PeterHotez) June 29, 2020
In recent years I have fantasized on occasion about being an esteemed, wizened talking head for some 2040 History Channel holo-documentary about the Age of Trump. I imagine all the controversies that will be discussed. I anticipate saying things like, “Yeah, he really canceled a visit to Denmark because they would not sell Greenland to the United States” or “Yes, he discussed the possibility of injecting disinfectant at a press conference” or “Uh-huh, in the middle of the pandemic, he decided to hold an indoor rally in Tulsa. It didn’t go well.”
If the United States is very lucky, by 2040 this will seem very amusing with the passage of time. With luck, by 2040, the United States will have endured a string of boring, competent presidents who have made strides toward peace and prosperity. Perhaps things will be so placid that there will be some nostalgia for 2020, when people literally put their lives at risk to march in the streets.
Let this be a note for those future social historians who wonder what 2020 was actually like: It was not anything close to fun.
I will grant that life is not boring. Recently, a Trump 2016 supporter tried to explain his vote to Kate Linthicum of the Los Angeles Times: “I just wanted to see what would happen. At the very least it’s gonna be a circus we can watch.” That man got his wish; it’s been a circus all right.
That said, there’s a reason that guy ain’t voting for Trump this November: Life in 2020 is exhausting. The president’s last national security adviser wrote a book that confirmed every toddler trait possessed by the president. In the past month, the caprice of police forces toward minorities has come into sharper focus. The pandemic numbers coming from Arizona, California, Florida and Texas are frightening. The president’s inability to cope with the array of crises currently facing the United States has become obvious to all. Neither the health of the body politic nor the health of actual Americans looks particularly robust right now.
Furthermore, a day cannot go by without real-world tragedies being compounded by whatever idiocy the president decides to tweet out. Over the past 48 hours, as many sources of bad news continue to trickle in, the president has tweeted a video showing a Trump supporter yelling “white power,” a video of people brandishing guns against protesters and a blinkered defense of Woodrow Wilson. None of this is boring! But it is enervating.
I hope, a year from now, there is a vaccine and a new president and we can look back at June 2020 as the moment America looked into the abyss and decided to go in a different direction. But at the moment, both Trump and the novel coronavirus feel like indelible features of the American landscape. I will resist both of them with all the energy I can muster. But I look forward to the day when I can tell people how awful it was to endure this.
The only upside to living through 2020 is that it’s better than the alternative.