Mitchell Chapman: Coronavirus will shape politics for decades

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PITTSFIELD — In the 1950s, and '60s, school children had to practice duck-and-cover drills designed to protect from nuclear fallout, and fallout shelters were commonplace, even if such measures could do little to protect against a nuclear bomb. Not unlike today, the 1950s and '60s were eras ruled by fear, the most prominent of which was the fear of annihilation.

Fear is a powerful thing, and it can shape a generation, a nation and the world. Today, instead of America facing off against a brutal authoritarian superpower, society as a whole stands united against an infectious disease that kills without rhyme, reason or remorse, and has affected nearly every facet of our society, especially schools, where the virus's impact is already shaping young minds whose education in many cases across the globe hinges on a stable internet connection and effective conversion of in-person classes to remote learning.

The virus may very well get contained and something like normal life will return in the coming months. Or it may not, and the coronavirus will shape our long-term reality. But young people will not forget, as their futures might be defined by fears of the next pandemic.

And there will be another pandemic after the coronavirus. Pandemics are an inevitability for an overcrowded globe of over 7 billion people, and as I described in my last column ("We must never forget our coronavirus lessons" Eagle, 3/22), we were naive to think we'd never come into contact with a pandemic of this scale in the 21st century. And it stands to reason that, so long as the world's population is maintained or continues to exceed its current levels, the worst is yet to come, especially if we do nothing to fix the deficiencies in our broken health care system and our environment.

THE CORONA GENERATION

I would not be surprised if media outlets start referring to the current generation of school-aged kids as the Corona Generation, or even the New Silent Generation, depending on how world events play out in the coming decades. This generation, currently called Generation Z, which the Pew Research Center classifies as being born from 1997 to today, grew up in a global recession, a nation caught in perpetual war, where income inequality is the worst it's ever been, college and health care are unaffordable, and time and time again the political establishments of both major parties have decided that ensuring the well-being of the planet they will inherit is too radical, as they will face the full force of the consequences of our inaction on climate change. And I do fear that the boon of technology that creates a divide even between my generation (Millennials) and theirs will have more of a silencing effect on them than a freeing one, especially as the internet gets more regulated and more prominent, private companies that run social media platforms learn that they can silence whatever speech they want, and the fact that so much of their life is on the web can and will be used against them.

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This is not to draw a direct equivalence to Generation Z and the Silent Generation, who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, McCarthyism, and Reaganomics that set the stage for today's societal decay, but the similarities between what they and what Generation Z have already lived through and will likely live through are striking.

The Corona Generation is already growing up in a world where their online lives are almost as important — or more important — than their real ones, where learning and socializing have to be done remotely because of the coronavirus, and many of them are being robbed of the best moments of their young lives, such as going to prom, their high school and college commencement ceremonies, their senior years in school, and countless moments of quality time with their friends as youths.

CHILDHOODS ON HOLD

Their childhoods have been put on hold, and they are seeing before their eyes the need for things like affordable health care for all and the role government holds in a crisis and in peace. They are seeing the political facade of conservative politics crumble, as amid the coronavirus crisis, even Senate Republicans have embraced the concept of Universal Basic Income in the short-term, and I severely doubt that you'll have many people tell you how much they love their private health insurance like moderate Democrats think people do once they have to use it during this crisis.

All of this will shape their politics as these events are playing out in their formative years. Today's crises and shortcomings will shape politics for decades to come, through the youth who are living through it.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we can't survive by just thinking about ourselves in this current moment, not socially and certainly not politically. Hopefully that realization will change the world and its policies for the better, because we need to come together to face much more than just the coronavirus, because we too face mutual annihilation, not necessarily because of nuclear warfare, but from a changing globe that one day won't be able to support human life.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle page designer/copy editor and freelance writer.


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