Pandemic’s exit will force on us more choices than ever
As we escape a milestone year – in the worst sense of milestone – we are caught betwixt and between. Nationally and locally, we are marking time as we await change for the better.
Historically, a slowdown has marked the period between Thanksgiving and the new year. We spend too much time celebrating, traveling, with family, and shopping to worry about much else. Business and economy have taken a back seat.
But this was the year everything changed. A pandemic that some warned of but few actually expected has turned life upside down. The pause in business, civic and personal worlds has stretched largely from last March to who knows when.
Now a vaccine is bringing light at the end of the tunnel, but what will we find when we get to the tunnel’s end? The uncertainty is both painful and immobilizing.
A song title popular just after the influenza pandemic of 1918 tells us how the world changed then: “Nothing Does Does Like It Used to Do Do Do.” The world was topsy-turvy.
The change in 1918 was compounded by the end of World War I. Our change at the end of the 2020 pandemic tunnel will be compounded by painful political warfare that has fractured long-standing civility.
Where we wind up will be heavily influenced by the science that can protect public health and the political activity that can heal or further fracture a nation.
Now we live uneasily, if hopefully, with the questions of the day:
■When inoculations come, who will get them first? How long will it be before inoculations spread broadly enough to begin to crush Covid-19? And when can we go back to some semblance of life as usual?
■In the period stretching from election day to a Jan. 20 inauguration, how will the Trump administration attempt to hamper the oncoming Biden administration, and from that period forward how nimble will the Biden forces be in restoration, reformation, or creation of a vastly different future?
■Will the outgoing president attend his successor’s inauguration? And what role will Mr. Trump try to play in future public life – or will he have a role at all as we pull out of the 2020 doldrums?
■When will travel feel safe again, and will tourism regain past strength, whether on land, cruise ships or planes? Will the world of meetings and conventions be what it was, or will people Zoom around the world rather than convene in Miami?
■Which way is the economy headed? As the stock market hits new highs, small business is bleeding and unemployment is both unsustainable and unforgivable. How will our nation deal with that dichotomy and how will it play out at the local level?
■Presidential platforms crumble quickly after inauguration: will Mr. Biden and Congress together be able to knit up the nation’s political and economic divides?
■Locally, projects are frozen on drawing boards as we play out a Pandemic Year that we pray does not stretch to Pandemic Years. What will happen to massively develop Melreese Golf Course near the airport, a far larger American Dream Miami mall in Northwest Miami-Dade, a Baylink rail line from downtown Miami to Miami Beach, and six new legs of a mass transit system to link the county together? Will now-closed Brightline rail ever either link Miami to Orlando or serve local commuters?
■Will local arts and culture return to near past vibrancy? Will Art Basel again be pivotal? Can our nonprofits bounce back strong, and will philanthropy sustain them?
■Will local governments find funds to provide former full services while propping up financially distressed citizens and the small businesses that make the economy here tick?
■Will a new county administration seamlessly continue operations while also handling growing demands on resources, and what will that mean to future tax rates?
■Vital to many families: when can the kids go safely back to school? Distance learning has often been distance non-learning, so when can education get back to normal and the kids get out of the house?
With such pivotal unanswered questions, it’s no wonder we collectively hit the pause button.
That pause has strong behavioral consequences. For example, for many of us working at home has been a requirement that might become a feature of our new normal even when it no longer must be. Like everything else, we don’t know which way we will be headed.
So we end a milestone 2020 with far more uncertainty than any year in living memory. The path ahead, while unclear, can stretch in many directions.
As we exit the pandemic’s tunnel to the light at its end, clearly we will have the opportunity to map out the new path of the future in many areas of public and personal life. Collectively, we are likely to have more choices to make than ever before in our lifetimes.
We can’t afford to have our leaders stay betwixt and between. Encourage them to take the high road – every time.