A prediction: We have a great couple of years ahead of us.
I know this seems hard to believe. The country is still reeling from the manic death throes of the Trump administration, which saw violent mobs and allied politicians attempt what could only be described as a coup. At the same time, COVID-19 has surged nationwide. Hospitals in some places are filled to capacity and the country is setting grim records for number of deaths, seemingly every day. The lockdowns have effectively deprived children of a year of education (Zoom is a poor substitute) and left the economy tattered — last year saw some 10 million net jobs lost nationwide. Moreover, those hit hardest haven’t been at the upper rungs of the economic ladder. Rather, it’s been the young, the impoverished, people of color, and women. The gaps between them and everyone else have widened.
So, then, why my optimism? It comes down to three interrelated reasons: a new and far less chaotic national administration, widespread vaccinations, and an explosive economic comeback.
Let’s start with Joe Biden. With a reputation for being calm, reasonable, and empathetic, his rhetoric to date suggests he hopes his term kicks off a period of national healing. There’s no guarantee this will happen, of course — the divisions plaguing the country aren’t suddenly going to melt away. But at least the White House will no longer be fanning the flames. And where once the fear was an out-of-office Donald Trump would continue to command the spotlight, the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol seems to have diminished his power, leaving him Twitterless and an object of increasing revulsion even within his own party.
With a bare Democratic majority, I hardly expect Biden’s term to initiate some set of dramatic new policies — middle-of-the-road senators such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin probably won’t go along. That’s a good thing, by the way. Right now, what we need is calm, not yet another political war pitting us against one another. Even so, Biden should be able to push through some measures that garner bipartisan support, such as another round of stimulus payments, an infrastructure bill, and a less vituperative trade policy.
He — and we — will also be the beneficiary of the defeat of the coronavirus. The pandemic has been with us for so long it now feels almost routine, like an unwelcome visitor who becomes a permanent squatter. But that visitor will leave — and pretty soon, too. Thanks to Biden pushing the matter, the feds now plan to vaccinate at twice the pace originally planned, trusting Moderna and Pfizer can ramp up production quickly enough to provide the second booster dose when needed. The goal is to get 100 million shots in arms by the end of April — nearly a third of the nation. That’s not enough to get us to herd immunity, but it’s more than enough to immunize those most likely to get sick or die from the disease. Demand on hospitals will ebb, the number of daily deaths will fall precipitously, and by early summer normalcy will begin to return. Restaurants and bars will reopen, we’ll take long-delayed vacations and pack sports arenas, and schools and colleges will welcome students back to their halls.
And the economy will take off like a rocket. Anticipation of this can be seen in the stock markets but, unless you’re one of the very few who can live off their investments, that hardly puts food on the table. Only a job will. Biden’s promised pump priming (including a new round of $1,400 checks to most citizens) will help, yet real growth — and real jobs — will only come when we begin to work, play, and live as we did before.
We won’t do so as completely as we did before. The lockdowns in response to the pandemic have taught us some valuable lessons. A lot of work can be done remotely, and businesses and their employees aren’t simply going to return to the daily grind of commuting. Work-life balance has been reset and many will be reluctant to — and won’t have to — give up the pleasure of spending more time away from the office.
I’m not necessarily saying, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s old campaign song, that “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Indeed, for many people of color and those at the economic margins of society, the days weren’t happy in the first place. But having been down so long, for many it’ll certainly feel like that. And things can always get worse: the economy might fall into recession, the divisions among us may drive us still further apart, or some new crisis — even another pandemic — might again upend our lives.
Or perhaps not. This is an exceptional moment, a chance to simultaneously leave behind a worldwide health crisis and a poisonous presidency, to use new focus and the new wealth generated by a surging economy to address our ongoing inequities. It’s a unique opportunity. May we seize it.
Tom Keane is a writer in Boston. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.