COLUMN: Seeking hope in the face of bleak facts

Finding a silver lining to challenges posed by COVID-19 isn’t easy, Robert Malcolmson writes

By Robert Malcolmson

Dealing with the current pandemic is often likened to fighting a war. This is both misleading and not reassuring. Many wars — the American war on poverty and war on drugs have not been won, and the Cold War seems to have returned in a different form. Analogies with the Second World War are designed mainly to help us manage our current worries.

The war of 1939 to 1945 killed lots of people but it did not kill jobs. In fact, this war was the main reason why unemployment virtually disappeared by 1942, the Great Depression vanished, and North American economies were flourishing in 1945. Be skeptical when you read about a past generation rising to the occasion in the 1940s, giving us a model for good behaviour in 2020.

Yes, in some places, including B.C., there has been much to applaud. The provincial authorities have functioned well — Dr. Bonnie Henry has become something of an icon of calm, authoritative competence — and most citizens have been co-operative. COVID-19 has here been, for now, effectively contained. But much of the downside of this containment has yet to be experienced, notably the contraction or even crashing of parts of the economy.

Tourism and travel and work connected with big public gatherings are bound to take a huge hit, with widespread job losses. Coping with these losses while maintaining some sense of shared solidarity and common welfare will not be easy, even with massive state support.

Perhaps the key uncertainty is when an effective treatment for this virus will be available. (Almost everyone agrees that a vaccine is way down the road.) If available later this year, a treatment will mean that getting sick will cause many fewer deaths and thus the need for physical distancing will be reduced. But if treatment takes longer to develop, much more economic and psychological damage will be done and society will face greater challenges in striving to hang together – which B.C. has done pretty well so far.

Perhaps the most depressing facts are on display in the United States, once thought of as a leader when the world faced some major crisis. This is not now true. The White House shows no leadership. And to the extent that there is a theoretical leadership, it is notably incompetent and divisive, and its policies, such as they are, are largely incoherent. This is not good news for any of us.

Nor is there any likelihood that circumstances in the United States will improve in the near future. This is an election year. It was already expected to be the ugliest on record. The Republican Party nationwide is now a minority and predominantly far-right party (which it wasn’t in the 1970s). The presidency will be decided in only seven or eight states, and all stops will be pulled to get Donald Trump re-elected. Voter suppression is likely to be widespread, or at least widely attempted. If Trump is defeated, he may well not accept defeat.

So while we’re all trying to keep well and manage a pandemic, the United States shows signs of unravelling (more than at anytime since the 1860s) and is unlikely to be of much help outside its own borders. Who knows what gains authoritarian China will make? The democratic nations with rational leaderships – Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, perhaps Canada, and no doubt others – will probably have some successes and continue to promote international cooperation, but they’ll do so against the might of great power nationalism.

Do these bleak facts and probabilities lead to despair? Here’s where we all face personal challenges. While realistic thinking is always wise, it never helps to be hopeless. Hopelessness plays into the hands of the forces of darkness. It’s best, after acknowledging the world as it is, to keep one’s cool, manage one’s anxiety, support each other — especially locally, where most of our lives are consumed — and be patient as we allow time for others (medical researchers, enlightened elected and unelected officials) to find ways to bring our societies back from the brink.

Robert Malcolmson is professor emeritus of history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He now lives in Nelson.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay doctor among 82 physicians, dentists calling on province for mandatory mask rule

Open letter says masks should be worn in indoor public spaces, public transportation or in crowds

Structures not threatened by wildfires burning in the Arrow and Kootenay Lakes region

Official says more lightning-caused fires could occur in region over next 36 hours

Harrop-Procter Co-op restores Mill Lake trail

A shelter destroyed by wildfire in 2017 will also be rebuilt

West Kootenay region experiences drier-than-normal July: Report

The region only received around 57% of its normal precipitation during the month

No new COVID cases in Kootenay-Boundary

As of July 30, there were no additional cases in the previous two weeks

Dwindling B.C. bamboo supply leaves Calgary Zoo biologists worried about pandas

Zoo has been trying to send pandas back to China since May

Facebook launches its new TikTok clone, Instagram Reels

Facebook has a long tradition of cloning competitive services

B.C. Appeal Court prevents Victoria woman from using the term ‘death midwife’ in her job

Pashta MaryMoon claimed she had been providing “death-care services” for more than 40 years

‘We all have anxieties’: B.C.’s top doctor addresses return-to-school fears amid COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry promises school restart plan safe for B.C. kids

Abbotsford mom worried about her two kids in Beirut following explosion

Shelley Beyak’s children were abducted by their dad in 2018

Young Canadians, hospitality workers bear the brunt of mental strain in 2020: report

A study by Morneau Shepell points to economic uncertainty in the pandemic as the cause for angst

Health Canada recalling more than 50 hand sanitizers in evolving list

Organization says to stop using products listed, and to consult a health-care professional

Airborne hot dog strikes Greater Victoria pedestrian

Police called to 4200-block of Quadra Street for hot dog incident

Most Read