The past few years have been a rough patch.
Even the vaunted economy, with its historic low jobless rates prior to the arrival of the pandemic, tended to boom for the more affluent and not so much for the less affluent. The widespread buoyancy of earlier booms, such as in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s, periods when it truly felt like good times had arrived, was nowhere to be found.
Whether you support or oppose the Trump administration, you can’t deny that President Trump effectively has polarized this nation to levels that haven’t been seen since the tumult of the late 1960s.
Moreover, festering problems in the United States have continued to fester. The Rust Belt has gotten even rustier. Many smaller farmers are in distress. Violent crime continues to plague many urban areas. The nation’s infrastructure, such as its roads, airports and bridges, has continued to deteriorate.
And then the pandemic comes along. First seeping into the United States in late January, federal and state governments effectively shut down much of the economy, and of life, in mid-March.
Although much of the economy, and life, has subsequently reopened, the economy remains hobbled and the routine aspects of daily living remain constrained. Unemployment remains high, both on Cape Cod and across the United States. A real question looms about whether in-person teaching at schools on the Cape and across the nation will make it through to the end of the 2020-21 school year.
And then there is the staggering death toll from the pandemic: more than 217,000 Americans, who are among the more than 1 million people the pandemic has killed around the world.
At this point, the pandemic has killed 72 times the number of people who died on 9/11, and nearly four times the number of American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.
So yes, the last few years have been a rough patch.
But better times can come out of bad times. Looking back on American history, seemingly many of the best improvements for the nation came out of its worst times.
The capitalistic abuse of factory and industrial workers in the late 1800s spurred the creation of laws limiting who could work for pay and how long they had to work on any given day.
The terrible suffering of the Great Depression led to the creation of American bedrocks such as Social Security and federally insured bank deposits.
Now the United States may be about to embark on some basic resets, including addressing systemic racism and examining whether city streets should continue to favor vehicle traffic over pedestrians and bicyclists.
Even commuting and visits to the doctor are in play, as the internet proves its worth in remote working and in telemedicine.
A less obvious upside, however, is something that won’t show up in employment numbers or new laws.
This terrible pandemic is helping us appreciate what nearly all of us had before mid-March: the pleasure, indeed the life-giving essence of close human contact, of hugs and kisses, of seeing smiles, of visiting friends and relatives without constraint.
The simple things—so simple that we never even thought about them—will mean that much more when we finally vanquish the pandemic.