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Vigliotti: Tragedy is not fate: The post-pandemic path back to normalcy

After the upheaval of the Great War and the tragedy of the Spanish Flu, the presidential ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge gave Americans a return to normalcy. A century later, though we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are already looking ahead to another return to normalcy — and rightly so. But what sort of path with this include?

Normalcy isn’t to say that things won’t change, or be changed. They already are. We have lost loved ones. We have lost time. We have lost opportunities. We have lost work and income. We have lost a sense of security we once had. And there is more tragedy to come.

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But tragedy is not fate. At the same time American patriots were fighting for independence, America was ravaged by a smallpox epidemic. Then-Gen. George Washington recognized the destruction such disease could do, and the threat it posed to the struggling colonies. Washington did not see it as insurmountable. Among those measures he took was to quarantine and inoculate his troops.

The Revolutionary War lasted eight years. The smallpox epidemic lasted seven. And through it all, the United States of America was a dream in becoming. Neither the British nor a disease would stop that.

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Just as Washington developed a method to deal with the epidemic the Continentals faced, there will have to be a serious plan for recovery in the pandemic we now face. Although government creates the environment in which markets operate, and while government can easily undo an economy, it cannot create or indefinitely sustain one. Only free people can do that.

Post-pandemic policy will thus have to be aimed at empowering individual Americans while government steps back as rapidly as possible. While financial assistance being currently offered to individuals and businesses may be needed, it cannot last forever. Command economies fail, money runs out, and national debt is dangerous.

That brings us to China. Whatever reputation and role China may have claimed in world affairs after Tiananmen Square, it cannot be accepted. Between initially covering up the virus and having the callousness to sell Italy medical supplies that Italy originally donated to help them, China has demonstrated that Communist governments, even with mixed command-market economies, cannot be trusted or relied upon.

Reliance has historical relevance. Rome imported more grain from Sicily and Egypt than it produced itself, meaning that rebellions, war, plague, and drought in those places too often upended Roman stability. Athens, stricken by plague and cut off by the sea they relied upon for trade, had nowhere to turn during the Peloponnesian War. America could be the same.

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We need to produce what we need, with a goal of net exports in all areas (such as we now do with oil and natural gas). We cannot be dependent on governments like China, which threatened production of medicine, to survive. On a related note, the World Health Organization will have to be questioned for their own perspective on the pandemic.

Our economy will come back, though it will probably take some time to readjust and reorient. It is going to be incumbent on Americans to, whenever possible, shop locally and buy American-made more so than in years.

While a lot of work went online over the past decade, the pandemic has demonstrated two things: that more work can be done online, but also that those industries requiring physical presence, ranging from farms to factories to retail, are just as crucial as they have ever been.

Those who have made fortunes from Americans, now need to invest back in those Americans. American companies and businessmen have already begun doing so – and more should follow their example. For all of us, faith and individual good works will increase even more than they already have.

In daily life, we’ll largely return to normal. Beaches, restaurants, and backyards will again be full sooner or later. We’ll be more careful about illness, cleanliness, and world events. September 11 made us all more aware of the global reach of terrorism, after all. And now more of us will have a deeper appreciation for basic, everyday necessities.

In 2005, President George W. Bush advocated for pandemic preparedness, knowing that such efforts would be a part of what could save lives, and return life to normal. Although Johns Hopkins showed the United States as better prepared for coronavirus than any other country, there is still much we can learn from and grow on.

As Washington knew, tragedy is not fate. We can make the way to normalcy.

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