Hey let’s check out what Even the Liberal ™ Atlantic thinks it’s a good idea to publish, no doubt in the name of intellectual diversity and all that good stuff:
In November, my wife asked me whether I had seen an article with the remarkable headline “Is It Safe to Go to Thanksgiving Dinner?”
“Is that from last year?” I asked.
“No, it’s a few days old,” she said, her voice sinking to a growling murmur. “These people.”
I am old enough to remember the good old days when holiday-advice pieces were all variations on “How to Talk to Your Tea Party Uncle About Obamacare.” As Christmas approaches, we can look forward to more of this sort of thing, with the meta-ethical speculation advanced to an impossibly baroque stage of development. Is it okay for our 2-year-old son to hug Grandma at a Christmas party if she received her booster only a few days ago? Should the toddler wear a mask except when he is slopping mashed potatoes all over his booster seat? Our oldest finally attended her first (masked) sleepover with other fully vaccinated 10-year-olds, but one of them had a sibling test positive at day care. Should she stay home or wear a face shield? What about Omicron?
I don’t know how to put this in a way that will not make me sound flippant: No one cares. Literally speaking, I know that isn’t true, because if it were, the articles wouldn’t be commissioned. But outside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many, if not most, Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over, and they have been for a long while.
In my part of rural southwest Michigan, and in similar communities throughout the country, this is true not despite but without any noticeable regard for cases; hospitalization statistics, which are always high this time of year without attracting much notice; or death reports. I don’t mean to deny COVID’s continuing presence. (For the purposes of this piece, I looked up the COVID data for my county and found that the seven-day average for positive tests is as high as it has ever been, and that 136 deaths have been attributed to the virus since June 2020.) What I wish to convey is that the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors, who have been forgoing masks, tests (unless work imposes them, in which case they are shrugged off as the usual BS from human resources), and other tangible markers of COVID-19’s existence for months—perhaps even longer.
Indeed, in my case, when I say for a long while, I mean for nearly two years, from almost the very beginning. In 2020, I took part in two weddings, traveled extensively, took family vacations with my children, spent hundreds of hours in bars and restaurants, all without wearing a mask. This year my wife and I welcomed our fourth child. Over the course of her pregnancy, from the first phone call to the midwife a few months after getting a positive pregnancy test until after delivery, the subject of the virus was never raised by any health-care professional, including her doula, a dear friend from New York.
Meanwhile, our children, who have continued to attend their weekly homeschooling co-op since April 2020, have never donned masks, and they are distinctly uncomfortable on the rare occasions when they see them, for reasons that, until recently, child psychologists and other medical experts would have freely acknowledged. They have continued seeing friends and family, including their great-grandparents, on a weekly basis. As far as I can tell, they are dimly aware that “germs” are a remote cause of concern, but only our oldest, who is 6, has any recollection of the brief period last year when public Masses were suspended in our diocese and we spent Sunday mornings praying the rosary at home. . .
Huge shock that this guy is a reactionary Catholic, home schooling his kids.
Granted, my family’s experience of 2020 was somewhat unusual. But I wager that I am now closer to most of my fellow Americans than the people, almost absurdly overrepresented in media and elite institutions, who are still genuinely concerned about this virus. And in some senses my situation has always been more in line with the typical American’s pandemic experience than that of someone in New York or Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles. . .
AN atmosphere of parochialism hangs upon relentless adherence to CDC directives. By European standards, hand-wringing about masks in schools is as silly and absurdly risk-averse as the American medical establishment’s insistence that pregnant women not drink coffee or wine. Indeed, there is something small-minded and puritanical and distinctly American about the whole business of obsessing over whether vaccinated teachers remove their face covering during a long school day. (When I read such things, I experience the same secondhand embarrassment I felt upon witnessing an American tourist in Rome ask a waiter at a trattoria to remove the ashtray from the outdoor table at which the employee in question had just been smoking.)
Italy’s COVID restrictions have made the USA’s look like Ayrand Paul’s libertarian paradise but whatever.
I am always tempted to ask the people who breathlessly quote what various public-health authorities are now saying about masking and boosters whether they know how the National Institutes of Health defines a “problem drinker”? The answer is a woman who has more than one “unit” of alcohol a day, i.e., my wife and nearly all of my female friends. These same authorities, if asked, would probably say that considerable risks are associated with eating crudos or kibbeh nayyeh, or taking Tylenol after a hangover. (This is to say nothing of cannabis, which is of course still banned at the federal level.) My point is that sophisticated adults are generally capable of winking at overly stringent guidelines. In the case of COVID, many are not.
I wish I could convince myself that for once in my life with COVID we were actually experiencing a healthy break from the usual pattern, according to which the latest silly novelties—no-fault divorce, [ed.: !!!} factory-sliced bread, frozen meals, and, of course, infant formula—are adopted enthusiastically by the upper middle classes, who then think better of them by the time the lower orders come around.
But I am afraid that the future, at least in major metropolitan areas, is one in which sooner or later elites will acknowledge their folly while continuing to impose it on others. I, for one, would not be surprised if for years to come it were the expectation in New York and California that even vaccinated workers in the service industry wear masks, the ultimate reification of status in a world in which casual dress has otherwise erased many of what were once our most visible markers of class.
The most interesting question to me, which I plan to ask the magazine’s managing editor, is why the Atlantic is printing this insouciant reactionary garbage. (ETA: I should have mentioned that Walther lives in a state whose ICUs are over-run with COVID cases, leading to burnt-out health care workers many preventable deaths from non-COVID causes).
I’m the last person to deny that public health authorities sometimes overstate health risks in unhelpful ways. For instance, I think it’s a questionable idea to official advise pregnant women to abstain from all alcohol during pregnancy, given the non-existent evidence that light drinking during pregnancy even correlates significantly with any adverse health outcomes for newborns.
But what would Matthew “Party of Life” Walther have to say about drinking during pregnancy if one million babies suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome had been born in the USA since February of last year? Just a wild guess, but I bet he’d be OK with a few meddling nanny state bureaucrats trying to do something about that.
MORE THAN ONE MILLION AMERICANS HAVE DIED SINCE FEBRUARY OF LAST YEAR WHO WOULD NOT HAVE DIED BUT FOR THE COVID EPIDEMIC.
Math: 535,000 more Americans died in 2020 than in 2019. If mortality trends had remained stable, as they pretty much tend to do outside of things like global pandemics, that’s 520,000 more Americans than would have died but for the COVID epidemic.
Given that as of last Wednesday 403,000 people in the USA had officially died of COVID in 2021, compared to 385,000 in all of 2020, it seems certain that the excess death totals in this country this year are going to exceed the 520,000 excess deaths recorded in 2020.
But let’s be conservative, and say we’re looking at only one million excess American deaths so far, over the course of a pandemic that shows little sign of abating (the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths is back up to 1,146).
You would think that one million deaths would count as kind of a big deal. That’s 375 times the number of excess deaths recorded in the USA on September 11, 2001, which means that we’ve been enduring the epidemiological equivalent of more than one 9/11 every two days for nearly two years now.
It’s more than the total number of homicides in the USA over the past half century.
Again, what interests me is, why do putatively liberal publications believe it’s important to share the most egregious sort of right wing bullshit with their readers? I mean how is a piece that argues, in essence, that one million extra dead Americans over the past 22 months just really isn’t any big deal, and can be compared to overly cautious public health warnings about pregnant women drinking and the like?
One possible answer, of course, is that the editors of the Atlantic are crypto-right wingers. I don’t think that’s the case, or at most it’s the case very slightly at the margin, in the centrist “I’m a social liberal but a fiscal conservative” sense.
I suspect a far more important factor is that these people are so wedded to their self-image as open-minded cosmopolitans — hopefully not too rootless though — that they feel some sort of perverse obligation to print insidious right wing propaganda, at the very moment when insidious right wing propaganda is trying to destroy everything that the Atlantic’s self-consciously liberal writers and editors believe sincerely they hold dear.
And that’s one of our many big problems in this country at this moment.