Sheila Kennedy: What lessons will we learn from the pandemic?

Living through the coronavirus pandemic reminds me—painfully—of the time I read an assigned schoolbook and thought, “This book taught me things I did not wish to know.”

It is becoming clear that, in addition to a global pandemic, we will experience a global economic meltdown. As state governments have (inconsistently) stepped up to compensate for the lack of federal leadership, restaurants and bars, gyms and cultural venues have been ordered to close; many will be unable to weather weeks with no income, and will never reopen, vastly changing both individual lives and America’s social and cultural landscape.

What lessons will we Americans learn from this current, grim reality?

As one of my friends recently noted, coronavirus would have battered the United States to some extent no matter who was in the White House. But an even minimally competent president would have listened to the warnings of public health experts and followed their recommendations, rather than wasting precious weeks denying the reality of the threat.

A competent president accepting expert advice would not have rejected the World Health Organization’s offer of desperately needed test kits or dismantled the global health emergency task force that had been created by the Obama administration. And no other president would lie about the availability of tests and respirators (while incessantly congratulating himself) on a daily basis, requiring his own administration’s experts to contradict him.

So—lesson number one: Elections matter. Competent government matters. The character and intelligence of our elected officials matter.

Lesson number two: America is inextricably connected to the rest of the world. Discussions of “global pandemics” and “global economies” should give “America First” xenophobes pause. (It won’t, but it should.) We really are all in this together, in a world far too connected for walls, discriminatory travel bans and reflexive hatred of darker “others.” Not only are those measures useless and stupid, they inevitably hurt America far more than they hurt those feared “others.”

Global cooperation will be absolutely essential, not just to the management of health threats, but also to efforts to mitigate economic damage.

Lesson number three is another take on the fact that we truly are all in this together—and by “this” I don’t just mean this particular health crisis or this specific economic threat. We humans are—in far more than the biblical sense—our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.

A government that is not structured on recognition of that fact will be unable to mitigate disasters. That recognition doesn’t require abandonment of market economics, but it does mean provision of a far more robust and less haphazard social safety net.

As a number of commentators have now pointed out, this pandemic is illuminating the consequences of the grossly inadequate safety net and willfully ineffective political system that together are forcing our most vulnerable workers to bear the brunt of economic and social damage.

The plutocrats who have been enriching themselves through public subsidies and tax cuts while disregarding the precarious state of low-wage workers are going to learn the most unpleasant lesson: When millions of people lose their ability to participate in the marketplace—when they no longer have the means to buy the widgets produced by the plutocrats’ factories or to shop for the services and products in which the wealthy have invested—stock portfolios and tax havens won’t shelter them from that storm.

The most important lesson to be learned by policymakers and plutocrats alike is that fortunate people are secure only when everyone is secure.•


Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.

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6 thoughts on “Sheila Kennedy: What lessons will we learn from the pandemic?

  1. How ridiculous to so disrespect President Trump, although since Ms. Kennedy has Trump Derangement Syndrome as bad as anyone, it’s to be expected, regarding this crisis….or anything else she deems appropriate.

    And what were her fellow left-wing Democrats doing during this time? Wasting, wasting, wasting time and tax dollars on their stupid Impeachment nonsense to coddle their ignorant far-left base. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black in terms of priorities!

    Look in a mirror to see what we could learn from this, Ms. Kennedy, rather than the superficial nonsense you suggest. We could learn, but won’t, that our penchant for cheap stuff and paying no attention to the national debt has conscripted the nation’s soul to the Communists who run China. Their lackadaisical environment and sanitation practices, on par with many third-world countries, allow them to produce goods cheaper with little regard for the rest of the world, or even their own people, and we can’t wait to buy their “stuff” so they’ll have money to buy our bonds and feed our insatiable national debt.

    If only the world was as simple as Democrats…and too many Republicans…want it to be, as they keep their heads firmly in the sand.

    Ms. Kennedy’s intellect is an insult to thinking people. How tragic that she is on the public teat in a university environment where too many naive young people may be exposed to her nonsense.

    And the beat goes on….

  2. There she goes again. Once more, Ms. Kennedy, with her incredible sharp hindsight and her professional armchair quarterbacking, in this unprecedented crisis, manages to blame our President for not having replaced the batteries in his crystal ball.

    Ms. Kennedy, please tell us how much better Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders would have handled this crisis. Better yet explain to the 63 million “unwashed” how Hillary Clinton would have been masterful in handling what we all hope is a once in a lifetime crisis.

    1. Any president in my lifetime (back through Reagan) would have handled this better, because they’d have surrounded themselves with competent individuals in the first place. (Remember when Trump was going to be surrounded by all the best people? Yeah, me too.). Second, he would have actually listened to those people as opposed to insisting that’s he’s always the smartest person in the room and going with his gut.

      Trump didn’t listen to anyone but his sycophants telling him what he wanted to hear during the six weeks in which we could have taken action. We could and should have been in the same boat as South Korea if we had taken action. Trump went with his gut on the coronavirus and we are all paying the consequences and will for years to come.

      But that’s OK, to those living in the echo chamber, it’s always someone else’s fault. Obama. Hillary. The media. The Chinese. It’s always someone else’s fault, but never Donald Trump. Trump must only gets credit, not blame.

    2. AMEN, Jeffrey D C.
      Just how would have your glass-ceiling hero Hillary Clinton handled this any better, Ms. Kennedy?
      To the contrary, Hillary would have been tip-toeing around not wanting to “offend” the Chinese while Rome burned…all the while taking as gospel every word issued by the Official Chinese Press, all which should be taken with a grain of salt, if at all.
      And another thing; the big businesses we need to produce the weapons of this war -domestic big businesses, not the Chinese- are more likely to listen to and co-operate with President Trump because they know he doesn’t hate them, as do most Democrats.
      Yes, while far from perfect, Donald Trump won the Presidency in 2016 for reasons we were yet to know. I can’t imagine the additional horrors that would be visited upon The United States of America had Hildebeast been elected for “business as usual.”

  3. Excellent insight from an out-of-state relative (a non-subscriber, although I am) whose academic credentials should impress Ms. Kennedy:

    Sheila Kennedy is correct: The Chinese virus would have come to this country regardless of who was President at the time. However, the bias on display in this column is breathtaking.

    To illustrate: While President Trump was using the powers of the Presidency as needed to order more breathing masks and respirators, and sending fully-equipped hospital ships to New York and California, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was appointing a committee to investigate the president without waiting to see how it all turned out. Therefore, the first lesson we learn from Sheila Kennedy is if you want fairness and balance, don’t read her column.

    The second lesson is that the false charge of racism has been so overworked by the left that it has lost effectiveness.

    The third lesson is because “we are all in this together,” now is not the time for assessing blame, an exercise the left loves to use as a political weapon.

    The fourth lesson is this: Those who live off the resources of others (think tuition and taxes) have a skewed, incomplete view of how all aspects of our world work. As one who spent half his career in the private sector and the other half as a tenured professor at a Big Ten university, my observation is that Professor Kennedy’s limited world view is not an exception…but, rather, all too often the norm.

    Final lesson: To paraphrase William F. Buckley, “I would like to take [her] seriously, but to do so would impugn her intelligence.”

  4. Amazing, it wasn’t until the second paragraph she telegraphed her TDS agenda. Yes I am sure the Communist you support would of reacted in a more timely fashion, oh wait China did nothing for 6 weeks, oops. I guess you were wrong about that.

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