The Face Mask as a Badge of Honor

Recently a certain orange presence suggested that we consider the nearly one hundred thousand deaths from coronavirus as a badge of honor. Such a callous suggestion makes no more sense than anything else coming out of his mouth in recent days or indeed in the past few years. Callous but not surprising or unexpected. Families grieve for their family members and friends, many of whose deaths could have been prevented by anticipation and reasonable precautions.

Somehow masks have become politicized as well. The one simple way that we have of minimizing transmission of this virus has been cast to the wind by many people who are now exposing themselves as well as others with whom the come into contact to greater risk of contacting and spreading the virus. They do this as a way to show defiance of simple precaution in the name of freedom. They seem to have missed the point of freedom, thinking it means they are entitled to do whatever they want to do as their right despite the consequences for themselves and for the rest of us. Freedom also involves preserving and respecting the basic rights of everyone with whom and among whom we live.

I would like to suggest the face mask as a more sensible alternative badge of honor. Wearing one honors those who share our space, tells them we respect their rights, their freedoms and their lives as well as our own. Allowing ourselves to be drawn into an idiotic war of words and opinions does nothing to protect our own rights and the rights of all the people around us. Are you ready to put down your guns, rocks and insults and get back to what this country was designed to preserve and honor?          

Ten things the pandemic may change for good

Telework and face masks aren’t going away, experts say, but movie theaters might be

woman on train platform wearing a medical mask

ALVAREZ/GETTY IMAGES

The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency and an economic crisis, unprecedented in the disruption of daily life. That makes it something else, too, says Jeffrey Cole, a research professor at the University of Southern California: “Without preparation or permission, we’re participating in the greatest social science experiment of all time.”

The effects of lockdownslayoffs and massive public measures to contain COVID-19 “will last long after any threat from the virus is gone,” contends Cole, who directs the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications. “In the future, we’ll talk about ‘BC,’ before corona, and after.”


For the latest coronavirus news and advice go to AARP.org/coronavirus.


In collaboration with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a membership group of media, marketing and tech companies, the center last month launched the Coronavirus Disruption Project, surveying a representative sample of 1,000 Americans about how they are living and coping with the rapid changes wrought by the pandemic.

The results suggest that many of the ways we’re adapting to life with the coronavirus — some digital, some physical — will reverberate long after a vaccine or treatment returns life to “normal.” Here are 10 areas where the outbreak is likely to have permanent effects on our personal, professional and cultural lives, drawn from the survey findings and experts’ analyses.

Working from home

The outbreak abruptly introduced tens of millions of workers to telecommuting, and data from the Coronavirus Disruption Project suggests a lot of them like it. Forty-two percent of survey participants said the experience has made them want to work from home more. Sixty-one percent of those who are teleworking said they are enjoying the relaxed attire and grooming standards, greater flexibility and lack of a commute, and 78 percent said they are as effective or more so working from home.

“I think there will be some upside” to this disruption that workers will want to preserve, says Debra Dinnocenzo, the president of VirtualWorks, a consulting firm that advises companies on transitioning to telework. “People, families, are going to be spending more time together,” she says. “I think people will be more adamant that they want more time to work at home and not go back to all the crazy commuting they were doing before.”

For many, that will sit well with their bosses. Nearly three-quarters of corporate finance officials surveyed in late March by Gartner, a business research and consulting firm, said their companies plan to move at least 5 percent of on-site workers to permanent remote status as part of their post-COVID cost-cutting efforts.

Seeing your doctor

survey last year by the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging (which is cosponsored by AARP) found that only 4 percent of people over 50 had seen a doctor virtually in the previous year. More than half did not know whether their doctor even offered video visits. Patients and practitioners alike were interested in telemedicine, says Preeti Malani, an infectious disease specialist at the university and the poll’s director, but in no great rush.

That has changed at “the speed of light,” she says. Doctors and patients who previously might have considered telehealth only in limited circumstances, such as an illness while traveling or a routine post-op chat, are now seeing that a wider range of services can be provided virtually. Along with cutting out hassles like parking and waiting-room time, video visits make it easier for family members to observe and participate, a big boon for caregivers.

“There was a lot of interest in trying to move telehealth and to really think about it carefully and try to encourage it,” Malani says. “It was an aspirational goal, and it felt like it was a year or two away, and it never would have replaced the things it has replaced. But because of necessity, it really moved fast.”

Shopping for groceries

It’s no surprise that the online purchase and home delivery of groceries has surged amid coronavirus lockdowns. A March 2020 survey of more than 1,500 consumers by investment firm RBC Capital Markets found that 55 percent had shopped for groceries online, compared with 36 percent in a similar poll in late 2018. The number doing so weekly nearly doubled. And downloads of apps for delivery services like Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Peapod doubled, tripled, even quadrupled in just a month.

RBC, which has taken consumers’ pulse on online grocery shopping regularly since 2015, dug deeper into whether the changes might be lasting. More than half of those who purchased groceries online said the COVID crisis made them more likely to keep doing so permanently. Among those who shopped only at stores, 41 percent said they planned to try delivery in the next six months. The results show “an inflection point” in consumer demand, RBC says — “a more sustainable and permanent shift” in how we buy food.

Staying in touch

Zoom happy hours. Facebook Live watch parties. Virtual visits with loved ones. One key finding of the Coronavirus Disruption Project is that while the pandemic has moved our social lives online, people report that their relationships with relatives, friends and coworkers have not suffered.

That doesn’t mean we won’t go back to getting drinks with friends (although going to bars ranked last among 15 things the Center for the Digital Future asked people if they missed). But “the whole notion of how we interact, socializing, has really been affected in a pretty profound way,” Cole says, especially for the many older Americans newly adopting video tools to stay in touch.

“Zoom and videoconferencing, although we make fun of it — it’s not enjoyable to be in hour after hour — I think it does make people feel connected,” he says. “Plain phone calls now feel sort of shallow. We’re getting used to seeing people.”

Wearing face masks

Wearing masks to stem contagion has long been commonplace in many Asian countries and some Asian American communities. With COVID-19, it’s taken hold among the larger U.S. public, at the urging (and, in some areas, the mandate) of federal, state and local officials. Robert Kahn, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, expects it to stay that way.

“This is the kind of event that will lead to a sea change in mask wearing,” says Kahn, who has studied American attitudes and stigmas about public face-covering. While “it’s never going to be a majority phenomenon,” he predicts the practice will become routine in some settings and situations — in dense urban areas, for example, or when people with a cold or common flu need to venture out.

“Masks aren’t personal protective devices, they’re social protective devices,” Kahn says. “Everybody knows someone who is immunocompromised or has some of the COVID risk factors, and I think that leads to a sense of, when you go outside you might want to wear a mask — at least for enough of the population that, when you’re making the decision, you won’t feel like a weirdo.”


dynamic a logo mark for a a r p

Save 25% when you join AARP and enroll in Automatic Renewal for first year. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.


Going to the movies

The theatrical movie business was already in a decades-long decline, Cole says, accelerated in recent years by the rise of streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime and ever-shorter windows before big releases move to smaller screens. Post-pandemic, he forecasts, “movies will be one of the slowest things to return” and cinemas will close in droves.

Among 15 activities the Center for the Digital Future asked people if they missed while sheltering in place, going to the movies ranked next to last. “Streaming has filled the gap,” Cole says. “There will always be movies we want to see in the theater, but for most of us that’s three to five movies a year. The whole future of film and its distribution is now up for play. But what’s unquestionable is that theaters are only going to decline.”

A bright spot for the business might be small independent cinemas, says Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, who has reported on art houses’ shutdown strategies. Many have pivoted nimbly to streaming indie-film fare and hosting virtual events, consolidating their communities of cinephiles, and will likely keep doing so even when they reopen. Art houses “live or die by knowing their audiences,” Hornaday says. “That relationship is going to bear fruit in a lot of different ways.”

Traveling by air

Fares, route options, airline choice and other aspects of flying may fluctuate wildly as the industry adjusts to whatever new normal follows the pandemic, experts say. But travelers can reliably expect a different experience in the airport and on an airplane, for years to come.

“We’re going to see cleanliness matter more,” says Gary Leff, author of the influential air-travel blog View from the Wing. “During challenging economic climates, airlines have been known to go 18 months without deep-cleaning planes, to save money. Now, no matter how tough things are, airlines will need to convince customers that these tight spaces on metal tubes are safe places to be.”

Airports will have to up their hygiene game, too, more frequently sanitizing public spaces and making room for people to maintain distancing in lines. Masks — which several U.S. airlines are now requiring for crews and passengers — will remain common in cabins, Leff says, and “it will be hard for airport security to roll back their willingness to allow larger hand sanitizer bottles through the checkpoint.”

Riding public transportation

The pandemic has put public transit systems in the unenviable position of urging people not to use them unless absolutely necessary. Coming back from that will be difficult and will involve changes in how transit agencies operate, especially when it comes to convincing people to return to the close quarters of buses and subway cars, says David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

“There’s lots of technologies that are already being developed now to enhance safety, including steps like using UV light, reconfiguring buses to provide more space between passengers, looking at doing temperature checks for people boarding,” he says. “Many riders could appreciate knowing that the person standing or sitting next to them has been screened.”

Many systems have slashed service as ridership plunged. The “worst thing that could happen,” Zipper says, is for them to make those reductions permanent, as budget-strapped transit agencies did during the Great Recession. “Once you do that, the riders, they change their plans,” he says. “And they don’t really come back.”

Protecting your privacy

In the absence of a vaccine, contact tracing — the ability to track whom an infected person has encountered and possibly exposed, using smartphone apps and Bluetooth technology — figures prominently in strategies to contain the virus while easing social distancing. It is considered so important that archrivals Apple and Google are working together to quickly develop and distribute contact tracing tools.

The tech behemoths say their technology will protect the personal information users must share to make contact tracing work, like their health histories and the identities of people they’ve come in contact with. Cole is skeptical. “There’s no way we come out of this without a loss of privacy,” he asserts.

And, he adds, most of us probably won’t mind. “Health trumps everything,” he says. “If we really do contact tracing, it means we’re going to have to let someone — the government, Google — know where we are, report who we’re next to. We just don’t seem to care that much when it’s our health, our family’s health.”

Washing your hands

Thanks to the coronavirus, we all now know how to properly wash our hands (and how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). And we won’t soon forget, judging by new data from the Bradley Corporation, a maker of fixtures and accessories for commercial washrooms that annually surveys Americans on their handwashing habits.

Bradley’s latest poll, conducted in early April to measure the coronavirus effect on hand hygiene, confirms we are washing our hands more often and for longer. Seventy-eight percent of respondents report lathering up at least six times a day, more than double the pre-pandemic rate. Seventy-seven percent follow the 20-second rule; previously, most people washed for five to 15 seconds. And 88 percent say they are likely to maintain these habits once the pandemic is over.

With more than a third of Americans now classifying themselves as “germaphobes,” per the Bradley survey, expect alcohol-based hand sanitizer to remain popular. Fior Markets, a business-intelligence firm, projects the sanitizer market to grow by 7.5 percent annually through 2027, with major producers such as Unilever boosting their manufacturing capacity to meet coronavirus-fueled demand.

Post navigation

10 Things the Pandemic Has Changed for Good

Telework and face masks aren’t going away, experts say, but movie theaters might be

woman on train platform wearing a medical mask

ALVAREZ/GETTY IMAGES

The coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency and an economic crisis, unprecedented in the disruption of daily life. That makes it something else, too, says Jeffrey Cole, a research professor at the University of Southern California: “Without preparation or permission, we’re participating in the greatest social science experiment of all time.”

The effects of lockdownslayoffs and massive public measures to contain COVID-19 “will last long after any threat from the virus is gone,” contends Cole, who directs the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications. “In the future, we’ll talk about ‘BC,’ before corona, and after.”


For the latest coronavirus news and advice go to AARP.org/coronavirus.


In collaboration with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a membership group of media, marketing and tech companies, the center last month launched the Coronavirus Disruption Project, surveying a representative sample of 1,000 Americans about how they are living and coping with the rapid changes wrought by the pandemic.

The results suggest that many of the ways we’re adapting to life with the coronavirus — some digital, some physical — will reverberate long after a vaccine or treatment returns life to “normal.” Here are 10 areas where the outbreak is likely to have permanent effects on our personal, professional and cultural lives, drawn from the survey findings and experts’ analyses.

Working from home

The outbreak abruptly introduced tens of millions of workers to telecommuting, and data from the Coronavirus Disruption Project suggests a lot of them like it. Forty-two percent of survey participants said the experience has made them want to work from home more. Sixty-one percent of those who are teleworking said they are enjoying the relaxed attire and grooming standards, greater flexibility and lack of a commute, and 78 percent said they are as effective or more so working from home.

“I think there will be some upside” to this disruption that workers will want to preserve, says Debra Dinnocenzo, the president of VirtualWorks, a consulting firm that advises companies on transitioning to telework. “People, families, are going to be spending more time together,” she says. “I think people will be more adamant that they want more time to work at home and not go back to all the crazy commuting they were doing before.”

For many, that will sit well with their bosses. Nearly three-quarters of corporate finance officials surveyed in late March by Gartner, a business research and consulting firm, said their companies plan to move at least 5 percent of on-site workers to permanent remote status as part of their post-COVID cost-cutting efforts.

Seeing your doctor

survey last year by the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging (which is cosponsored by AARP) found that only 4 percent of people over 50 had seen a doctor virtually in the previous year. More than half did not know whether their doctor even offered video visits. Patients and practitioners alike were interested in telemedicine, says Preeti Malani, an infectious disease specialist at the university and the poll’s director, but in no great rush.

That has changed at “the speed of light,” she says. Doctors and patients who previously might have considered telehealth only in limited circumstances, such as an illness while traveling or a routine post-op chat, are now seeing that a wider range of services can be provided virtually. Along with cutting out hassles like parking and waiting-room time, video visits make it easier for family members to observe and participate, a big boon for caregivers.

“There was a lot of interest in trying to move telehealth and to really think about it carefully and try to encourage it,” Malani says. “It was an aspirational goal, and it felt like it was a year or two away, and it never would have replaced the things it has replaced. But because of necessity, it really moved fast.”

Shopping for groceries

It’s no surprise that the online purchase and home delivery of groceries has surged amid coronavirus lockdowns. A March 2020 survey of more than 1,500 consumers by investment firm RBC Capital Markets found that 55 percent had shopped for groceries online, compared with 36 percent in a similar poll in late 2018. The number doing so weekly nearly doubled. And downloads of apps for delivery services like Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Peapod doubled, tripled, even quadrupled in just a month.

RBC, which has taken consumers’ pulse on online grocery shopping regularly since 2015, dug deeper into whether the changes might be lasting. More than half of those who purchased groceries online said the COVID crisis made them more likely to keep doing so permanently. Among those who shopped only at stores, 41 percent said they planned to try delivery in the next six months. The results show “an inflection point” in consumer demand, RBC says — “a more sustainable and permanent shift” in how we buy food.

Staying in touch

Zoom happy hours. Facebook Live watch parties. Virtual visits with loved ones. One key finding of the Coronavirus Disruption Project is that while the pandemic has moved our social lives online, people report that their relationships with relatives, friends and coworkers have not suffered.

That doesn’t mean we won’t go back to getting drinks with friends (although going to bars ranked last among 15 things the Center for the Digital Future asked people if they missed). But “the whole notion of how we interact, socializing, has really been affected in a pretty profound way,” Cole says, especially for the many older Americans newly adopting video tools to stay in touch.

“Zoom and videoconferencing, although we make fun of it — it’s not enjoyable to be in hour after hour — I think it does make people feel connected,” he says. “Plain phone calls now feel sort of shallow. We’re getting used to seeing people.”

Wearing face masks

Wearing masks to stem contagion has long been commonplace in many Asian countries and some Asian American communities. With COVID-19, it’s taken hold among the larger U.S. public, at the urging (and, in some areas, the mandate) of federal, state and local officials. Robert Kahn, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, expects it to stay that way.

“This is the kind of event that will lead to a sea change in mask wearing,” says Kahn, who has studied American attitudes and stigmas about public face-covering. While “it’s never going to be a majority phenomenon,” he predicts the practice will become routine in some settings and situations — in dense urban areas, for example, or when people with a cold or common flu need to venture out.

“Masks aren’t personal protective devices, they’re social protective devices,” Kahn says. “Everybody knows someone who is immunocompromised or has some of the COVID risk factors, and I think that leads to a sense of, when you go outside you might want to wear a mask — at least for enough of the population that, when you’re making the decision, you won’t feel like a weirdo.”


dynamic a logo mark for a a r p

Save 25% when you join AARP and enroll in Automatic Renewal for first year. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.


Going to the movies

The theatrical movie business was already in a decades-long decline, Cole says, accelerated in recent years by the rise of streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime and ever-shorter windows before big releases move to smaller screens. Post-pandemic, he forecasts, “movies will be one of the slowest things to return” and cinemas will close in droves.

Among 15 activities the Center for the Digital Future asked people if they missed while sheltering in place, going to the movies ranked next to last. “Streaming has filled the gap,” Cole says. “There will always be movies we want to see in the theater, but for most of us that’s three to five movies a year. The whole future of film and its distribution is now up for play. But what’s unquestionable is that theaters are only going to decline.”

A bright spot for the business might be small independent cinemas, says Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, who has reported on art houses’ shutdown strategies. Many have pivoted nimbly to streaming indie-film fare and hosting virtual events, consolidating their communities of cinephiles, and will likely keep doing so even when they reopen. Art houses “live or die by knowing their audiences,” Hornaday says. “That relationship is going to bear fruit in a lot of different ways.”

Traveling by air

Fares, route options, airline choice and other aspects of flying may fluctuate wildly as the industry adjusts to whatever new normal follows the pandemic, experts say. But travelers can reliably expect a different experience in the airport and on an airplane, for years to come.

“We’re going to see cleanliness matter more,” says Gary Leff, author of the influential air-travel blog View from the Wing. “During challenging economic climates, airlines have been known to go 18 months without deep-cleaning planes, to save money. Now, no matter how tough things are, airlines will need to convince customers that these tight spaces on metal tubes are safe places to be.”

Airports will have to up their hygiene game, too, more frequently sanitizing public spaces and making room for people to maintain distancing in lines. Masks — which several U.S. airlines are now requiring for crews and passengers — will remain common in cabins, Leff says, and “it will be hard for airport security to roll back their willingness to allow larger hand sanitizer bottles through the checkpoint.”

Riding public transportation

The pandemic has put public transit systems in the unenviable position of urging people not to use them unless absolutely necessary. Coming back from that will be difficult and will involve changes in how transit agencies operate, especially when it comes to convincing people to return to the close quarters of buses and subway cars, says David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

“There’s lots of technologies that are already being developed now to enhance safety, including steps like using UV light, reconfiguring buses to provide more space between passengers, looking at doing temperature checks for people boarding,” he says. “Many riders could appreciate knowing that the person standing or sitting next to them has been screened.”

Many systems have slashed service as ridership plunged. The “worst thing that could happen,” Zipper says, is for them to make those reductions permanent, as budget-strapped transit agencies did during the Great Recession. “Once you do that, the riders, they change their plans,” he says. “And they don’t really come back.”

Protecting your privacy

In the absence of a vaccine, contact tracing — the ability to track whom an infected person has encountered and possibly exposed, using smartphone apps and Bluetooth technology — figures prominently in strategies to contain the virus while easing social distancing. It is considered so important that archrivals Apple and Google are working together to quickly develop and distribute contact tracing tools.

The tech behemoths say their technology will protect the personal information users must share to make contact tracing work, like their health histories and the identities of people they’ve come in contact with. Cole is skeptical. “There’s no way we come out of this without a loss of privacy,” he asserts.

And, he adds, most of us probably won’t mind. “Health trumps everything,” he says. “If we really do contact tracing, it means we’re going to have to let someone — the government, Google — know where we are, report who we’re next to. We just don’t seem to care that much when it’s our health, our family’s health.”

Washing your hands

Thanks to the coronavirus, we all now know how to properly wash our hands (and how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). And we won’t soon forget, judging by new data from the Bradley Corporation, a maker of fixtures and accessories for commercial washrooms that annually surveys Americans on their handwashing habits.

Bradley’s latest poll, conducted in early April to measure the coronavirus effect on hand hygiene, confirms we are washing our hands more often and for longer. Seventy-eight percent of respondents report lathering up at least six times a day, more than double the pre-pandemic rate. Seventy-seven percent follow the 20-second rule; previously, most people washed for five to 15 seconds. And 88 percent say they are likely to maintain these habits once the pandemic is over.

With more than a third of Americans now classifying themselves as “germaphobes,” per the Bradley survey, expect alcohol-based hand sanitizer to remain popular. Fior Markets, a business-intelligence firm, projects the sanitizer market to grow by 7.5 percent annually through 2027, with major producers such as Unilever boosting their manufacturing capacity to meet coronavirus-fueled demand.

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister of US writes! What are we looking for? Power or leadership?

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister of US writes! What are we looking for? Power or leadership?

Cover photo: President Donald Trump speaks during the daily coronavirus disease outbreak task force briefing at the White House in Washington April 21. (CNS/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

 

NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER

by Joan Chittister

6 May 2020

 

 

The writer of the article below Joan Chittister who is a Benedictine nun, is a very famous speaker and social activist in US, also a regular columnist in NCR: ‘Where I stand!’ So griping are her writings, you can’t stop until you reach the very end. See it for yourselves!

 

Women why are you weeping?

I had the chance to meet her, listen to her thundering Keynote speech: “Preaching equality, practising inequality” at the Women’s ordination in the Catholic Church meet, Dublin, 2001, and immortalize it in my book: “Women why are you weeping?”

 

Vatican had tried all tricks to persuade her out of the Dublin meet. All of us were left at tenterhooks till the last moment in suspense whether she would appear or not! Then she appeared to the rapturous clapping of the whole crowd! My friend Dr. Wijingaards also was one of the speakers!

 

Nazi Leadership?

Here she is taking on President Trump on: ‘Power and Leadership!’ very incisive analysis, applicable to all leaders in Church and politics. “Nazi leadership of concentration camps is not what we look for in democracies” she says point-blank.

 

For more breathtaking statements read her article and get inspired to become a live wire, out spoken like Jesus from house tops, in Church and society. james kottoor, editor ccv.

 

Please  read  below Sr. Chittister

 

If anything galvanizes the gurus of serious thinking in the United States, it’s the concept of leadership. Business schools live on it; publishers feed it wholesale to the country, book list after book list; online business and technology magazines use it as clickbait; historians analyze it; philosophers muse about its moral and ethical dimensions; social psychologists study it in group after group; and communication departments labor over the best ways to inculcate it.

Leadership, in the United States, is big business.

So … exactly what happened to us in February when the news of a pandemic was a “hoax” rather than a danger-in-waiting, when it was a Chinese — a racist — problem, rather than a global one, and the government “ate, drank and made merry,” despite the fact that scientists around the world were trying to tell us to get ready for it? When, in other words, we could have done things to prepare ourselves for it — but didn’t.

It’s exactly that kind of leaderless situation that gives the scholars pause. How is it that leaders — nations, systems and governments sworn to protect the people — forfeit their ability to make independent judgments just when the world needs them most?

Where were our leaders then? Or is this brave new world of partisanship and imperial presidencies now considered “leadership”? And if so, what happened to democracy when we weren’t looking?

Why is it, that in the midst of a pandemic, we had only one naval commander who stood up for care in a care-less system? We had one public health doctor stand up for ethical experimental processes in the national science laboratory in a country of thousands of them? And he lost his job for doing it.

How is it that leaders suddenly assume power when, clearly, “leadership” and “power” are two different things? Nazi concentration camps ran on power but there was not enough leadership in the system to stop the enforcement of its rawness, of its bestial efforts at conquest. And all of that in the very age when the world’s witnesses to it are still alive.

Or have we made a mistake and set our sights on power rather than leadership all along? Has power corrupted the last century and is it on its way to destroying the moral fiber of this one, as well? While the rest of us, with our souls asleep, say nothing about the passivity that allows the corruption of so noble a concept and still call it “leadership.”

Instead, there are multiple formats now that tell us how to run meetings, how to get workers to work, how to organize groups, how to get our private interests passed, how to impose our will, how to placate the ego of the king as long as it gets us the status and money to do as we please.

Clearly, if this pandemic does nothing else, it ought to require us to address these questions about the nature and meaning of leadership. We should pursue those answers at the highest level before every one of our agencies, departments, offices and institutions are eroded by the lack of genuine leadership.

As academics love to tell students — “We should be requiring that the researchers put their report on the nature of leadership on the national desk of a silent Congress and on the docket of the Supreme Court given its decision to allow dark money to buy our elections.” And have it there before the next election maybe.

Before we choose our “leaders,” surely it is time to remember again that leaders are meant to call a group to become the best of itself, not to prey on the worst of human appetites. Leadership unifies a group; it doesn’t divide it. Leadership pursues the common good, not the personal good. Leadership saves the future for us rather than render it stillborn in the present.

Making use of the resources of a group for personal gain is public thievery, not leadership. Taking personal profit from the work of the group for private purposes is not leadership. On the contrary, it is what history has always deemed to be public “corruption.” Then the so-called guardians of society become its predators, not its protectors.

And what would ever justify such a social condition? Only one of two things: undue subservience to a rudderless leader or blind obedience in the name of holiness.

Subservience is a psychological ploy for approval, a substitute for the cultivation of internal strength that fails to give good counsel when good counsel, not fawning, is exactly what’s needed.

Blind obedience, the religious contribution to this kind of enigma, was cemented in the laws of the church and meant to serve institutional purposes. But blind obedience was never at the base of the deepest streams of ancient spirituality or the Gospel that nurtured it. The great spiritual traditions were all founded in response to some overarching social evil. Each of them boldly confronted the world they lived in with an alternative lifestyle, a different set of values, or by taking direct aim at social systems that served rulers rather than the ruled.

Benedictines in the sixth century concentrated on classism and created community. Franciscans in the 12th century eschewed the financial immorality of the rising mercantile system. Dominicans in the 13th century sought to educate people in a theology that had given way to concentration on myth and sin rather than spiritual adulthood. The Jesuits in the 16th century stood up to the state that persecuted the church with relentless audacity. The modern orders — religious orders founded after the 16th century — taught Catholicism in an anti-Catholic culture. All of these spiritual traditions ranked courageous honesty higher than servility to secular powers.

The saints and martyrs and prophets of the church never taught a cloying subservience in the name of obedience when the world needed prophetic truth.

Leadership meant holiness, meant authenticity, meant caring for the people rather than playing minion to the king. Even when it meant risking your own prestige, social status, public approval — or sometimes even your life — to do it.

From the first martyr, St. Stephen, who defied the oppression of early Christians, to Maximilian Kolbe in our time who offered his life in place of a Jewish father in a Nazi concentration camp, the essence of the spiritual life has forever been a commitment to spiritual leadership. It is a pledge to do the good that must be done, whatever the face of the opposition. It calls us to do the works of righteousness rather than simply go along to get along. It requires us to be spiritual leaders even in the most ignoble of public situations.

For the real saints of every system, leadership is not about strategic planning and decision-making skills, about team building and delegation of authority, about communication techniques or innovation. Those are leadership tools that can be taught to anyone. They are not what defines a real leader.

Real leadership is about the quality of life the leader shapes for the entire society. Leadership is about the compassion the leader shows to those who seek good at the gates of the nation that promises good to all. Real leaders carry the beacon of justice and truth within themselves and so shine the way for others to carry it on after them. The leader exists to maintain the highest values and virtues of the land, so that those values may live forever in the hearts of the people s/he leaves behind.

From where I stand, we have been confused about the difference between power and leadership. We have been too long in awe of tumult devoid of vision. We have lost a taste for real solid gold leadership and accepted the gold-plated lookalike instead.

We have bought into the tinny, tepid emptiness of soul that takes a people, a nation, a culture, into the clutches of political subservience. Rather than be committed to intellectual independence, we find ourselves in the thrall of subservience to empty promises. Modern monarch-types whose addiction to personal power rather than the good of the nation threaten the future and squelch the ongoing struggle to make democracy real.

But there is a holy text, which if really internalized, could take us beyond our fear of what will happen to us if we don’t soon demand truth from the powers-that-be. “If the blind lead the blind,” Jesus says in Matthew 15, “both shall fall into a ditch.”

Sounds familiar?

[Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pennsylvania.]

How Freedom Became Free-dumb in America

Why the World is Horrified by the American Idiot

umair haque

umair haque

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May 5 · 9 min read
ublished by Umair Haque in Medium.com May 5, 2020
Avridamah!!” shouted Matteo, from across the park. Snowy looked up at me, quizzically. It was too early for this. I grumbled, irritated. What was the Italian doctor trying to say this fine spring lockdown morning?

“Mate. Have you seen this?!” Ben, the grizzled London copper asked me, starting to cackle, as he handed me his iPhone.

There, I saw a picture of crowds of people gathered in Central Park. Then another, on California’s beaches. With, apparently, not a care in the world.

“What the hell is wrong with them? It’s not like there’s…a…global pandemic…or anything.” Ben laughed.

“You zee!” added Matteo. “Avridamah!!”

“What the — “, I began to ask. And then I got it. Freedom. As in: look at what these idiots think is freedom. LOL! Snowy looked up at me, grinning.

My dog park buddies had a pint. “Americans,” I said, sighing. I struggled for a moment, and then gesticulated. All that came out was: “They’re just…different.”

Ben rolled his eyes. Matteo sighed melodramatically. “We know, mate. Oh, we know.”

The American idiot is, by now, a figure that’s the stuff of myth and legend across the world. Nobody else is really quite sure: are Americans really like this? This…well…laughable? Yesterday, they were the kind of people who made their kids do “active shooter drills,” meaning masked men burst into classrooms…and pretend…to kill them. What the? Today, they’re the kind of people who happily congregate in parks and on beaches during a global pandemic…when the lunatic fringe amongst them isn’t protesting for “liberation” in the first place. What on earth?

I don’t use the term as an insult — the American idiot. I mean it in a precise way, as I try to remind people. For the Greeks, “idiot” carried a precise and special meaning. The person who was only interested in private life, private gain, private advantage. Who had no conception of a public good, common wealth, shared interest. To the Greeks, the pioneers of democracy, the creators of the demos, such a person was the most contemptible of all. Because even the Greeks seemed to understand: you can’t make a functioning democracy out of…idiots.

Now, I’m going to generalize. But I don’t mean that all Americans are idiots. I mean that, for example, more or less everyone who wants to carry a gun to Starbucks, deny their neighbours healthcare, make people beg for medicine online, and not let anyone in society ever retire…all of those people in the world, by and large, are Americans. Nobody else — nobody in the whole world at this point in history — thinks such things are remotely desirable. Hence, the American idiot. It means: the world’s largest and most hardened subset of idiots at this point, in the Classical Greek meaning of the word, is largely American.

You don’t have to think very hard to understand why my Italian friend laughed at such a person. We’ve had many serious conversations over the last few months. “How are things in Italy going”, I ask, trying to be gentle. He looks away, in grief, and says simply: “Dificile.” The dogs play. I wonder if his loved ones are OK. He tells me stories of a society pulling together, to fight a deadly disease, whose toll has been heavy and grave. Is it any wonder that, looking at Americans gathering in Central Park, on Long Beach, he’s shocked into laughter? We’re lucky he’s laughing. What he really feels, I’d bet, is a kind of horror, combined with contempt. The very same contempt the Greeks felt for…their idiots.

‘Freedom?’ I’d bet he thinks. ‘More like freedumb.’

When Matteo, when Ben, when every single person I know who’s not American, when the world looks at America, it sees the American idiot, and what it tries — and usually fails, because it’s lost for words — to express is something like this: can people really be this selfish? This oblivious? This…thankless? Why do they keep voting for less healthcare, retirement, education, income, savings, happiness, trust, year after year — even the so-called good ones? What kind of people…why are the literally the only people left in the whole world who do that? And then…complain bitterly about not having…the very things…they deny each other? Who can even make sense of this, the bizarre circular firing squad of social suicide that America has become? But all those, of course, are key traits of the idiot. The answer — sadly, I think — is: yes, people can really be this way.

Perhaps because they don’t know any other way. Maybe because it’s all they’ve ever been taught or told. That’s not an apologia for the American idiot, by the way. Or is it? Even I wonder. Still, let me try to explain as best I can — America’s strange and complicated with freedom, one so perverse that freedom became twisted into something very much like its opposite. It has to do with the way Americans think — unsubtly, narrowly, single-mindedly — about what freedom is, and means.

About half a century ago, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin divided freedom into two categories — maybe you already know them. Negative freedom, or freedom from. And positive freedom, or freedom to. The theory then went — and this became the basis of generations of American thought — that only the freedom from was worth developing and cultivating.

The freedom “to”, on the other hand, was vilified as something that only communists and socialists would want. Why? Because my “freedom to” — say to be educated, or to be healthy — requires your input, help, cooperation. But American thinking — which became obsessed with individualism — couldn’t admit or permit that, because then maybe you weren’t “taking responsibility for yourself” and all the rest of the jargon.

All this dates back, of course, to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, the Uberman. It’s not too hard to see why a society that was born in slavery, and continued into segregation, in which horrors like crippling and maiming people for the color of their skin were perfectly alright — why a society like that ends up prizing freedom from. America’s obsession with freedom from dates right back to the slave-owner’s desire for freedom from government intervention, law, common decency, any tiny shred of humanity — to have the power to exploit and abuse human beings on an unthinkable scale. There’s a straight line from Nietzsche’s “master morality” naturally dominating the “slave morality” to Berlin’s “freedom from” any restraint on power — and that straight line is the one American thinking, still backwards, mired in the logic of domination and exploitation, traced.

Americans don’t like it when I make those links for them. But they are as plain as day. You only really have to look at Europe or Canada to see the contrast.

There, the idea of freedom itself evolved. Away from “freedom from” — which is what the early European revolution were about, for example, when the French abolished the formal class system, freedom from nobility and monarchy and so forth — and towards “freedom to.”

By the end of the Second World War, Europe had done something radical and transformative: written the “freedom to” into its constitutions. People would now have expansive freedoms to — freedom to have good healthcare, education, retirement, income, savings, and so forth. It’s true that today’s Europe is forgetting about that breakthrough, but it’s not true that it wasn’t history changing. The power of the freedom to gave Europe history’s highest standards of living — in just one human lifetime. Nothing has been seen like it ever before — and maybe nothing will be ever again.

You might have noticed, though, that I’m still accepting Berlin’s old dichotomy: freedom from and freedom to. I reject it. I think the dichotomy itself is a mistake — maybe the formative mistake of American ideas. Isn’t good education also just freedom from ignorance? Good healthcare freedom from illness? And so forth. I think that a century ago, trying to neatly cleave freedoms into the good kind and the bad kind, American thinking made a huge, terrible mistake. One which trapped it to circle a desert for a century — and then find itself in a dead end.

You can see that dead end everywhere today.

In the cruelty, aggression, rage, violence, hate which characterize American life as especially brutal. Americans are always trying to escape from any kind of obligation or responsibility to…anything. Each other. History. The future. Just common decency. Even just basic humanity. Who else makes their kids…pretend to die? And then pretends that doesn’t scar kids for life? What the? That’s why the world doesn’t know whether to be horrified, shocked, repelled, or astonished by America — and it laughs. Nervously, oddly, baffled. What Americans don’t know is that that laughter is a world being polite.

Here’s how extreme America’s belief in freedumb — freedom as the absence of any kind of obligation or responsibility to anything greater than narrow, immediate, infantile self-satisfaction — has gotten. Americans aren’t just congregating in parks and beaches during a global pandemic. They’re literally the only people in the world who just voted against better healthcare (from Bernie and Liz) in the middle of a pandemic. Think about the scale of such folly for a moment. What kind of people vote for worse healthcare…during a pandemic? John Cleese would struggle to make a face that expressed the surreal tragicomedy of such a thing. But that’s what Americans did…what they do, over and over and over again.

Why? Because they still believe — even if they don’t think they believe — in Berlin’s tired, weary, flawed old distinction. Freedom has only come to mean the removal of any restraint — negative freedom — on the exercise of individual desire, the satiation of individual appetite. What freedom still doesn’t mean in America is any of the following, good healthcare, retirement, education, and so forth, because what freedom has never meant is any form of collective action.

Let me put that more sharply. What if the only way that I can have decent healthcare is for you to have decent healthcare — first? What if the only for me to have a decent retirement is for us all to have one, first? You see, that logic — which is the math of public goods — makes a mockery of Berlin’s dichotomy. Then, what we don’t need is simple “freedom from” some kind of restraint — but the “freedom to”…collectively organize, coordinate, take action.

Freedom from can give us liberty as individuals, it’s true, from kings, and even governments. But only the freedom to can give us liberty as societies, groups, classes, nations. These two kinds of freedoms might exist in tension — but try to have one without the other, and the result is a spectacular collapse. Freedom to without freedom from gave us the Soviet Union. But freedom from without freedom to gave us America, the failed state, the world’s first poor rich country. Gentle Europe, wise New Zealand, humble and kind Canada — which balance the two — have found a kind of miracle in that equilibrium.

Matteo and Ben often ask me: “What wrong with Americans?” All my non-American friends do, as do everyone’s. What they really mean is: “why don’t they get it? Why can’t they change?” I tell them that Americans will never really change. They used to think I was kidding. Looking at Americans voting down better healthcare during a pandemic…then happily crowd parks and beaches…after protesting for liberation from lockdown…they’re beginning to believe me.

Change? You know about sunk costs, I’m sure. You should let them go…but you can’t. Think of a bad relationship. You know you should break up. But how can you let all that investment go? So it is with Americans and freedom. They’re too invested in the fools’ idea of freedom that wrecked their future to really begin to understand that it is a fools’ definition of freedom. They’ll go on thinking, in my estimation, that freedom means things like this.

Carrying a gun to Starbucks — so kids have to do active shooter drills. Being able to “choose” between a million health insurance plans, none of which covers you — so that you don’t have to pay higher taxes to the hated government. Making everyone stand on their own two feet — even while every force in society is cutting those very limbs away. Never taking any kind of collective action as a society — that’s socialism! That’s communism!! Those things are bad!! They’re terrible!

No, my friends. Americans will never understand the miracle of European social democracy, of Canadian investment in each other, of New Zealand making a difficult, joyous peace with a broken past. They won’t. Because they can’t? Because they don’t want to? Because nobody teaches them about the gentle and beautiful power in cooperation, in dignity, in respect for the self and others as more than a thing of appetite? Because they’re trapped by a sordid history — which they secretly care little about overcoming?

Maybe, in the end, it’s just all the above.

Freedom! Here I am, the American idiot, carrying my gun to Starbucks, before I go to Walmart, where I’ll choose between a million different flavors of the Everyday Low Price, and then I’ll dream about being Great Again, while I drive my big car down the big, empty highway, listening to some bellowing mullah of capital and individualism and cruelty telling me to hate and rage a little more. Along the way, so what if I create my very own exploitation, abuse, misery, decline into poverty, despair, degradation, dehumanization? Hey! Don’t tell me any different!

Isn’t that what freedom really is?

Umair
May 2020

How Bad Is This, Really?

For the US it is really, really bad

Mike Meyer

Mike Meyer

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Apr 21 · 10 min read

Photo by Micah Williams on Unsplash

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Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice

Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice

The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy

The Atlantic
The Atlantic

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Apr 29 · 11 min read

Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images

By Amanda Mull

At first, Derek Canavaggio thought he would be able to ride out the coronavirus pandemic at home until things were safe. As a bar manager at the Globe in Athens, Georgia, Canavaggio hasn’t been allowed to work for weeks. Local officials in Athens issued Georgia’s first local shelter-in-place order on March 19, canceling the events that usually make spring a busy time for Athens bars and effectively eliminating the city’s rowdy downtown party district built around the University of Georgia. The state’s governor, Brian Kemp, followed in early April with a statewide shutdown.

But then the governor sent Canavaggio into what he calls “spreadsheet hell.” In an announcement last week, Kemp abruptly reversed course on the shutdown, ending many of his own restrictions on businesses and overruling those put in place by mayors throughout the state. On Friday, gyms, churches, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen, if the owners were willing. Yesterday, restaurants and movie theaters came back. The U-turn has left Georgians scrambling. Canavaggio has spent days crunching the numbers to figure out whether reopening his bar is worth the safety risk, or even feasible in the first place, given how persistent safety concerns could crater demand for a leisurely indoor happy hour. “We can’t figure out a way to make the numbers work to sustain business and pay rent and pay everybody to go back and risk their lives,” he told me. “If we tried to open on Monday, we’d be closed in two weeks, probably for good and with more debt on our hands.”

Kemp’s order shocked people across the country. For weeks, Americans have watched the coronavirus sweep from city to city, overwhelming hospitals, traumatizing health-care workers, and leaving tens of thousands of bodies in makeshift morgues. Georgia has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and the state’s testing efforts have provided an incomplete look at how far the virus continues to spread. That testing capacity — which public-health leaders consider necessary for safely ending lockdowns — has lagged behind the nation’s for much of the past two months. Kemp’s move to reopen was condemned by scientists, high-ranking Republicans from his own state, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; it even drew a public rebuke from President Donald Trump, who had reportedly approved the measures before distancing himself from the governor amid the backlash.

Public-health officials broadly agree that reopening businesses — especially those that require close physical contact — in places where the virus has already spread will kill people. Even so, many other states are quietly considering similar moves to Georgia’s. Most are taking a more measured approach — waiting a bit longer to reopen, setting testing or infection benchmarks that must first be met — but some, such as Oklahoma and Colorado, have already put similar plans in motion. By acting with particular haste in what he calls a crucial move to restore economic stability, Kemp has positioned Georgia at the center of a national fight over whether to stay the course with social distancing or try to return to some semblance of normalcy. But it’s easy to misunderstand which Americans stand on each side. Many Georgians have no delusions about the risks of reopening, even if they need to return to work for financial reasons. Among the dozen local leaders, business owners, and workers I spoke with for this article, all said they know some people who disagreed with the lockdown but were complying nonetheless. No one reported serious acrimony in their communities.

Instead, their stories depict a struggle between a state government and ordinary people. Georgia’s brash reopening puts much of the state’s working class in an impossible bind: risk death at work, or risk ruining yourself financially at home. In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people. Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.


Estimates vary as to how many businesses might actually reopen now, but none of the Georgians I talked with knew many people who intended to voluntarily head right back to work. That was true in Athens, which has long been one of the Deep South’s most progressive cities, as well as in Blackshear, a small town in the rural southeastern part of the state that tends toward conservatism. Kelly Girtz, the mayor of Athens, estimated that about 90 percent of the local business owners he had spoken with in the past week had no intention of reopening immediately. “Georgia’s plan simply is not that well designed,” Girtz says. “To call it a ‘plan’ might be overstating the case.”

Several of Georgia’s Republican mayors did not return requests for comment, but some have publicly supported Kemp’s decision. In Watkinsville, which is near Athens, Mayor Bob Smith released a statement on Sunday encouraging the town’s residents to return to religious services and their jobs.

Certainly, demand for these businesses’ services still exists. For many hair stylists, the response to Kemp’s reopening announcement was swift. Zach Lee, a salon owner in Blackshear who closed his business well in advance of the state’s shutdown, told me he heard from clients within 15 minutes of Kemp’s press conference. Lee had to tell them he wouldn’t be reopening yet because he didn’t think doing so was safe. “I want to work. I’m a workaholic. I can’t wait to get back behind the chair and do hair,” he said. “But now is not the time. I really don’t feel like being the guinea pig in this situation, and I don’t want my clients being guinea pigs either.”

Lee has been without an income for six weeks. He’s heard that at least another six will pass before he’s able to access any of the federal relief funds that have been promised for small businesses like his. Many of his clients have bought gift cards or mailed him checks to help with his expenses while he stays at home.

In the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, another salon owner, Sabra Dupree, has decided to give reopening a shot. She has run a place called Kids Kuts for more than 20 years. When the governor shut down businesses like hers, she began preparing to eventually reopen. “We gutted the whole salon,” she told me. “We sanitized it. We cleaned it. We repainted the stations. We took the porous countertops off and put granite countertops on.” Only three of the salon’s five staff members want to work right now. During their shifts, they’ll be fully outfitted in the protective gear — masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves — now required by the state’s board of cosmetology. “If I’m doing it wrong, shame on me, but I’m trying,” Dupree said. “It would be different if I were sitting here in a mansion and I could give every single person $10,000 to be closed and stay home, but that’s not an option for us.”

Extensive protective gear is required in most types of reopened businesses, which was a sticking point for every Georgian I spoke with who was contemplating a return to work. They said the state is providing neither the gear itself nor guidance on how to get it, so they’re in the same market as everyone else, competing with medical workers and high-risk people who need masks to safely go to the grocery store. Lee said he doesn’t “feel comfortable buying up that stuff right now when there’s hospitals that are needing it and they can’t get it.” Dupree said that to secure the gear she needed to reopen, she had to ask clients and friends to volunteer their extras.

Many workers and business owners have to factor in competition. “The trouble with [Kemp’s] ad hoc orders is that they sort of gin up a generalized interest in commercial or business activity,” said Girtz, who spent much of his career as a local public-school teacher before becoming the mayor of Athens last year. When people hear on the news that businesses are open, many will assume that it’s safe to patronize them, and may miss more nuanced information about ongoing safety concerns. And when only some businesses open, they’re able to capitalize on this interest and snipe business from still-closed competitors.

For hair stylists, barbers, and nail technicians, whose livelihoods are especially reliant on loyal customers, losing business to others is worrisome. “I want to keep my clients and I don’t want them to see anybody else,” Jillian Yeskel, a stylist in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, told me. Yeskel has asthma, which might worsen cases of COVID-19, so she’s decided to hold off on returning to work for at least another two weeks. During the shutdown order, she didn’t have to pay rent for her salon station like she normally does, but now that the order has been lifted, she’ll have to start paying again.

For restaurants, the decision to open up can be even more complicated. Profit margins in the food-service industry are already notoriously slim, and Georgia’s restaurants have been instructed to reduce their capacity by half to ensure distance between customers. Places like the Globe that rely on alcohol sales for most of their profits can’t meaningfully offset the loss with limited in-house service and takeout and delivery. “Our rent isn’t changing, but our capacity for our building is greatly reduced,” Canavaggio said. “Unless we start selling $400 beers, what do we have?” The Globe, he decided, will remain closed indefinitely.


While Georgians attempt to parse what Kemp’s abrupt move means on a practical level, they’re also trying to understand why he chose to reopen now. The state’s testing capacity is expanding, but none of its testing and infection data meets even the modest standards the Trump administration has set for reopening. Kemp’s plan specifies neither the mechanisms by which statewide safety measures will be meaningfully expanded nor the extent of liability that business owners will bear if they open up and people get sick. Multiple people told me that some hair stylists have decided to require clients to sign legal releases before letting anyone sit in their chairs.

Kemp’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. In the past week, he has said that he believes reopening businesses will alleviate Georgians’ economic suffering; on Monday, he said he thought statistical models that predicted increased deaths in the state post-opening painted too grim a picture of the possibilities, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Some residents think pressure from the state’s most influential business owners — people who would be shielded from the dangers their employees would face — was a likely factor in the decision to reopen. Others have speculated that the move is intended to bolster the state’s budget, possibly by making thousands of people ineligible for unemployment benefits if their employers reopen. “Every indication thus far is that you as an employee can’t stay home and continue to collect unemployment simply because you fear infection,” Mayor Girtz told me. “You of your own volition have made that decision, in terms of how the system views you.”

Harry Heiman, a public-health professor at Georgia State University, in Atlanta, told me the decision to reopen demonstrates how the state’s government has treated its citizens for years, well before Kemp’s 2018 election: “They’ve long prioritized policies that they believe support businesses, even though those same policies might not be good for workers or for the communities that those workers come from.” These policies have largely accomplished their desired goals: In the span of a generation, the population in the Atlanta metro area has doubled. Corporations including Mercedes-Benz USA, Newell Brands, and Norfolk Southern Railway have moved their headquarters to the state. But many of the programs to attract those employers, Heiman said, have weakened the state’s social safety net and labor protections.

That effect has burdened some populations more than others. “We’re opening up businesses that are not only high-touch and requiring proximity, but we’re also choosing industries where racial- and ethnic-minority communities are disproportionately represented,” Heiman noted. He said that choosing to restart these industries is likely to deepen the crisis for communities of color in the South. “They’re going back to a job that places them at increased risk for exposure to coronavirus, and they don’t have access to Medicaid, because we haven’t expanded it,” he explained. Across America, black and Latino people have died from COVID-19 at rates far outpacing that of white people. In Georgia, one of the country’s worst outbreaks has struck the rural, poor city of Albany, whose population is more than 70 percent black. In addition to the lack of Medicaid expansion, high incidences of medical problems such as hypertension and diabetes in the southeastern United States could make the coronavirus, which seems to prey on people with preexisting health issues, particularly deadly there.

Georgia’s health infrastructure makes Kemp’s choice particularly dangerous. Girtz worries about the state’s hospitals. His county has two, but because of rural hospital closures, he says they’re expected to provide services not just for residents of Athens-Clarke County, but for the entire 17-county region around them, home to some 700,000 people. “A town like Elberton, 35 miles from us, or Commerce, just 25 miles up the road — those were places where, a generation ago, you could have a baby,” he said. “That’s no longer true, and it’s also true they don’t have the ICU beds there.”

Few people in Georgia are eager to be a case study in pandemic exceptionalism, but many won’t have a choice. Jillian Yeskel, the stylist in Roswell, whose Trump-supporting parents voted for Kemp, said she’d had conversations with them in the past week that she couldn’t have dreamed of a few months ago. “I’d assumed they’d support anything Kemp had to say,” she told me. “I talk to my mom every day, and we’re both just so upset with him.” There’s no polling available on how Georgians feel about social-distancing measures in general, but Yeskel’s experience with her parents follows national trends: A poll conducted in mid-April by Morning Consult and Politico found that even most respondents who said they view Trump very favorably or voted for Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections wanted to continue social distancing for as long as necessary.

All Georgians can do now is try to protect themselves as best they can. If social distancing decreases because lots of businesses reopen, another deluge of COVID-19 cases could be inevitable. Because of how infections tend to progress, it may be two or three weeks before hospitals see a new wave of people whose lungs look like they’re studded with ground glass in X-rays. By then, there’s no telling how many more people could be carrying the disease into nail salons or tattoo parlors, going about their daily lives because they were told they could do so safely.

In the meantime, local leaders whose municipal shutdowns have been overruled by state law are relying on other methods to keep their communities safe: disseminating information about testing, finding funds for food banks, creating grant programs to get a little bit of money to local businesses in need. For some, that includes duties both official and unofficial. On his walk home from city hall last week, Girtz said, he encountered his neighbors, a group of student roommates, enjoying the warm spring day. He’s lived in Athens a long time, and was worried that in a town known for revelry, a few people partying outside could turn into a lot of people partying outside. “They were drinking beer on the curb,” he recalled. “I just had to say, ‘Y’all, enjoy your time to the degree that you can, but at least go up on the damn porch.’”

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