The Fourth crisis may create a New Normal in the US

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Archon Fung (University of Hawaii Photo)

Massachusetts, USA, July 5, 2020

A perfect storm of three crises is battering America: a public health crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic; a civic crisis of widespread protests sparked by racist police abuse; and an economic crisis of record unemployment and dislocation.

Between now and November 2020, we may well face a fourth political crisis surrounding the Presidential election, its conduct, and perhaps even its outcome.

These crises have vanquished all sense of normalcy for now.

But, in the longer term, will we be able to create a better new normal?

What world will Covid-19 leave behind?

The ‘K’ Shaped Recovery (Courtesy: Cooper Financial Group)

The K People

Writing in the Financial Times, Peter Atwater foresees a “K”-shaped recovery.

The upward part of the “K”—people who will do better than before these crises, consists of professionals and others in others at the top end of the income distribution.

The bottom part of the “K” consists of “have-nots” who may fare even worse than they did before the crisis: essential but sometimes disposable workers, sometimes lacking health care, sick leave, employment, and low-income and people of colour, whom we now know suffer much more from damage of Covid-19.

If the future is this “K,” Covid will merely have accelerated the trends toward economic, social, political, and health inequities that have been widening in the United States for the past forty years: a quickening of the old normal as we knew it.

Creating a New Normal

But perhaps it is within our grasp to create a different new normal, one that is more equitable and democratic. We can see shoots of this better new normal in the civic federalism of local responses to Covid-19 damage.

Many governors and mayors stepped up with energy and creative solutions to protect public health and map the way to recovery.

Some businesses and nonprofits took costly action early to protect their employees and communities. Labour and community advocates organised immediate aid, but also spoke up for the least advantaged.

George Floyd murder

There are more shoots visible in the huge protests following George Floyd’s killing. People of many races and classes have awakened to the reinforcing harms of economic inequality, disease, and racism. Himself an avatar of this intersectionality, Floyd lost his job as a security guard because of the pandemic, contracted Covid-19 in April 2020, and was killed several weeks later by Minneapolis Police.

Will these shoots multiply into a robust new American democracy?

Or will they be mowed down by the juggernauts of racism and plutocracy that preceded this pandemic? The answer is up to us.

Archon Fung is Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government. The above article appeared in the Harvard Gazette.

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