No question about it — it’s been an exhausting four years under the presidency of Donald Trump. And here’s the thing — while the new boss ain’t the same as the old boss, if anyone thinks that a centrist law-and-order septuagenarian, along with his ex-district attorney veep, isn’t going to require watching, well, you’re wrong. Democracy, if it functions correctly, is never a spectator sport.
But it’s also true that we can maybe take a breather. Regardless of how much free space Trump took up in the media’s head — as well as his single occupancy residence in the various factions of QAnon — the reality is that after all was said and done, Biden was inaugurated. Yep — 25,000 National Guard troops camped out in the Capitol. But the 50-state armed protests never materialized at all. In this diverse, and crazy nation, those are some welcome baby steps.
The coronavirus news was also largely positive. Florida remains open, with no more or less casualties than locked-down California. North Dakota, heavily regulated, did marginally worse than South Dakota, home of the Sturgis motorcycle rally. If there’s a lesson there, it’s that we really need to refocus on protection of vulnerable populations. That’s what really matters. And the whole idea that is being trotted out of throwing all our freedoms under the bus to escape the virus doesn’t buy you much, if anything at all. There continues to be precious little difference between the places with lots of fear, and those without. I’d rather take my chances with the far-less fear. Life is short.
Even Pullman has started letting school children back into school. They should all be back, in my opinion, as well as others far more respectable than me. Regardless, once again, of that fear thing, the reality is COVID is a vanishingly small threat to all our young people. Which, to me, means we need to get teachers vaccinated and get those students back learning from each other.
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz also announced that we would be an on-campus institution next semester. I’m already back in front of my students in one of the newest classrooms on campus — the SPARC G45, which resembles the War Room in “Dr. Strangelove.” It’s an amazing piece of both architecture and technology, and I gave dispensations to any student who wanted to stay home and not go face-to-face. They can Zoom in, and I’m learning a ton about mixing in-person and remote audiences in an active learning environment. Am I afraid of getting COVID-19? There have essentially been no student deaths from COVID-19 across all re-opened campuses in the U.S. We can get back to normal.
Vaccine efficacy is finally being nailed down as well — numbers between 95-99 percent, depending on the demographic group. What that means is one more reason for fear is biting the dust. I don’t buy any of the catastrophic fear predictions about failures of vaccine campaigns, or post-vaccine asymptomatic spread. In the first case, those will get fixed. And in the second, there is never anything resembling perfect, verifiable safety. I’m looking forward to a regular summer, outdoors. And yeah — like other parts of the country, without a mask. The virus runs on three factors almost never discussed — population immune system response, seasonality, and interconnectedness. We might start discussing these things that matter.
One thing that I hope lots of folks start doing some pondering about is their mindset that they’ll throw everything about their life under the bus just to avoid a new cause of mortality they hadn’t been raised with. Nothing about the future says that is realistic. New viruses may pop up, wars may happen. The life that we have can be a good one. And that involves other people, and other people’s faces. But there are no guarantees. There never have been.
So let’s take a little break. The news is upbeat. We can all take a step back from dehumanizing whoever is across the aisle from us. And like Elsa in “Frozen” sang – let it go.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.