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Did Covid-19 Have Any Large Scale Impact on American Culture?


Back in May 2020, I wrote a post noting just how little impact the 1918-19 flu epidemic had on American society as a whole. While there were any number of personal tragedies, in the end, they remained pretty personal. The largest change to American culture was the rise of the mortician to handle the dead. And otherwise…that was about it. Dos Passos mentions the flu one time in passing in his USA Trilogy for example. It was just basically forgotten about by the early to mid 20s, even as it still killed people while developing into one of the flu strains we still face today.

My thesis at that time was that it was pretty unlikely Covid would have any long term impacts on American society too. There was a lot of skepticism in comments to that thesis.

Two and a half years later, I think I was correct about this. What is the long-term impact to our society of the pandemic? I can think of one–the politicization of vaccines. That’s a real problem, I grant you. A very stupid one as well, but hey, it’s America, why would we expect anything better?

But otherwise, we are already in a state of national forgetting that the pandemic ever happened. It’s completely disappeared from the political world. It’s playing zero role in the midterm elections outside of residual complaining about Democratic mask mandates. One can argue that the economic changes it created is another impact that is having an impact on the election and I’d agree, but it’s not really framed that way. Even so, outside of the Great Depression and perhaps the 1970s economic shocks, most of our economic downturns haven’t had cultural changing impacts on society.

Other than these things, I really can’t think of any way that Covid has created societal level change. I’d guess that by the time we hit the five year anniversary in the spring of 2025, the changes caused by Covid will be even harder to spot.

If anyone has counterexamples, I’d be interested to hear the arguments for them. But I think the arguments need to be about our political economy/society/culture more than about how it is impacted you or the choices you are continuing to make in 2022, which aren’t really that important except to you because they clearly aren’t collective enough to transform the entire nation.

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