Writing one more article on the subject that is front and center in every news cycle seems pointless at first. What can I say that is not said already or written about before? May be there is something that the current panic and the resolve to combat has overlooked. It’s the permanent shift in the American psyche and outlook that King Corona has caused. It will have long term changes in the American lifestyle itself, with overwhelming consequences in the economic, cultural and social fields.
The Western world, eternally optimistic in character, is already hard at work to combat, counter and conquer the virus. I am sure they will be successful sooner than one anticipates. May be, it will be a distant memory 6 months down the line and people might even talk about all the hype and over reaction to something that was no more than the yearly Flu. America is generally at the forefront of such ‘can do, will win’ posture.
Indeed, that is true most of the time anyway, giving them even more confidence that they will beat Corona and the life will go back to normal and the ‘eat, drink, be merry’ lifestyle will continue. Afterall, America has overcome all kinds of crises in the past—9/11, Swine Flu, Terrorist Attacks at home and abroad, Floods, Hurricanes, Mass Murders and so on. Nothing dampened the American spirit and optimistic outlook on life. Even just a month ago, the stock market was at an all time high, restaurants were full, people were partying to the hilt, traveling, celebrating and just having a ball with not a worry in the world.
Well, all that seems like a distant memory now. The stunned and worried faces all around us and the incredulous look in their eyes says it all. Something is drastically different this time. The stock market losses and now the massive job losses are just the tip of the iceberg. Something is fundamentally broken inside.
America was caught flat footed despite some advance warnings, as the virus traveled from China to Europe and now hit home. The hyper marketing and downplaying by Trump didn’t help much either. The American psyche changed 180 degrees overnight from the very optimistic, ‘not a worry in the world’ attitude to survival mode.
Going from the ‘land of plenty’ to food and toilet paper shortages at the grocery store was stunning, even to the most secure and well to do people. Such times invoke the survival instinct and brings out the worst in people. The fights over the last jug of milk or the Clorox bottle at the Departmental Store shown on the TV suddenly reinforced the ‘everyone for himself’ attitude.
I am sure, this will subside a bit and a ‘new normal’ will emerge, where there will be an orderly, self imposed transition to a low consumption, no travel or entertainment lifestyle for a few months. The consequences of that prospect are enormous for the economy that is certain to go into recession, with sharp stock market downturn and a severe slowdown in the economic activity. It will take a few years to overcome that; but ultimately, the cycle will turn. It will be a strong lesson learned and may be the young people will be wary of the stock market for some time to come.
There is however, an even more serious change in the American psyche and cultural behavior that will last even longer. The American psyche is broken. The sense of security and invincibility is gone. Insecurity breeds suspicion, loss of confidence and people go into survival mode. The fact that the virus came from ‘abroad’ is already played up quite a bit by Trump. Chances are, Americas will be suspicious of all things foreign, significantly impacting their behavior.
Foreign travels are off their wish lists and foreign goods—especially from Asia—will be suspect. Why go to Cambodia or Kazagistan and take a chance on catching some strange virus when you can see all those places on the 4K TV right at home? Same goes for the Cruises and group trips to faraway places. Feeling safe and secure at home now doesn’t sound that boring anymore.
Being open and accepting to the global citizens was the American Motto, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Trump had already done some damage to that, but now that suspicion and thereby rejection of such interactions and contacts may become main stream. That will have long term and over reaching impacts on Globalism, Global Cooperation and Understanding. Cultural and Economic ties may also be set back by a decade. ‘Us Against Them’ spirit that various Oligarchs all over the world have so cunningly fomented may actually go into hyperdrive. That is bad for the whole world, including those who think that way.
How about on the Home Front? Well, even there, the psyche has changed. The American economy was always based on excesses and waste. Now, having gone in a survival mode for the first time, people have started to think moderation—eat at home, no borrowing the next 6 paychecks to blow on the frivolous things, no fancy vacations and just staying put at home.
That is the New Normal. People will get used to it. TV and other forms of entertainment may fill the void. Blessing in disguise may be that the family interactions and neighborly chats may actually increase. The only positive thing is for the internet and the home entertainment industry. They will innovate new ways of working remotely and alternative ways of communicating.
Way forward? At least 6 months out, much longer than anybody expects. It will be a slow and grinding recovery taking couple of years, but the ‘Soul of America’ will have changed forever. They will be more inward looking, suspicious of foreigners and each other, overly cautious and looking over the shoulder at every turn. It’s the fear of unknown lurking around the corner and a lot to lose, that is a potent mixture and that may bring out the worst, rather than the best out of people.
Americans used to be open, accepting, curious, outgoing and risk takers. That was the essence of the American Spirit. Fracturing the American Spirit--that will be the real damage done by King Corona.
- Sunil Deshmukh
(Author is a U.S.A. based philanthropist and Corporate leader of Wall Street. He is the Originator of prestigious 'Maharashtra Foundation Awards for Literature and Social work.' His E-mail id is email@example.com)