In all fifty states and virtually all nations of the world, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has ignited seismic change, the likes of which would receive laughter and be described as conspiratorial mere weeks ago if one was told of what was to come. National and international news is constantly developing, confirmed cases and deaths continue to exponentially increase, and concomitant effects, such as the stock market’s descent into a bear market, continue to occur. Yet despite these never-ending eruptions, one truth is clear: in a span of less than a month, our conventional way of life, based on the necessity of social interaction and communal intercourse, has experienced an unprecedented transformation of colossal magnitude, the effects of which will not be pretty.
This became especially transparent domestically when the White House, assisted by President Trump’s exclamatory tweet, declared the importance of Americans to socially distance themselves from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Other studies, including one from the United Kingdom, estimate that we may need to socially distance ourselves for as long as eighteen months. In other words, you could possibly be advised to refrain from communicating face-to-face with another human in close proximity for more than a year.
How does this affect the very foundation — middle-class individuals and families — of a nation? History has demonstrated that in times of crisis, one of the most natural and effective coping mechanisms is social interaction. During the Great Depression — which is becoming increasingly more parallel to the times we are living in —, individualism was the opposite of what any distraught, hapless American desired. Instead, the middle class pursued actions that were entirely communal in nature, visiting movie theaters frequently, enjoying the recent abolition of Prohibition to socialize in bars and drink to one’s heart’s content, and congregating in social gatherings, such as potlucks hosted by churches, that became the new norm. Did these modes of recourse entirely eliminate the stress and anxiety that enveloped Middle America? Certainly not. Were they natural and somewhat effective ways to heal the soul of America in the short term? Of course.
In just the past week, all of the above outlets to socially heal oneself — movie theaters, bars, neighborhood social gatherings — have been ordered by the government to cease operations for an indefinite period of time. Instead, Americans are advised to “shelter-in-place” in the comfort of their homes.
While appearing pleasant at first glance, the long-term effects of this ordered isolation are tragic: suicide rates will probably rise among all demographics, cases of depression will skyrocket — and preexisting cases will only worsen —, relationships will deteriorate, and families will assuredly experience more conflict than usual. All of these effects are inevitable and none of it is desired. Humans react negatively in dramatic ways when actions pursuant to their biological nature are prohibited. Collectivism, and more specifically societal communalism, is far more in line with the desires of mankind during tumult than individualism is.
These ruptures will only be worsened by other damaging yet ultimately necessary measures. School closures will isolate many students to the confines of their bedrooms, inclining them to pursue a haphazard life of chaos, laziness, and disarray. Imagine the habits and addictions of students when school is in session. Now multiply that by one hundred. Expect social media usage, drug consumption, and pornography viewing to become even more habitual. Though many teenagers do not want to admit it, the ordered schedule of school and its inherently social nature provides many apathetic and uninterested students with a semblance of structure and meaning. “Virtual school” will not remedy the loneliness that will be experienced en masse by already socially isolated students. This is not the Great Depression or World War II — children aren’t particularly interested in growing “victory gardens” anymore.
The mass closure of businesses and the inevitable layoffs will also leave a lasting impact on Middle America. Depending on how long this tumultuous period lasts, the divorce rate may increase as it did during the Great Depression. Opioid rates could rise, as could the consumption of pornography. There may be a baby boom stemming from this large amount of time at home, but will the parents still remain together nine months down the road? The floated idea of granting $2,000 to most working Americans may help remedy these possible effects to a small degree, but an underlying truth will remain intact: work provides ordinary Americans with meaning; consumerism, spurred by an influx of money, will not supplant this vacuum of purpose. Despite evidence indicating that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal may have actually prolonged the Great Depression, it is indisputable that his policies employed millions of impoverished Americans and provided them with temporary goals. “Free money” won’t do that.
Absent government programs that provide employment, there is one other source that has historically provided purpose and meaning: religion. Yet religiosity has become decreasingly prevalent: in a study led by UC Berkeley in 2013, religious affiliation in America was found to be at the lowest point since the 1930s. And in research conducted by the market research firm Barna in 2018, the youth of America was found to be less Christian than ever. With churches now literally being closed, religiosity in America will not experience a resurrection anytime soon.
Family could also be a source of relief. But as explained above, the traditional model of a nuclear family will be hurt in a multitude of ways in the next few months. And that’s already ignoring the demise of the family that has occurred over the past decade, prompted by feminism, government dependence, and the celebration of irreligiosity.
None of this is meant to fearmonger or make the current situation appear grimmer than it already is. Instead, it is important to acknowledge that the “hidden enemy,” as President Trump unforgettably described COVID-19, is more than just a microbe that originated from an eastern Chinese city. It’s more than just an economic hindrance, too. Rather, it is a devastating blow to the fundamental building block of society — families. Families, not the stock market, or immigration, or even individualism, compose the foundation of a nation. We must remember this when deciding what to focus our greatest attention and resources on during this historically unparalleled time.
Daniel Schmidt is a 16-year-old political commentator and opinion writer. In his freshman year of high school, he founded The Young Pundit, a hard-hitting news commentary outlet featuring young, incisive, and unbought conservative voices. To read more about Daniel, click here.