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COVID-19: Divided America Poised For Crucial Few Months – Analysis

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The coming months — June, July and August through to Labor Day in early September — will be the most difficult period in America since the country’s civil war. The US must simultaneously deal with statues falling, civil-military issues, state-by-state efforts to contend with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and the maintenance of its economic damage recovery program. Moreover, the pandemic, when combined with the emergence of a dramatic sociocultural convulsion with unknown consequences, is going to produce major challenges across many of America’s divides.

Let’s be clear, the requirement to contend with America’s racism problem is critically and historically important. Bringing results fast matters to many in the US and around the world. Overseas, America is drawing sharp scrutiny and analysis of exactly what happened to the “American Dream.” Compassionate yet bold actions need to be taken immediately. That includes the necessary task of continuing the requirement to practice social distancing. It is surprising that many experts and pundits are actually shocked that many school classes will be held online through 2021. The projection of the spread of COVID-19 in communities remains. To be sure, Capitol Hill is working on necessary, urgent reforms, but there is some permanence to the ongoing events. But America in 2021 will be a much different country.

The disease spread in the US is a moral disaster, where American values are being tested. The broken protocols for mitigating the pathogen’s spread are causing spikes in key states across the country. States are now beginning to see more cases as a result of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, which saw a breakdown of health protocols. The outbreaks in the southern part of the country, including Texas and Arizona, have seen a resultant rise in the number of cases requiring hospitalization. Other outbreaks are occurring in states such as Oregon, also because of a relaxation of protocols. States that have to close again will suffer more damage. The local policy response, in some parts of America, is energized by the urges of the local community to help in this time of need, which is one of the few positive developments. It shows activism is working. This activism will intensify over the summer.

As the US economy reopens, there are new legal realities regarding liability — a twist on public safety. People being required to sign legally binding waivers before entering commercial establishments is becoming more commonplace. The question is how much the pathogen will spread in these highly relaxed conditions, with a varying array of protocols remaining in place for social distancing. Clearly, waivers are going to be common for the foreseeable future.

Waivers will leave owners liability-free in cases of pathogen spread, giving theme parks, live events, beauty salons and doctors’ offices legal breathing space. Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is requiring people who go to his political rallies to formally agree they won’t sue the president or other parties if they contract COVID-19 after attending any gathering. Some may argue that “herd immunity” may work with such gatherings, but the strategy is risky. Two key American holidays — Independence Day on July 4 and Labor Day in September — are going to be further vector spreaders, where the American flag may become both a highly profitable and a contentious symbol.

Meanwhile, infected employees who work in factories or other Adam Smith’s pin factory-type labor settings are increasingly facing pathogen outbreaks. Health care costs to employers and lost production time is adding up, which will have a snowball effect on local and regional industry and logistics. America’s aging highway infrastructure is likely to suffer. 

The economic numbers are not good. Many of those who are unemployed will not be able to find new employment. These “unemployables” are going to have an impact on the way that cities and communities cope during their recovery. Given the unleashing of pent-up frustration with the US’ systemic and social ills, necessary sociocultural change (revolution is too strong) is occurring before our eyes. Obviously, the country will not collapse, but the US will be challenged by issues of community uprisings in various forms, from protests to city hall and the courts. Defunding the police is a workable approach on a case-by-case basis.

Undoubtedly, the number of shootings of black men by police in America is resulting in major protests, such as those in Atlanta following the killing of Rayshard Brooks last week. The more of these horrendous events there are, the longer the agony of those communities will continue. The portions of the country that care are seeking to bring humanitarianism to the forefront in a bid to help.

Overall, divides in American society will bring unexpected events. What we know is that racism is being re-examined in a new way, augmented by technology and communications. George Floyd’s murder by a police officer is creating a unique global wave of soul-searching, mixed with an outpouring of anger, during a pandemic.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute in Washington, D.C. He is a former Advisor and Director of Research for a number of UAE institutions. Dr. Karasik was a Lecturer at the Dubai School of Government, Middlesex University Dubai, and the University of Wollongong Dubai where he taught “Labor and Migration” and “Global Political Economy” at the graduate level. Dr. Karasik was a Senior Political Scientist in the International Policy and Security Group at RAND Corporation. From 2002-2003, he served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. Throughout Dr. Karasik’s career, he has worked for numerous U.S. agencies involved in researching and analyzing defense acquisition, the use of military power, and religio-political issues across the Middle East, North Africa, and Eurasia, including the evolution of violent extremism. Dr. Karasik lived in the UAE for 10 years and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Dr. Karasik received his PhD in History from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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