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Stress, Malaise, Coronavirus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fred Jonas, Special to the BT   
July 2020

Don’t let the crisis drown your spirit

Ibigstock-Foam-Born-Baby-1801620t’s not an understatement to say that the coronavirus, and the response to it, have created massive disruption. It seems almost nothing is normal. Many people can’t function, and most of those who can don’t function normally.

Business, for want of a better term, is terrible. At least it’s that way for most of us. Unemployment is in the stratosphere, and those of us who can still work tend to have less work. And what work we have is harder to do.

As an aside, if I could try to sneak it in by the side door, it is inconceivable to me how the government plans to function on a reduced tax rate, with further reduced income to tax, while spending far more money either to combat the problem (to the extent that it tries to do that) or to provide support to Americans who are in trouble (which is most of them).

It is only -- and I’m sorry for the partisanship -- the members of one political party who seem able to conceptualize government functioning this way. I didn’t understand how Ronald Reagan expected, as he proposed, to deliver as much on a smaller revenue basis. The answer turned out to be an explosion of play money, as represented by a large and growing deficit.

I also didn’t understand how the George W. Bush administration expected to prosecute a war while simultaneously lowering taxes. No government in the history of civilization has done that, because it can’t be done. But the answer was the same as with Reagan: We exchanged the surplus that Bill Clinton created for an increasingly massive deficit.

Barack Obama’s fiscal failing was that he didn’t want to touch that political “third rail” -- raising taxes. So the deficit continued to grow. It left any conceivable orbit with Donald Trump, though it’s still based on the same, tried, and false theory: Lower taxes, and somehow, money to support the government and what it does, will materialize. Whether you call it “trickle down” economics or, as George H. W. Bush called it when he was running against Reagan in the primaries, “Reaganomics,” or anything else, it’s a fairy tale.

But back to the discussion about the pandemic, and Coronavirus World.

The number of normal things any of us can do keeps decreasing. Many of us don’t go anywhere, and fewer of us call people. We’re going to call people about what? To propose getting together or going out somewhere? That’s not happening.

We “socially isolate” in a collection of ways. Those of us who aren’t alone confine ourselves to the people in our immediate lives and with whom we live. Those of us whose work depends on seeing other people are limited by the willingness to meet. So a lot of regular business calls don’t happen, either.

For myself, I used to get a number of phone calls every day. And depending on the day, that number could be noteworthy. Sometimes I found them intrusive and seemingly too numerous to keep up with. Sometimes a call slipped away and I’d forget to return it, maybe until the next day, or if the person called back. And I didn’t forget or overlook the call because it wasn’t important. Sometimes it was very important. But the phones kept ringing, and I’d be in the middle of lots of other responsibilities.

Now, though, there’s a lot less to track. No one calls me, and I don’t call them, to go out somewhere. Fewer people call for business reasons because I can’t meet people in my office. The nature of my work means I can, and do, perform some of it on the phone or by FaceTime or Zoom, but without question, business is down. And I’m in what’s generally considered an essential business.

There’s a phrase, “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” All of those important calls, from friends, family members, and work connections, were the babies. The bathwater is a vast collection of telemarketers and other scammers.

Just this moment, I got a call from some woman who called me Grandpa and told me she’s my granddaughter. If I could have been bothered, I’d have told her how impressed I was with her language skills since my granddaughter just turned one year old and doesn’t actually speak yet, and I might have wondered how an infant who lives in Massachusetts managed to acquire a foreign accent. But I couldn’t be bothered.

But the fact is that percentage-wise, I now get far more of these kinds of calls and far fewer “real” calls. Many people can’t work, but apparently, some people can. So I’m now awash in bathwater. I’m almost drowning in it. It interferes in the real calls I make and receive, relatively infrequent though they are.

It’s not just the phone, either. I’ve started to notice that I’m getting a lot less “real” mail, which depends on someone taking the deliberate trouble to produce something they want me to receive, put it in an envelope, stamp it, and send it to me. But I haven’t gotten less junk mail. Babies, fewer. Bathwater, about as much as before.

I just read a very painful article about people who now have to deal with their children 24/7. There’s no school, no parks, or afterschool programs, and no play dates. Some of the people who commented still worked, some worked from home (with children running around, making noise, needing attention, dealing with homework, etc.), and some could no longer work because their jobs were gone.

And yet they couldn’t enjoy their time with their own children. There was more use of the TV as a distraction or a nanny. And relationships with spouses were getting strained. Everyone is stressed out, and at the limit. Everyone is drowning in bathwater.

It’s not hard to understand why people just want to wish this all away. They want to reconceptualize the problem as an economic one or something that has a political answer. Some in government advocate that we should just resume interacting and go back to work. Or find someone, like the Chinese, to blame. As if any of this solves the medical crisis, which is a pandemic infection. That kind of irrelevant chatter, too, adds to the bathwater. It’s as idiotic as it is tempting.

Many people talk about life after this pandemic. And there’s plenty of concern that it will be different from life before. We have to be very careful not simply to throw out the rest of the babies.

 

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