KEVIN ROBERTS — What rebirth means to us today

Published 12:01 am Friday, April 10, 2020

Holy Week has taken on new significance for many of us this year.

Social distancing, loneliness and worry about the health and well-being of our families have oppressed us. We don’t know if our shuttered businesses and shattered economy will ever be the same. We reach out to our friends and extended family, but texts and calls and even video chats just don’t provide the comfort we crave.

And yet, after the crucifixion darkness of Good Friday, there was a dawn on Easter day. We Christians believe that, and we have this hope still. Now is a good time for all of us to think about rebirth and a new day.

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Already, there are positive signs. It’s early yet, but health care experts are revising their forecasts, predicting fewer COVID-19 cases and thankfully, fewer deaths. There are signs of hope in Europe, and by some models, many states are at or near their peaks, soon to see declining numbers.

It’s time to start thinking about how we’ll return to normalcy. On the economic front, state and local officials must begin planning now for the lifting of the stay-at-home orders that have upended all of our lives.

But it need not be an all-or-nothing decision, and indeed, viewed that way, officials will likely be more hesitant to lift their orders. It makes more sense to phase out those mandates in a well-planned, orderly manner.

We would begin, of course, with the very best data we can get. And then we should flip the presumption. Now, all businesses not deemed essential are closed, on the presumption that all contact is dangerous. When it’s time to resurrect our economy, we ought to presume that limited and moderate contact is relatively safe.

In other words, instead of closing down all commerce and making exceptions for essential goods and services, we should open it all back up, making exceptions for the kinds of large gatherings that could still prove dangerous.

What might that look like? It would begin with opening back up the mom-and-pop retail shops and services, the kind that rarely have big crowds and can easily manage social distancing in our new normal. Let lawyers and financial advisors see their clients; let barbers and stylists do their work. Let the brick-and-mortar stores get back in fray, before online shopping overtakes them completely.

We can put off the big concerts and major league baseball games for a few more weeks, but let our people get back to work. If government gets out of the way, we could soon shake this recession and even see a boom.

But economy is only one of our worries. Damage is being done to the fabric of our society, to community—what author Robert Putnam calls “social capital.” In his book, “Bowling Alone,” Putnam shows that well before COVID-19, we were already practicing a kind of social distancing—to a destructive degree.

As Putnam points out, “Social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.” Yet in recent years, “the bonds of our community have withered.”

Those bonds are found in the churches and schools and clubs and institutions that form a foundation for our society. To quote Putnam again, “People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.”

We must not allow the coronavirus accelerate a crumbling of community. As we emerge from our homes and re-engage, let’s also reconnect. Let’s do more than check on our neighbors; let’s build relationships. Let’s work alongside them. Let’s strengthen community.

We can come out of this crisis stronger than when we went in. It has been hard on my family, as it has been on yours, and it’s not over yet.

But as St. John Paul II urges us, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Kevin Roberts, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.