We Will Never Forget How We All Acted During the Pandemic

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I am trying not to occupy too much of my brain space with what will happen to Donald Trump and his gaggle of goony nincompoops when they leave the White House until they are actually off the property, in the same way I knock on wood anytime someone says something hopeful; better to be safe than sorry. But I hope you will allow me the exception of Ivanka and Jared.

This has been a wonderful week to dunk on Ivanka and Jared. The President’s favorite offspring (at least until she gets too old) and her husband (somehow inexplicably still one of his top advisors) are learning, as their time in MAGA land comes to an end, that their young and wealthy and gorgeous pals in Manhattan —that’s to say, the only social circle they’ve known their entire lives — want nothing to do with them anymore. “To even come back here, it’s not going to work,” one of their old socialite friends told CNN. Frank Bruni in The New York Times called them “the Faustian poster couple of the Trump presidency.” It is clear the invites to all the old parties they used to attend will no longer be forthcoming. CNN guesses they might move to Florida, though if they truly want to be treated in the royal style to which they’ve become accustomed, it is maybe time to get acquainted with the nightlife of Tuscaloosa, or perhaps Sturgis.

The couple’s four years in the White House—the active role they played in what Trump and his cronies did during those four years—has forever changed them in the eyes of everyone who once knew them. And now they will pay the price for that. But if you think that’s a situation that’s unique to Ivanka and Jared, it might be instructive to look closer to your own home, and your own community, and your own neighborhood.

This pandemic has been going on for nearly nine months now in this country, and it has changed our lives in every possible way. But it has also changed us individually. I’m already different than I was when this started. I’m running more but also drinking more. Being cooped up so much, I’m spending far too much time on my phone, which is making me more irritable and reactionary. I’m far more politically active than I was before, but also more cynical about the political process. My hair has gotten a lot grayer through this too.

We’ve all changed a bit, and I suspect my personal changes are comparatively minor. It has also been impossible not to learn a little bit more about our friends and neighbors than we knew before, or wanted to know. I’m not talking about discovering who your friends and neighbors are voting for, loudly, though it’s partly that. It’s more about discovering how your friends and neighbors react to a genuine global catastrophe. If you’ve ever wondered how your loved ones and acquaintances would handle a zombie apocalypse, this is probably as close as we are going to get.

There is of course the most obvious litmus test: mask wearing. Living here in Athens, Georgia, I will say that the majority of people are wearing masks, practicing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings. But it sure is educational to discover the ones who aren’t! The mother of one of my son’s best friends, the one who looks at me strangely when I run into her at the supermarket because I’m wearing a mask? That’s now information I have to know about her forever! I walked past my local bar, which is open to indoor dining, and saw a whole bunch of dads from a Little League team I coached, just yakking away in there like it was January. One woman actually invited my wife to join a poker night in her den. An indoor poker night! In a pandemic!

This goes the other direction as well. I’ve learned that some of my friends are so terrified of Covid-19 that it has made them nearly impossible to talk to. (I told one I went for daily runs through a local park, and she screamed, “How can you do that? The virus is in the air!!!”) I have no doubt that some of the ways I’ve acted have stood out to others as well. At the very least, my wife and I have noticed that certain families, families we have always adored, weren’t too pleased when we sent our children back to in-person schooling when became was available. And I bet some of my social media activity has irritated some in this swing state as well. Maybe people liked the way I was before the pandemic more than the way I am now. Maybe we’re all learning too much.

And that, I’d argue, is the challenge moving forward. Eventually this pandemic will be over; with the good news about vaccine effectiveness, it could be over sooner than we think. When that happens, it will take a while to get back to normal. But we will, someday, get back to some semblance of normal, or at least a normal that doesn’t involve a pandemic. And what then? Will we be able to peacefully co-exist? Will the local PTA just happily welcome back the non-mask-wearers? Will my buddies at the Little League welcome me back? Can we all just pretend that none of this happened?

I’d like to say yes, that we will be able to put aside all of our differences, that we can just return to being moms and dads, and coaches and friends and neighbors, and fellow citizens peacefully co-existing and moving forward. But it is difficult to un-ring that bell. Am I going to ever erase from my mind how that PTA mom tried to start an indoor poker night in the middle of a pandemic? I am going to try! But I don’t know. I bet I’ll be just about as successful as Ivanka and Jared’s attempts to get back to their favorite table at 21 Club. The world has changed. So have we. And it’ll be a long time until any of us forgets this … any of this.

Will Leitch will be writing multiple pieces a week for Medium. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

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