This last pandemic-fueled year has been undoubtedly draining for most humans, my personal story notwithstanding. I’m not here to bend your eyes and ears with tales of personal woe and injustice, driven by a reticence to wear masks or obey distancing guidelines (I honored both, as most good humans should and did), nor am I going to waste our collective time rehashing the blow-by-blow of all things political and medical that revealed themselves, often with the subtlety of a rampaging elephant, throughout 2020 and bleeding into 2021.
No, I’m here to discuss the substantial aftereffects, both physical and mental, of this pandemic thus far, for an average ordinary voting Joe like me who, at 51 years old, pays cursory attention to news media while trying to maintain a discerning eye for its often-obtrusive bullshit. As a center-left voter who holds online subscriptions to several high-profile publications, I’m often struck by the us-v-them nature of supposedly unbiased journalism, while noting the willingness of some media outlets to continue to present questionable material, untrue on its face but so worthy of generating online viewership. It’s kind of like watching a bizarro West Wing, only the truth has often been far, far stranger than the fictions it supposedly portrays. Coverage during the pandemic has been predictably all over the place, leading to the almost constant, yet so-indicative-of-our-times question: In a public health emergency, why hasn’t there been a consistent message from the media?
I’m not here to trash Donald Trump (much), tempting as it might be. If you’re here just for that, the little X in the upper right-hand corner probably has your name on it. But I’ll summarize the Trump years like this: He was a guy who understood the modern American propensity for intellectual laziness and willingness to pass the blame and capitalized on it, all the way to the White House. In hindsight, it’s a pretty remarkable story, given the vacuum of policy he presented. If his moral character (the existence of which is a discussion for another time) was questionable before and during (and after, really) his presidency, who can say they were truly surprised by what they saw? Donald Trump is many things, but his macho-man I-know-better-than-you routine has been his shtick for decades, as is his Mencken-esque ability to appeal to the lowest common denominator. There’s a reason Trump was popular on reality TV, and it’s not because he read Shakespearean sonnets with extra flair and gusto. Trump appealed to a generally older, white blue-collar crowd who had grown disenfranchised with politics in general and the perceived double-speak of elected representatives on both sides of the aisle. There was a gigantic voting niche available to exploit for anyone that was paying attention, and Trump, for all of his flaws, had devoured and spoken/tweeted about politics almost daily for at least a decade prior to his 2016 campaign – to use an overworn cliché, his name was “out there”. Trampling over the rabble the rest of the GOP rolled out for the party nomination in 2016 must have seemed like child’s play for any applicant with a background in public relations, which fits the description of many of Trump’s campaign personnel rather than the usual career campaign staffers that generate yawns and espouse their guys’ policies by rote. So if you’re still wondering how Trump got elected in the first place, I suggest you look inward, especially if you voted for him and now regret it. At our core, we’re a fundamentally ignorant, lazy country, propped up by our own wealth, hubris and moral vacuity, and Donald Trump was a natural extension of those traits. It’s kind of surprising, to me at least, that a Trump, if not THE Trump, wasn’t elected sooner.
That said, the pandemic and Trump seemed made for each other. I maintain that Trump would still be president if he had simply adopted and held firm to pandemic restrictions early and had emphasized such proven measures as mask-wearing to his voters. It’s simply impossible to have been on watch for 600,000 deaths as U.S. CinC, the foremost political figure charged with the safety and well-being of a country on the planet, and expect to survive. Trump didn’t protect us well-enough, so he was ousted. It’s probably that simple, although the masses have thrown up many other real and perceived crimes that may have contributed. (Note: I do not accept conspiracies about the election being stolen. More credible people than you have subscribed to that nonsense without evidence, and have ruined any shred of their credibility along the way. Don’t be one of those people.)
But Trump was only one factor in the pandemic, albeit a large, orange one. Messaging from the CDC and WHO was often at odds, as were findings from other nations’ health departments. COVID-19 has proven, from a scientific perspective, to be a significant challenge to the medical community at large, beginning with failed attempts to contain it, followed by conflicting mitigation measures, followed by chemical solutions that weren’t. and finally rolling out vaccines, some more effective than others. The death toll needn’t have been as bad, lest it needs to be said.
The economy, robust in trading but short on wages, had been humming along for 11 years when the pandemic hit, resulting in massive layoffs, huge public safety nets and general worry over investments and futures. In such situations, the general public would, in prior recessions or worse, pull back from further financial deployment and lock down longer-term, safer investments, at least until the crisis passed. Not so in 2020, when the buying public, through quarantine boredom or just sheer illogic, routed the real estate market, where home prices are currently tracking approximately 20% higher than the same period in 2019. Reasonably priced lots and structures are rarely on the market more than 24 hours, and many buyers are doing so sight-unseen, which would’ve been anathema as little as a decade ago. If there was ever an indication Americans have too much disposable income, this was it, as there’s no other single explanation for this sort of spending increase.
Because of this, everyday citizens are feeling the effects of a supercharged economy. We’re seeing inflationary ticks in commonly-used products. Gas prices, once our foremost national collective concern, have been climbing in lockstep with the rest of the economy. Like the real estate market, the car-buying public seems to be going overboard, further driving up pricing for that small investment niche. Home-weary, presumably-vaccinated citizens are beginning to travel in huge numbers, as evidenced by recent returns from major airlines, further escalating pricing in a battered industry in need of it. Travel accessory organizations such as AirBNB are seeing a gigantic rebound as citizens dump extra cash into them, while those vendors seek to garner as much of that feverish outlay as they can. Open bidding/pricing wars are not pretty, but they do occur every so often and eventually reset the market in general. I suspect a lot of this financial intensity will die down as more people return to work and reestablish some sense of normal spending habits.
Ah, but work? The extension of public safety nets has supposedly been a deterrent to meaningful employment, as Help Wanted signs are everywhere these days, particularly in the service industry where wages are routinely lower. This presents a confluence of problems when one considers a) perhaps service industry pay scales were exceptionally poor to begin with, necessitating such help regardless of the pandemic, and b) how long pandemic-era protections should continue given the majority of the country is moving steadily towards fully reopening from a business perspective. If the latest jobs reports are to be believed, the country’s unemployment levels ARE receding, although not at the increased rate most were projecting. I have to think employment will increase as vaccine confidence increases and social anxiety wanes, simply because work is available for those who choose to take it. I’m not opposed to rolling back pandemic-era relief programs, but when has to be determined, as it will precede a stampede for positions – any positions – shortly afterwards. Competition for employment is a good thing for employers, but an awful thing for potential employees whose qualifications may have lapsed during a forced unemployment period like many experienced over the last 16 months. Regardless, America has to get back to work, although the workforce may look substantially different when the transition back to 4% unemployment (hopefully) is complete.
Yes, different. I’m sitting in my home office, sipping my preferred brand of coffee, typing on my computer. I’m, to be demure, a little dressed down, meaning I’m wearing last night’s t-shirt and shorts, which passed a cursory smell test before I put them on this morning. My first meeting was at 9:00 am, so I slept until 8:55 and valiantly fought off the urge to hit the snooze button. My eight-hour work day is often not complete until midnight, as exercise breaks, meal times and just sheer laziness all take their toll at various points. I’m still nailing my deadlines and remain available for co-workers and employees alike, but my interest level and motivation remain scattered at best.
Another marked side effect: I drink too much these days, although it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time. Post-work hours are often spent with a glass of scotch or vodka while reclining on the back porch, usually followed by at least one or two more. This tends to happen several nights a week, and although I’ve never been accused of being a teetotaler, this is unprecedented. My history is to be a drunken mess on weekends only; this sort of weekday consumption is pretty weird and has produced its share of odd phone calls to old college associates. I’m most assuredly not alone in this.
Upon consideration, it must be terrifying to be in corporate real estate right now. Urban offices are ditching their old, expensive site leases – a bit of a pricing travesty long before the pandemic – in favor of permanent telework scenarios, thereby reducing facilities costs and potential liability insurance payouts. Office interaction has been reduced to images and faux backgrounds on a computer monitor. Given the extensive counseling I recall from my youth about the dangers of watching too much TV, one wonders what the long-term effects of watching all of your corporate meetings might be – I sit through at least three during a typical work day and have become used to the customary tension headaches that inevitably follow almost every night.
I’ve begun exercising again, although it’s been a struggle. Despite the fact my county boasts a 72% vaccination rate, the paranoia about other humans continues, evidenced by my observations of pedestrians immediately ditching to the shoulder – still – if they see me jogging towards them (of course, there’s probably more reasons for that than just fear of infection). And don’t get me started on people, driving alone, still wearing masks in their cars.
Fear…it’s going to take a long time to get past it.
A lingering fear of disease…any disease. Fear of the ever-expanding political chasm in this country. Fear of the volatility of investments and global markets. Fear of the outside world at large.
Fundamentally, fear of each other.
I’m beat, and I’m sick of being afraid.