It’s the end of Friday and I see 20 faces looking at me on Zoom. The Friday apéro between colleagues is a thing now. Everyone connects to chat awkwardly and marvel at the few who are lucky enough to be confined next to their pool in the south of France. I have the baby strapped to my chest.
But I’m outside. And the sun is washing over me. The baby is squinting but I don’t care. If confinement goes on for too long he will have no idea what the sun is. I look up. I don’t know if it’s the incredible atmospheric conditions or just the fact that I only see a sliver of it at a time but damn the sky is blue. Deep blue. Deep enough to understand that within that blue lies the entirety of the cosmos and all that has ever been.
The message from the government is clear: stay home. The application of this message is starting to slip in my immediate neighborhood. I went to buy some Descente Dangereuse from the local wine guy and the streets were packed. Walkers kept their distance by spilling over into the streets. Some dudes blasted Arabic music from their car. Throw in a bit more dancing and it would be Eid al-Fitr.
This weekend is badly needed. The fatigue is massive. It weighs on me, infiltrating my muscles and my mind. I can’t even protest when my son shoves a toy airplane in my face. I hide in the bathroom so frequently that my son thinks I’m sick.
And I am sick. Sick of the confinement. Sick of not knowing any answers about what will happen. Sick about reading about coronavirus. Sick about talking about it. Conversations have shifted from “isn’t this crazy?” to “what will it be like afterwards?” Everyone weighs in with an opinion as useless as the next.
No one has any stories to tell. No one has made any plans to talk about. The favorite springtime subject in France is summer vacation plans. Like the plans themselves, those conversations are on hold. Any rising feeling of anticipation is quickly squashed by the realization that nothing can be planned.
People here ask me about what the hell is happening in the states. I tell them what I know. It’s unprecedented. Family members are furloughed and denied unemployment. The system doesn’t seem to be able to cope. But the deaths are plateauing and everyone I know is healthy. We’re fortunate. But I’m sick of people asking.
If we had a competent leader I would even have said that this could be an opportunity for America. Use our technological heft and medical research to save the world. Lead the 21st century like the 20th.
The perspective from outside America is one of disbelief. People used to criticize America for being in everyone’s business but they relied on its muscle and leadership to steer the world away from tyranny and towards prosperity. They lapped up popular culture and installed all of America’s apps. They idolized the American Dream. Now they are worried.
Coronavirus has exposed America’s underlying conditions and it is a lot sicker than we thought. The shiny exterior of glittery cities and stars hides a rotten core. The American Dream is just that – a dream. 22 million people seek unemployment in one month because of a strand of RNA. There is no coordinated response, no plan, only societal chaos.
There is no person less qualified and capable to mount a unified response than the current President. He had no idea what to do when it started and he is even more clueless now. And his push to reopen the economy will cause even more needless death.
Much blood already stains his hands. Maybe coronavirus can do what pussy-grabbing, soliciting foreign interference in domestic politics, and hushing up porn stars couldn’t, and bring people together to get him the hell out of office come November.
I’m sick for my homeland. Sick for what it used to represent. I miss the pride of being American. Though I have lived for over a decade outside of its borders I am always American first. I have been one of the most fortunate who can pick and choose the best bits of multiple cultures and mash them together: American ingenuity and showmanship combined with French solidarity and exigence with a dash of Italian flair for a life lived with emphasis.
Coronavirus has accelerated the gut feeling that there are many, many problems with America. When I read the news I worry about which effects will be permanent. I worry that it is losing its importance in the world. Most of all, I worry that nothing will change. That we will lose this opportunity to address the structural deficiencies of American society in an attempt to get back to business as soon as possible.
America used to export liberalism by leading by example. Our founders wrote of forming a more perfect union, with justice, domestic tranquility and prosperity under liberty. Other nations followed the example because of how well it all worked. Yet decades of stripping away the social safety programs that came out of the Great Depression has hollowed out the basis for prosperity. Republicans claiming that government doesn’t work have made sure that it can’t.
Now our President is actively dismantling the system while scores perish. It’s what you get when you elect someone whose catchphrase was “you’re fired.”
I’m worried sick. I miss you America.