Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
This is the sound of 2020.
From the moment we were ordered into stay-home lockdowns as COVID-19 was spreading furiously in March, time has slowed. Become stretched thin like a saltwater taffy on a 100-degree Atlantic City day. By being forced into this state of stillness and captivity, we have developed acute focus on the world around us. This state of being appears to be nowhere near its end. And it has taken a toll.
So far since January: More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Children have been ripped from classrooms and cut off from meaningful learning, socialization or exercise in favor of public-health pandemic-fighting goals of at-home quarantine. There are virtually no camps or day care as the lost school year now bleeds into summer. Parents working from home are exhausted after months of holding three full-time jobs: worker, teacher, bathroom-scrubber/cook/caregiver. The unemployed are additionally grappling with the worry of finding new work in a devastating recession.
Add to this the toxic politics at the very top of our shaky democracy. What you get is volatility of a generational order.
Donald Trump has spent a good part of the evolving global COVID-19 health crisis broadcasting ways to stick it to those of us living in Democratic-leaning states. Want adequate supplies of pandemic tests and Personal Protective Equipment in Pennsylvania? Do you work in a hospital but can’t get tested? You’re on your own, suckers, has been the message from the White House. Then, amid protests against police brutality outside the White House last week, a nation watched in horror as peaceful protesters were gassed so that Trump could waltz toward a photo op.
We have been living in a pressure cooker. Much of it has been of our politicians’ — and their special-interest benefactors’ — making.
Since his election in 2016, Trump has turned the presidency into a sadistic playground, his game to divide and deride. He throws bait to pro-life Christians while throwing the poor off the policy cliff. His tax cuts to corporations — delivered in lockstep with Republicans who controlled the House and Senate at the start of his term — set things sour early, by shoveling even more wealth to the top while keeping our nation’s workers on a meager diet.
Then came the pandemic this year.
For months on end, we have not hugged a parent or grandparent for fear of killing them. We have waited in hospital parking lots while loved ones inside died. The contagion was too fearsome.
Then, on May 25, like a cigarette flicked onto a gasoline can, we watched in horror as a video-recorded encounter with Minneapolis police showed George Floyd killed under the knee of an officer who now stands charged with murder. Floyd, unarmed, had been pleading for his life but was ignored.
The last two weeks have been a roar against government and police systems viewed as threats to freedom and justice. A black man killed without cause by a white law enforcement officer became a catalyst for collective rage simmering for years.
That rage had been playing out quietly in some quarters. Namely, Democratic electoral victories starting in 2017.
In fact, as the marches unfolded last week, determined voters in Southeastern Pennsylvania found ways to turn out for primary elections. Those voters and those marchers represent a full-court press against the status quo. All of this is happening three years into the so-called political “resistance” to Trump’s election that captivated formerly disengaged households across America.
This is the year.
Coronavirus-lockdown measures are gradually lifting in our region. Even as businesses that miraculously managed to hang on through the shutdown begin to reopen, there remains considerable anxiety over the partial resumption of normal life.
Demonstrations in Philadelphia brought tens of thousands of marchers shoulder-to-shoulder for days on end last week and have continued into this week. We now wait, day by day, hour by hour, for word from public health officials about whether those remarkable displays of democratic muscle will come at yet another cost.
Will there be a spike in COVID-19 cases? If so, then what?
Earlier this week we learned that something as innocuous as gathering with friends or family at the Jersey Shore is proving to be dangerous in our ongoing pandemic reality.
Bucks County officials reported at least a dozen new coronavirus cases that appeared to be linked to a single New Jersey resident at a Cape May house party on Memorial Day weekend.
Still, there is explosive movement forward. Calls this week have abounded for dramatic reforms to police operations, culture and protocols on local, state, and national levels. And on the economic front, the longer that Washington stalls on renewing unemployment benefits, the more you can bet people’s anger will only continue to intensify.