Stop Saying This Is Unprecedented

Seattle, 1918

History writes postdated letters to the future with an invisible hand, signing out, Don’t get comfortable. It exists to be forgotten. It’s always been this way; in fact, it can only earn the label of history once it is forgotten, or else it is called knowledge. And, alas, how it has earned its title. So when the initial reports began to circulate of a “mysterious virus” in China, I knew we were the frog in the boiling pot.

We could have locked down the country for a short while, during which, yes, your hair would’ve gotten a touch longer, your cuticles may have hardened, and you would’ve had to ration (gasp) rather than gorge on the food stock in your air-conditioned, electrically-powered house. This would be nearly over, and these vital necessities would have once again been restored. Instead we essentially let the people run amok, save for the places so diseased the bodies were piling up in U-Haul trucks. Now we’re faced with a festering sore: the more we pick at it, the worse it becomes. 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The economy is in shambles, and the psychological damage to those in the labor force will be substantial. There are hotspots everywhere, including in places not previously impacted, and people are now gathering in large crowds that help skyrocket the infection rate. We’re seeing it occur in several states. Hooray!

In lieu of subsidizing small businesses, which has proven imperative in bolstering an off-kilter economy — as is being done in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and the U.K. — we sent a check. Canada is sending $2,000-checks each month for months. South Korea implemented such a rigorous contact tracing program that they effectively snuffed out the virus without ever mandating a lockdown. New Zealand is gearing to open after strict lockdowns and a period of viral inactivity. Vietnam, a country considerably more susceptible than our own, has zero deaths and a case count of a few hundred after only a three-week lockdown.

We’ve seen coronaviruses in the past. We know how they start. We know the environments in which they thrive. We knew a pandemic would strike again, as they always do; we just weren’t sure when. The regularity of zoonotic viruses will increase as the climate crisis worsens, and hurricane season has officially begun. The strength of storms will also increase with each passing year, and in this fateful year 2020, those affected by the treacherous productions of Hurricane Alley will be faced with two disasters in tandem. Americans refuse to be told what to do, even when the orders come at an advantage to them. Take mask-wearing. Before that, it was seat belts, and before that, it was the ban on smoking in indoor spaces. Any change in the public health sector guarantees there will be pushback. An overwhelmed healthcare system and an economically destructive recession could have been avoided. But this is America. We do not subscribe to socialism.

Loudoun County, Virginia | Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now
Protesters in Nevada | Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal

Depressed yet? Don’t be. We’ve seen worse. Worse, you say? Most people think “deadly virus” when they hear the word pandemic. (Hint: It’s not always a pathogen. If we don’t stop killing marine algae, the next pandemic on our hands is lack of oxygen. We will then have a valid excuse for ubiquitous stupidity.)

In the “Dirty Thirties,” agriculture was the largest pillar of national income, we were recovering from the end of the Civil War, and the Great Depression was in full swing. When the dust storms started across the Plains, they were sometimes called black blizzards. The enormous clouds of dirt created a nightmarish umbra; it was often so dark the street lights stayed on indefinitely. The lung health of the population degraded to that of a dedicated chain-smoker. In some cities, snow came down red with dust. As people huddled sequestered, they covered their faces with strips of cloth as 80-mile-an-hour winds whipped dust through homes. When newspapers were able to be delivered, adverts for gummed tape were common. Thresholds were stuffed with rags; sheets were tacked onto any area dust could enter. Dishes were inverted. On days the wind carried sand, your vehicle might be stripped some of its paint. To little avail, as the storm dwindled, brooms were in hand and all the accumulated dust was swept out. Our generally elective quarantine is now running with its tail between its legs.

Previously, when H1N1 struck in 1918, the First World War was ongoing. More soldiers died of the virus than were killed on the battlefield. Our president lying about the severity of our situation is not new, either. Woodrow Wilson created the Committee of Public Information under the guise of protecting vital information German soldiers would view as exploitable in their alleged attempt to derail American welfare. It was really a free pass to lie: Arthur Bullard, who spearheaded the creation of the program said, “Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms… The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.” Meanwhile, people dropped dead in the street with blood coming from their ears. Bodies had to be buried vertically to conserve space. One doctor is quoted saying he could no longer differentiate a white person from a black person as victims would turn such a dull shade of blue on account of their not being able to breathe. Instead of the elderly, the virus targeted young, healthy bodies. The recorded death toll is somewhere between 50 to 100 million, an equivalent of 200 to 400 million in the modern era. Tell me again what’s the population of America today.

In these times, it would be wise to remember: Truth is perpetually irrelevant to powerholders; the one sacred treasure is favorable optics as insurance, for then they are all but promised the public’s good faith. At some point, you have to ask yourself if this is the world in which you want to live: where democracy is gradually chipped away at, and self-satisfying zealots decide the fate of a nation. If the answer is yes, you cannot be saved. If the answer is no, then you have to be part of the effort to break the wheel that was never innocuously turning. Otherwise, as you walk amongst the debris, know you are indeed complicit. These tribulations occur throughout history because we allow ourselves to forget the lessons previously taught to us, and the 2020 pandemic is no exception. It has placarded a great many fractures; some freshly discovered, and some long denied.

Good thing, too. We have an election coming up.

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