Summer of 2020
by Daniel A. Kaufman
I cannot recall a time which sent my mind swimming like this one. Nor can I remember a series of events that have provoked such strong thoughts and feelings as those I have been experiencing of late. Indeed, I cannot recall a summer this tense since the notorious Summer of 1977 – the “Summer of Sam” – in New York. I feel compelled to express these thoughts and feelings but am finding it impossible to organize them into anything resembling an essay. Numbered paragraphs, loosely grouped by subject, will have to suffice.
 Given the amount of abuse at the hands of the police suffered by people of every race and ethnicity in the US, it seems quite clear to me that though we have a serious policing problem, it is not primarily racial in nature. If I had to speculate, I’d suggest that it has a lot to do with (a) recruitment and police demographics; (b) a basic confusion on the part of many as to the nature and source of police authority; (c) training; (d) the widespread availability and use of military grade armaments; and, relatedly (e), the so-called “War on Drugs.”
 Once ‘racism’ changed from denoting conscious prejudice to indicating systemic disadvantage, it became entirely justifiable to punish ostensibly innocent people for being racist, on no other grounds than that they have benefited from the system. It surprises me, then, that writers like Yascha Mounk (who is a professor of political science), bother to publish articles protesting the persecution of people who “haven’t done anything.” Have they missed the fact that this no longer is the operating standard?
 The idea that a state or a nation cannot legitimately maintain public monuments dedicated to its most significant historical figures and events strikes me as unserious from the start, which is why the arguments for their removal and destruction are always either (a) disingenuous; (b) historically ignorant; or (c) grounded in novel, ad hoc valuations and standards that are never applied with any measure of consistency. For example, one claim that is being made is that monuments are inherently aspirational, which means that maintaining them signals implicit approval. That this is nonsense can easily be demonstrated by pointing to examples like Trajan’s Column, which National Geographic characterizes as “magnificent,” despite its celebration of Roman-led mass murder, Mussolini-era fascist architecture, the visiting of which is the business of tourism companies, or the Arch of Titus, which celebrates the Roman destruction of the Jewish people and the sending of our remnants into the diaspora. (Interestingly, I have heard no calls for the Arch to be torn down, because of the offense it poses to Jews worldwide or because it celebrates genocide and forced exile.)
 I do not believe that a country that hates and trashes its own history is viable, in the long run. And I do not believe that there is any inconsistency – or even the barest tension – involved in loving and being proud of one’s country, while simultaneously acknowledging its (often acute) shortcomings (something, interestingly, that each and every one of us must do with regard to our parents). Indeed, the capacity to do this strikes me as a basic feature of the mature mind. That we seem no longer capable of it indicates the extent to which the American mind has become essentially juvenile.
 Young people were already being transformed into socially inept, anxious creeps by the “social distancing” effected by their abuse of social media and other interactive technologies. That no one is expressing much if any concern about the potential effects on these already damaged young people of the far more aggressive social distancing we are imposing now – and it would seem, for a long time to come – is just one example of the inexcusable, shameful ways in which we have avoided having any public conversation whatsoever about the competing values at stake in our efforts to combat Covid-19.
 My daughter was denied her high school graduation and prom; eighteenth birthday party; and her graduation present (a trip to Israel to meet relatives for the first time). She is now confronted with the very real possibility of a substantially diminished college experience. Worse, depending on how long things like mandatory indoor mask-wearing continue, she may be denied the ability to pursue her life plans and dreams: specifically, a career in vocal music performance. And, of course, what is true of her is true of thousands upon thousands of others.
 I am no longer comfortable with – no, let me put it more strongly: I can no longer accept – the idea that the young should continue to sacrifice to this extent and degree, on behalf of the well-being of the old and especially, the very old. By kindergarten, everyone should have learned the basic principle of taking turns. We are rapidly approaching the point – one easily could argue we’ve already passed it – in which those of my generation and older are now using up the turns of our children and grandchildren, and this, in my view, is unacceptable. Reinstate mandatory retirement. (Which we should do, regardless) More generally, isolate and protect those at the greatest risk from the virus. And allow the rest of the population – and especially our young people – to get on with their lives.
 Not enough people are taking seriously enough what a disaster it is that our two main papers of record – The Washington Post and The New York Times – not only have become rank partisan outlets but have consciously and deliberately cultivated unprofessional attitudes and standards within their respective institutions. Ominously, the news feeds, like Reuters and the Associated Press, have followed suit. I’m not sure a liberal democracy – or even civil society itself – can long survive with exclusively partisan sources of information.
 More dangerous still is the politicization of those whom we trust to manage public health. Americans had been told that Covid-19 is such a serious public health risk that they must lock down at home, even if it means losing a family business or some other form of livelihood; even if it means negatively affecting the mental health of young and old people alike; in short, no matter what. Violating the lockdown or even suggesting that it might be ill-advised or cause as much if not more harm than the virus itself, would be sure to receive a torrent of accusation and abuse (“grandma killer” and the like). And then, with jarring, whiplash-inducing speed, these same public health experts told everyone that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is legitimately taken for the purpose of protesting racism; that racism is as big a public health risk as Covid-19 and that consequently, anti-racism protests are justifiable, even if they facilitate the virus’s spread.
It’s not just the breathtaking dishonesty that is so upsetting, but the demented values that underlie it. Whatever you might think of the value of “protesting racism” by taking to the streets and screaming and yelling, to suggest that it is more important and thus, more worthy a reason to put others’ lives in jeopardy, then a family’s ability to feed itself and keep a roof over its head or a person’s capacity to visit a dying parent in the hospital or attend a funeral or an entire generation of young people being able to enjoy and celebrate some of the most significant and singular experiences in their lives is sick and offensive and rage-inducing. It is no surprise that confidence in the pronouncements of our public health experts has entirely collapsed, and this is exceedingly dangerous, because our capacity to trust and rely upon their judgments and recommendations is essential to our capacity to survive public health challenges like Covid-19.