The Crisis of Civic Disengagement
The Three Pillars of Public Promises
By Kelle Corvin
July 28, 2020
2020 has been quite a year for sure. Many cannot wait for it to end. From Coronavirus to economic turmoil to defund-the-police movements to the utter chaos unfolding in many major cities across the country, most of us are hoping it all fades with the end of 2020. As a history major in college, I always look for context. So, just the other day, I was reading an article quoting a historian that answered the question “Which was the worst year in recorded history?” There have been many, but this particular historian said the agreed-upon year was actually 534 A.D. It was that year that a dark cloud descended across most of the earth from a major volcanic eruption in Iceland that plunged the world into darkness for nearly 2 years. Crops failed across Europe and even into the Mediterranean region leading to the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire and ushering in the first wave of the plague in southern Europe that continued to spread multiple times ultimately killing about ½ of the world population at that time. No wonder it was called the Dark Ages – truly.
So, while 2020 has been chaotic for all of the reasons above, I think the most troubling trend I’ve witnessed is the absolute assault on what I call the three pillars of public promises we as citizens have come to expect as a nation. American and Western culture has been under attack for decades. We are all immune to the calls of the evils of Western culture and the sins committed against the world at large. What is forgotten, are the actual good done by Western culture and the transformation that was ushered in by the Age of Exploration and Enlightenment. The very concept of all men (and women) are created equal came out of these movements. Three fundamental principles or pillars are at the heart of American (and later all of Western) society. Those three pillars of public promises are 1) law and order; 2) emergency services (fire, medical, rescue), and 3) public education. The year of 2020 has had a perfect storm of events that have led to an all-out assault on these foundational pillars.
The first pillar to come under attack was our medical and emergency services in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic. Beginning in late January, President Trump banned all travel to and from China as the origin of the Wuhan novel coronavirus became known. Within a month, public health officials (on bad data from a model that was grossly off the mark on assumptions) recommended that the President shut down the economy for at least two weeks to contain the virus and “flatten the curve” so that hospitals were not overwhelmed at the peak of the influenza season. By the middle of March, every hospital in every state cancelled all elective surgeries and procedures, laid off 1000s of workers all to prepare for the soon-to-come onslaught of Coronavirus victims. Outside of the tri-state area in and around NYC, and a few other hot spots around the country, the surge was all but over by the middle of April. The result? The United States voluntarily shutdown commerce in just about every state leading to unprecedented unemployment. The attack on the medical services came from this mis-representation and mis-interpretation of data resulting in a yet-to-be-determined crisis in preventable heart attacks, early-detected cancers, and other chronic diseases and conditions that could have been dealt with but for the forced delay in health care. Emergency Medical Technicians and other first responders didn’t have the luxury to say “no” to coming to work if they wanted to continue in their chosen profession. The fear of spreading the virus to loved ones resulted in months of self-imposed isolation on the part of EMS, medical doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Unfortunately, the damage of the mishandling of the pandemic has yet-to-be-known consequences for public health officials who’s reputations may be irreparably harmed and who’s missteps with this pandemic, I fear, could result in a chicken-little effect among the public in future health crises. We have been shown the flaws that exist within our public health response and the dangers of over-reaction. The phrase that best describes it is don’t let the cure be worse than the virus. This pillar must be re-established to provide preventive healthcare for our citizens and to continue the valuable research needed to extend and improve the quality of life of all citizens.
The second pillar to come under attack is public education. In March, an unprecedented thing happened – public health officials recommended the wholesale closure of every K-12 public or private school and the closure of all major universities. This had never happened before in response to any virus or disease even when those diseases had proven significantly more deadly than the Coronavirus has. Again, parents and children and our young-adult college students have been held hostage by the public response to this public health crisis. The irony in all of this is that we kept daycares open for essential workers to use while closing the schools. Now several months into this crisis, many states are keeping their K-12 schools closed to students out of fears from Coronavirus and because of the onerous public health recommendations for social distancing imposed on these schools. Sadly, this promise will have long-lasting and possibly catastrophic results. It’s as if the only concern we have for the development of children is physical. We are ignoring the long-lasting impact isolation is having on their social and emotional development. There are children where school is the only physical safe space they have daily. Many are given assistance because teachers see something and say something. Young adults who learn best in a didactic and interactive environment are relegated to online, virtual learning that is often slapped together quickly and not thoroughly thought through as to the quality of the learning. Parents, especially working parents and single parents are suddenly forced into a situation for which they never had to calculate. With the schools closed, they have children too young to stay home alone, cannot afford the additional days of daycare, and don’t have the ability or energy to ‘homeschool’ their children on top of their jobs! It’s an unfortunate and unnecessary burden being placed on families of all shapes and sizes. Studies from daycares open during this entire time show that infection and deaths among children 0-18 is statistically 0%. In fact, for whatever reason, the younger population seems all but immune to the serious affects of coronavirus. In South Carolina, a local news station asked the department of health how many Coronavirus cases had been reported from the more than 3000 licensed day cares between the months of March and the end of June – only 59 cases had been reported. Several European countries offer additional empirical evidence that school-age children rarely get the virus or die from the virus nor do they transmit it to adults as originally feared. This pillar is critical to re-establish to preserve our future workforce and citizenry.
Finally, and in my eyes the most important is the pillar – law and order. In many situations, I view this as the cornerstone of society’s foundation. If we as a citizenry cannot agree on how to establish and enforce the laws by which our society is governed, we can end up in what I fear we have reached a cold civil war. The match was lit years ago with the Treyvon Martin case and then again this year, the perfect storm of 2020 reached a fever pitch when George Floyd died at the hands of a Derek Chauvin in late May. Law enforcement and the laws that govern all of our behavior are critical to establishing an order to society that allows for the economic and social activities we all enjoy.
The defund-the-police movement is perhaps the most dangerous of any modern movement we have seen. Police departments have been under siege for more than two decades. Their ability to recruit and retain officers has reached crisis proportions. Teachers Unions are pushing defund the police and removal of school resource officers before they will agree to return to work. Effective policies such as the anti-crime division of the NYPD have been eliminated as biased only to see an almost immediate rise in petty crime as well as major crimes. A once noble profession has been portrayed repeatedly by the media as all Derek Chauvin’s – and yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
The quote-unquote “modern” defund-the-police movement grew out of the Trenton NJ model which is really nothing more than a re-package of Problem-Oriented Policing (POPS) and Community-Oriented Policing or COPS originating back to the 1980s and 1990s. For example, while introducing mental-health professionals into the problem of homelessness is not a bad public policy initiative and is well-intentioned, the problem is that many additional hard crime problems come with these homeless enclaves including drugs, theft, rape, and aggravated assault of which mental health professionals are not equipped to deal. Combine that with the deterrent to economic development that occurs when local elected officials try to be well-intended and allow homeless to populate vast city blocks and create all of the public health problems that come with that, and you have a recipe for massive civil unrest.
Take a look at Portland, OR. For more than 60 days, mobs have congregated and assaulted the Federal building in downtown Portland at the encouragement of the Mayor. They have rioted and destroyed vast city blocks of commerce which will have long-term consequences just as in Minneapolis. Ironically, during the 1990s the Portland Plan was held up as THE example of urban planning and design. Cities copied their zoning and planning guidelines reserving green space, encouraging mass transit, eco-friendly policies. The result by 2012 was that Forbes magazine declared it a failure. They had forced out the middle-class population and replaced it with upper-class and left behind an under-serviced under class. Sound familiar? The Portland Plan worked hard to incorporate massive police reform changes many of which are mentioned above. In contrast to NYC Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” philosophy of policing, Portland took a kinder, gentler approach with early childhood and school using law enforcement as social workers.
Two weeks ago, the Portland city council approved the defunding of their police department by $15 million. What isn’t mentioned in the press accounts is that the policies of local leaders led to the chaos unfolding in that city. Central Portland, because of their kinder and gentler policing approach created the circumstances that have led to the massive unrest we have witnessed in Portland and other large cities in the nation. Trash litters the streets, homeless camp everywhere; most of the remaining population are young, unmarried Millennials who are under-employed and over-educated. The Portland Plan focused on the three pillars I mention above, but the policies they implemented didn’t work out so well for any of the three. Those families and workers who could fled to nearby Vancouver, WA. Traffic jams persist; young families can no longer afford housing nor want to cope with the trash and smell from the massive homeless population; and don’t want to deal with the lack of basic law enforcement that the local leaders have mandated.
In closing, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we as citizens in a democratic republic must be ever-vigilant as to the policies being proposed and who is proposing them. Politics matter, policies matter, the pillars of public promises matter. All of us need to pay attention and fully understand what the potential consequences are to having any one of the pillars fail. We are seeing how fragile society can be especially when all three the pillars are all attacked simultaneously. We are facing a lost generation of students; self-imposed economic devastation; and a “hot” civil war in which our law enforcement is thrown right in the middle of managing.
However, despite these truly disturbing events that 2020 has brought to us, I do have hope. The American spirit is one of individualism and honor. Most Americans embody the words life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and truly want that for everyone. It’s in our DNA. Americans are seeing what is happening and the consequences of not paying attention to everything from the local school board decisions to the federal bureaucrats who hold vast power over each of us. That is a positive. Awareness affords action. As Benjamin Franklin said at the end of the 2nd Constitutional Convention when asked what government we had: “A democratic republic if you can keep it.”
Let’s keep it.
Email your thoughts on this post to Kelle at firstname.lastname@example.org