Monday, March 30, 2020


This pandemic, Pope Francis said on Friday, has exposed “our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.”

No one can predict where this crisis is leading us and what our world will be like when and if it is finally over. That said, something like an ideological reset - maybe multiple ideological resets - may be in process. The almost universal disdain directed at a certain Kentucky Congressman may reflect his colleagues' obvious and understandable anxiety about how his ideological stunt forced some of them to take unnecessary risks with their health. But I suspect it also may reflect an increasing appreciation on the part of many of the moral absurdity and human harm caused by the "libertarian" anti-government ideology the Congressman professes, an ideology which his political party pretends to profess (depending on who benefits), and one which so many Americans de facto profess because of the widespread prevalence of political cynicism that for many inadvertently allies them with that anti-social stance.

Government is who we are when we acknowledge and act on our connection with and mutual dependence on one another. The pretense that government is not the solution to society's problems, a lie increasingly invoked since the morally disastrous election of 1980, is also one of those many false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our contemporary way of life. Yet, whenever we have found ourselves in crisis (prior to this, most recently after the 2008 economic collapse), we have instinctively and automatically expected the national government to save society. But, because of the pernicious power of that ideology and its long-term hollowing-out of our political institutions and the social solidarity those institutions embody and facilitate, our collective response has been less, rather than more adequate - as has been so dramatically on display this past month.

The closest analogy, I suppose, would be the Great Depression, which, for most of those who survived it, created a consensus in favor of necessary reforms and an unwillingness to retreat backwards. Recall, for example, President Eisenhower's famous observation in 1954:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Unfortunately, however, as the memory of the Depression and FDR faded and a new generation arose that knew not Joseph (cf. Exodus 1:8), commitment to those reforms - and the social solidarity they embody -  diminished and a serious regression set in, undermining our fragile social "safety net," for which we have since been paying a terrible social price especially since the 2008 economic collapse and in the current pandemic.

At present, no one can say how long this current crisis will last or in what long-term forms it will persist, but it is highly unlikely that those who will have survived this collective calamity will forget the lessons learned from this experience and eagerly embrace regressive politics any time soon.

This week's rapid (by congressional standards) congressional response to the pandemic's impact on all aspects of society suggests a more hopeful emerging reality - atavistic ideological posturing to the contrary notwithstanding - in which Americans will find it harder and harder to accept the limitations on social solidarity which have hitherto continued to set the tone of our national life.

Of course, there will be resistance. (Just observe the current right-wing campaign to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci.) Regrettably, some of that resistance may be religious, given the current alliance of elements of "conservative" Christianity. with one particular political party and its Great Leader. On the other side, however, we may yet see surprising and encouraging resilience in American religion, as it too finds itself called back to basics and forced to shed more and more of "those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.”

No comments:

Post a Comment