by Daniel A. Kaufman
2020 will be remembered in the US for three things: the Covid-19 pandemic; racial unrest, rioting, looting, and vandalism across a number of American cities; and the defeat of Donald Trump by Joe Biden in the US presidential race. Beyond their qualities as spectacle, notable enough in their own right, these events revealed things about our society that should be sources of great concern.
It will be no surprise, then, that this year’s New Year Musings are devoted to these developments. Given their significance and scope, my entries will be fewer and lengthier than those in previous installments of New Year Musings.
 The combination of Covid-19 and the rioting, looting, and civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police confronted the nation with a level of imminent crisis that we haven’t seen since the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. And given the death toll of Covid-19, one could argue that its nearest precedent is the Second World War.
All of this coincided with the presidency of Donald Trump, whose handling of both crises can only be described as catastrophic. There was little to no Federal coordination of Covid-19 mitigation strategies across the country and no effort to prevent the virus from spreading from heavily infected states to sparsely infected ones. Rather than assuage racial resentments and reassure the angry and frightened residents of cities erupting into looting and violence, Trump stoked public passions and provoked conflicts amongst the citizenry and between citizens and law enforcement. Presidential communications, as they were, had the effect of misinforming and demoralizing the country rather than informing and bolstering it.
For many people, voting for Trump was a way of expressing resentment at and frustration with an increasingly out-of-touch, insular, and self-important class of people who belong mainly to the information economy and dwell in the country’s major metropolitan areas. To a great degree, I sympathize with these resentments and frustrations, and I even think that there are times when a “Fuck you!” gesture is appropriate in politics. But what these crises should have taught us – what they must teach us – is that such a gesture can never be the basis for electing the head of state of an enormous, complex, and great country like the US. Too much is at stake, and the cost of failure is too high.
 The end of Trump’s presidency will see the end of the current manifestation of the Republican Party, which has been around since the Gingrich revolution in the 1990’s. Republican support of this president has always shamed and compromised the party, but its support of the president’s ongoing efforts at sedition, in the time that has passed since the election, will doom it. Such a level of complicity in political degeneracy and lawlessness will not be forgiven.
 The most dangerous development in the last year has been the ideological and political compromising of essential institutions, especially public health and medical authorities and print and television news outlets. Probably the most egregious example of this was back in June, at a time when Covid-19 was spiking and racially fueled rioting and looting was flaring up in cities across the US, some thousand plus public health officials presented an open letter in which they told the nation that racism was a public health threat as big as the virus and that mass protests inspired by the George Floyd killing should continue, despite the pandemic. An excerpt from this reckless and cynical open letter:
[W]e wanted to present a narrative that prioritizes opposition to racism as vital to the public health, including the epidemic response. We believe that the way forward is not to suppress protests in the name of public health but to respond to protesters demands in the name of public health.†
The year also saw virtually every legacy journalistic outlet, from the New York Times to CNN, adopt the partisan modus operandi of Fox News, only from the opposite side, the consequence being that there no longer are substantial, professional sources of information that enjoy the public’s trust.
An advanced, science- and technology-driven society can only survive and flourish if its citizens (a) generally can trust experts, and (b) have commonly accepted sources of information. While death and destruction may be the most terrible things about the past year, this complete abdication of responsibility on the part of those public authorities whose job it is to inform us and to keep us alive will likely be the most damaging long-term legacy of 2020.
 One thing that the pandemic forced into our faces – and something we really should have known already – is that a country cannot have so little by way of a manufacturing sector that it must rely on other countries for essential goods. That a country which was able to harness its industry to fight a global war 80 years ago [the US produced 40 percent of the world’s munitions in 1940, not long after we had experienced a crippling economic Depression] now, in the 21st century, finds itself unable to obtain a sufficient number of N-95 masks, because so many of our supply chains depend on international sources, should be a national scandal. Given that Covid-19’s primary mode of transmission is via aerosols, widescale availability of N-95 masks in the early days of the pandemic may have saved tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives in the US.‡
Of course, this suggests industrial protectionism – at a minimum, some sort of robust, national industrial strategy – but this is something we are going to have to confront soon anyway, regardless of Covid-19. Between automation and globalization, large numbers of Americans are going to find themselves with no capacity to earn a living. A Universal Basic Income is fantastical and won’t work, coercive population control is inconsistent with our core values, and there are limits to how many of the people I am talking about can be brought into the information economy. The Trump presidency, which to a good extent channeled the fears and resentments of this portion of the American electorate, should be a warning that we ignore this problem to our peril
 Another thing revealed by the pandemic is that we seem incapable of or unwilling to evaluate relative costs across axiological categories. Worse, we seem incapable of or unwilling to evaluate relative costs, within a single axiological category, but separated by time. Lockdown and mass quarantine protect the well-being of the elderly and infirm, while undermining the well-being of the young and healthy, whether with respect to their education, their emotional and social development, or their capacity to experience life-changing events. Covid-19 mitigation also has entailed postponing millions of medical screenings, not to mention routine visits to health care providers. [I was informed by my physician that my delayed colon cancer screening would be delayed even further, once Springfield medical personnel have all been vaccinated, as there now is a backlog of some six to eight months.]
It seems clear that few if any of the relevant players have entertained questions like: What matters more? Whether a 90-year-old makes it to 91 or whether a 13-year-old is emotionally and socially damaged? Or whether a person dies of Covid-19 now or of an undetected cancer later? How about when we mess with the scales? What’s worse, if X number of people die of Covid-19 now, or X-squared number of people from undetected conditions later? How much does imminence with respect to cost compare with the scale of that cost?
No such public conversations have taken place, and if they have occurred amongst public officials behind closed doors, the rest of us have not been let in on them. However, our mitigation strategies indicate that we are operating on the assumption that (a) material and (b) imminent costs should be prioritized above all else. One result has been that we have ruthlessly and callously fucked over our young. That it has been done in the name of an uncritical, unreflective, undiscussed mercy not only does not make it better, but may make it even worse.
 The year’s civil unrest has demonstrated the utter bankruptcy of a significant portion of the so-called “Social Justice” movement. From members of the progressive intelligencia explicitly praising looting and rioting [journalist Vicky Osterweill published a book entitled “In Defense of Looting,” and Nikole Hannah-Jones, head of the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning “1619 Project,” said she would be proud for the summer’s riots to be called “The 1619 Riots”] to Left-leaning members of Congress engaging in a vomitous photo opportunity in which they fell to their knees, draped in Kente cloth, to activists trying to tear down statues of Abraham Lincoln, it has become quite clear to everyone who can see and think straight that a good number of our most progressive countrymen and women loathe our country and its history; worse, that there is no amount of violence or destruction of property that they will not countenance and rationalize for the sake of what they conceive of as social justice. That their brand of social justice is either phony or stupid is demonstrated by the fact that the rioting they are doing on its behalf – not to mention their efforts to “abolish the police” – overwhelmingly damages the people for whose social justice they are supposed to be fighting.
 In a year as fraught as 2020 has been, the capacity to engage in vigorous public discussion and debate is absolutely essential for the well-being of a liberal democracy like ours, and one would expect that the availability of online social media platforms would expand and facilitate such public discourse. Yet, the opposite has been the case. Social media companies are run and staffed by people belonging to the insular, self-important information classes to which I referred earlier and who are overwhelmingly invested in the kind of social justice activism just described. Consequently, these institutions are ideologically and politically captured, and they express this this by actively advantaging those who speak and write on their platforms with whom they agree and disadvantaging those who try to do so, with whom they disagree. Gender critical feminists, lockdown skeptics, Black Lives Matter critics; all have been consistently censored, banned, and otherwise de-platformed across Facebook, Twitter, and other major social media.
The trouble is that these social media platforms have become the American public square. They are the venues in which our public discourse takes place and from which, increasingly, our news organs get their news. They are, in effect, public utilities, but behave like partisan entities.
Not only is this dangerous and unacceptable in a democracy, it directly contributes to the siloing of public discourse. Conservatives and others who deviate from the metro-progressive orthodoxy enforced by social media companies form their own outlets, which are equally partisan, but in the opposite direction, and the more this happens, the more public discourse will disintegrate into a disconnected mess of insular, ideological-clique discourses. For a system of government that depends on being able to develop consensus on any number of crucial issues, this is an unmitigated disaster and can only resolved by substantial regulation.
[Full disclosure: one of the authors, Pierre Kory, is my cousin.]