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This Is the Coronavirus Election

Ed Yong, writing for The Atlantic:

And yet, the pandemic is not impossible to control, contrary to what White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows recently suggested. Many other nations have successfully controlled it, some more than once. Masks can stop people from transmitting the virus. Shutting down nonessential indoor venues and improving ventilation can limit the number of super-spreading events. Rapid tests and contact tracing can identify clusters of infection, which can be contained if people have the space and financial security to isolate themselves. Social interventions such as paid sick leave can give vulnerable people the option of protecting their lives without risking their livelihoods.

The playbook is clear, but it demands something that has thus far been missing — federal coordination. Only the federal government can fund and orchestrate public-health measures at a scale necessary to corral the coronavirus. But Trump has abdicated responsibility, leaving states to fend for themselves. In May, I asked several health experts whether governors and mayors could hold the line on their own. Most were doubtful, and the ensuing months have substantiated their fears.

I’d never hold myself up as anything even vaguely resembling a parenting expert, but I do have one piece of advice I’ve shared with friends who’ve had kids after I did. It’s about the word discipline. I grew up and spent the first decades of my life thinking discipline was a near-synonym for punishment. It’s very commonly used that way. You act up in class and you get sent to the principal for “discipline”. But that’s a euphemism, for situations where we don’t want to but should just say punishment.

The discipline that kids need from their parents is self discipline. They don’t have enough control over their emotions, their bodies, or just general common sense. Parents need to instill discipline in their kids because they lack their own. Sometimes punishment for misbehavior is part of instilling discipline — but only when it’s too late. Kids need small doses of discipline that have nothing whatsoever to do with punishment all day every day. That’s the exhausting part of parenting. Just teaching kids how to sit still and be quiet. What they’re allowed to do and touch and not do and not touch. That sort of thing.

Political leadership is like that. Citizens aren’t children and political leaders aren’t parents. But true leaders instill virtues. We, collectively, are clearly low on patience with this fucking coronavirus and all the behavioral and social restrictions surrounding it. We all miss so many people, and so many places. Real leadership can and will instill collective patience that many lack or are simply running short of individually. A sense that we’re in this together, and that the quickest (if not only) way out is via short-term collective sacrifice. Wear masks, stay apart, don’t gather. Find more patience.

We got through 4 years of World War II. We got through decades of a Cold War where nuclear annihilation was a constant threat. We did that through leadership. It matters.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020