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‘… The More Things Stay the Same’


Speculations of how Americans will “re-enter” the workforce and public places focus mainly on how the coronavirus pandemic will change American society.  Will schools move faster to virtual platforms? Will favorite restaurants remain closed forever? When will large public gatherings in churches, concerts, and sporting events return to normal?  Will the America of crowded subways, congested interstates, coughing airline passengers, and long-distance commutes ever be the same?  For now, the answers seem to be based on what many hoped to achieve long before the pandemic even occurred.


Convinced President Trump’s handling of the crisis will finally end his presidency, progressives expect fall elections to bring about a “blue wave” of left wing initiatives much like the elections of Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama. They have reason to be optimistic.  Media outlets now relentlessly deliver a constant stream of expert testimony by scientists, statisticians, and social planners.  Social media “call out” culture is at an all-time high as the mere pretense of questioning government statistics means you must want to expose Granny to COVID-19.  Those fully employed are also those most commonly linked to progressive causes – education, financial services, and above all, the IT sector – while retail and lower class jobs vanished overnight.  In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has become the “Revenge of the Nerds.”


However, the pandemic may not prove to be the panacea to progressive political problems.  The longer re-entry is delayed, the less funding progressive social programs will have as states brace for plummeting tax revenues and massive debt.  College administrators fear losing as much as 18% of their residential students.  Primary and secondary school officials fear a similar repercussion.  Resentment toward Democratic governors like New Jersey’s Phil Murphy or Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer seems higher on average than that for their Republican counterparts.  And where are the Hollywood purveyors of “call out” culture except sheltered in their exclusive neighborhoods while Instagramming photos of their pets and fine wine?


Conservatives have their own predictions.  They believe Americans will finally come to terms with the cultural and political costs of progressive causes. They may now realize the importance of strong borders and focused attention on the practical interests of the country rather than globalist visions.  Shelter in place orders may spur a recovery of family togetherness and cause Americans to reaffirm neighborliness and recover those things they value most. Some conservatives hope that when the budget cuts come they will fall heaviest on liberal causes and failed social programs.  A tell-tale sign will be how college administrators reallocate their budgets.  Will they continue to fund disciplines and “studies” departments that have few students but practice all the progressive causes du jour?


But conservatives also face an uphill battle.  Those most affected by the economic shutdown are small business owners and franchisees, who still serve as the backbone of the Republican Party.  Churches, synagogues, and the millions of social venues that comprise common life are shuttered and may not reopen by summer’s end.  The resulting social costs of failed relationships and voluntary human exchange are financially incalculable.  And does anyone really believe that college stakeholders will dare cut off completely their Gender Studies program before closing their “Entrepreneurship Center”?


Yet, there may be a genuine silver lining.  The extremes of American society will surely grow more extreme, but not all.   There is something about staying at home that will make the pandemic different.  Despite all the anxieties and frustrations that Americans now face, being at home will mollify some of their worst hatreds and restrain their loftiest visions.  Homeschooling mothers, not public school officials, will come away with renewed respect.  American Christians will understand that being called into the family of God necessarily means being physically together like a real family.   It is quite possible that out of choice or desperation President Trump and state governors will issue executive orders cutting miles of red tape to free the economy.  And above all, financial necessity may force corporate executives and business owners to cease appealing to the elites on both coast and rediscover Middle America.


Carey M. Roberts is a historian at Liberty University and writes from Bedford County, Virginia.