All the truckers that were holding up traffic to protest COVID-19 restrictions are gone. So are the mask mandates. People are eating in restaurants again. And workers are returning to the office.
With COVID levels low and exhaustion high among the American public, COVID-19 is fading into the background in both life and politics. And even if the disease bounces back, as it is in different parts of the world right now, it appears COVID still will not dominate politics as it once did.
Where exactly does COVID stand in the national political discussion today? A new Gallup poll found that just 3 percent of Americans believed that the pandemic was the biggest issue facing America today. That is the lowest ever. During the short reprieve last summer before the Delta variant hit, around 8 percent still said the coronavirus was still the top issue. (In April 2020, as the pandemic raged, 45 percent of Americans said it was the top issue.)
Consider, too, how people are behaving. Even in liberal areas where there was social pressure to adhere to masks and social distancing, rock concerts and working out at the gym are back.
In Washington, the new attitude was on display when politicians this week dared to challenge once-sacrosanct pandemic funding.
Since the national ordeal began, bills providing huge funding for financial relief and efforts to curb the virus were bipartisan affairs that few dared to question. But with the political ground shifting, Republicans this week blocked a bipartisan bill for more COVID funding so they could insert language related to immigration.
Their gamble paid off. The bill is stalled, and they aren’t paying a price for it. In fact, it appears likely that the bill will eventually pass because enough Democrats will support the immigration language, in a rebuke to a Biden administration policy.
None of this is to suggest that COVID-19 is actually over. Just this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, two cabinet officials, and members of Congress all tested positive, as well as some staff members who were in contact with Biden. Americans are still going to the hospital, and some are still dying from a virus that has killed nearly a million people in this country.
The nation is only a few months removed from the peak of the Omicron variant and there will also be a new variant as well, no doubt.
But when cases rise again, the issues will be the same - and easier to navigate. Take the debate over keeping schools open. There’s broad agreement that they should be. With children 5 and up eligible to get vaccines, the only question will be the details, a much lower-temperature debate. The conversation in schools is now moving on to culture war issues.
Now we’re debating less about whether people should wear masks on airplanes and more about who’s at fault for high gas prices and the war in Ukraine. People are moving on.
In the 2020 election, it was the coronavirus, stupid. Now we are back to everything else.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.