Republicans want to talk about inflation and crime (and so, apparently, does most of the electorate). Democrats want to talk about anything else, and have settled on abortion (which any American who seriously wants one can get), and political violence (as long as the attempted murder of a mostly conservative Supreme Court Justice gets shoved behind the curtain).
But I wonder if something else is lurking out there. My curiosity was piqued this morning when I saw two things floating around the Internet. The first was from Emily Burns, a former neuroscience graduate student at Rockefeller University:
But despite being pro-choice, I have become a single issue voter. My vote this cycle is a vote for vengeance against the party that kept my kids masked for two years; that robbed me of my best friends, and strained every relationship I have; that caused us to move to an entirely different part of the country; that perverted a discipline that I love, and which I use to navigate my life (science); and that then lied about doing it, and called me a terrorist for being upset about it. After this cycle, my vote will always be for the party that represents the most decentralized power structure, and the greatest respect for individual rights and responsibility.
The second item, as if on cue, was this article in The Atlantic, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty.” The title gives the gist of it:
I have been reflecting on this lack of knowledge [about COVID risks] thanks to a class I’m co-teaching at Brown University…..We’ve spent several lectures reliving the first year of the pandemic, discussing the many important choices we had to make under conditions of tremendous uncertainty.
Some of these choices turned out better than others.
Translation: “Some of those choices were unmitigated disasters, but, well, hey, look, don’t be so judgmental.”
To take an example close to my own work, there is an emerging (if not universal) consensus that schools in the U.S. were closed for too long: The health risks of in-school spread were relatively low, whereas the costs to students’ well-being and educational progress were high. The latest figures on learning loss are alarming. But in spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information. Reasonable people—people who cared about children and teachers—advocated on both sides of the reopening debate.
Actually, it was well known very early on that COVID posed a serious danger to old people, a moderate danger to middle-aged people, very little danger to young people, and next to no danger to school-aged children.
Given the amount of uncertainty, almost every position was taken on every topic. And on every topic, someone was eventually proved right, and someone else was proved wrong.
Hey look people, some were right, some were wrong, dada, dada, that’s how life is! (Left unsaid is that some were right because they thought seriously about costs and risks, and some were wrong because lining up with our culture’s manic addiction to risk aversion was the politically correct and far more popular choice).
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet.
Translation: “It’s time to move on.”
Anyone heard that one before? And am I mistaken in thinking that when the more liberal side of the spectrum gets caught with its pants down, see, e.g., Bill Clinton and Monica, it’s “time to move on;” but that when pro-Trump rioters get caught in their January 6, 2021 violence, it is most certainly not time to move on — no matter how much time has passed?
These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.
Whenever you see words like “moving forward,” or its first cousin, “healing,” you know you’ve entered the same linguistic flim-flam territory that Harvard was arguing in the Supreme Court when it wanted to disguise its anti-white and anti-Asian bias as “holistic”, or the sentencing reform crowd wants to disguise its embrace of criminality as “restorative justice.” Still, as the author says, it’s true that getting something wrong isn’t a moral failing — as long as (1) you made a diligent, sober and honest attempt to get it right, and (2) you pay the costs of getting it wrong, rather than pushing them off on the people you bullied and injured. That would be almost the whole country, but most especially the millions of children whose social and educational development you were so self-righteous in crippling.
It’s well known that predominantly liberal political leaders (e.g., Gov. Whitmer) were the most persistent and belligerent in imposing school lockdowns, while more conservative ones (e.g., Gov. DeSantis) allowed more freedom.
I don’t know that this will be a sleeper issue in the elections next week. But I know it should be — and not just as a sleeper.
Remember that Gov. Tony Evers closed every school through university in the fourth quarter of the 2019–20 school year. And people wonder why public school enrollment is down and private-school enrollment, charter-school enrollment and home-schooling is up.