A Return to Normalcy

By: 
Al Jacobs

There’s no way I can claim originality for the title of this article … though its unlikely many of you readers will recognize its source. To do so, you must go back in time a full 100 years.

In November of 1918 the United States completed its participation in what then proved to be the most momentous war in world history. In its aftermath our nation encountered changes resulting in societal discomfort. By 1920 – a presidential election year – a substantial portion of the American people wanted to return to life as it had existed previously.

The candidate who championed this desire selected the title you see above as his motto. Though he then appended some specifics – with a couple of minor modifications I’ve added – beautifully describing how many of us desire to conduct our lives.

“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in incoherence, but sustainment in triumphant rationality.”

Let’s now return to the present. During the last several months, our selected officials dragged this country through what has been an unbelievable quagmire of insanity. On the pretext of combating a replica of the mid-14th Century bubonic plague, they’ve destroyed the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans.

The numbers of deaths and abject misery to which this irrationality will eventually contribute may be expected to far surpass any fatalities the COVID-19 virus is actually responsible for.

Thanks to the political pressures now brought to bear on the progenitors of this charade, it appears portions of America are attempting to return to the way they were before the invasion of the coronavirus. On Friday, May 22, 2020, I was permitted to sit in a restaurant in Orange County and eat a meal.

And on May 26, the day after Memorial day, a close friend intends to be able to reopen her Brazilia alteration shop and begin earning a living once again. But despite these welcome signs, there are predictions life in this nation may never be quite the same again.

That specific question was asked of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a recent White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. His response, stated as follows, seems to imply what formerly seemed normal may never be considered so again.

“If ‘back to normal’ means acting like there never was a coronavirus problem, I don’t think that’s going to happen until we do have a situation where you can completely protect the population. But when we say ‘getting back to normal,’ we mean something very different from what we’re going through right now, because right now we are in a very intense mitigation. When we get back to normal, we will go back gradually to the point where we can function as a society.”

This belief is substantiated by another knowledgeable source, Gideon Litchfield, editor-in-chief at MIT Technology Review, who on March 17, 2020, prophesized:

“We’re not going back to normal. Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever. This isn’t a temporary disruption. It’s the start of a completely different way of life.

“We don’t know exactly what this new future looks like, of course. But one can imagine a world in which, to get on a flight, perhaps you’ll have to be signed up to a service that tracks your movements via your phone. The airline wouldn’t be able to see where you’d gone, but it would get an alert if you’d been close to known infected people or disease hot spots.

“There’d be similar requirements at the entrance to large venues, government buildings, or public transport hubs. There would be temperature scanners everywhere, and your workplace might demand you wear a monitor that tracks your temperature or other vital signs. Where nightclubs ask for proof of age, in future they might ask for proof of immunity – an identity card or some kind of digital verification via your phone, showing you’ve already recovered from or been vaccinated against the latest virus strains.

“The world has changed many times, and it is changing again. All of us will have to adapt to a new way of living, working, and forging relationships. But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries – the US, in particular – to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.”

For those of you who don’t relish a future as Dr. Fauci or Gideon Litchfield envision – and you may add me to that group – it may nonetheless come to pass. We have more than one example strongly hinting at just such a happening.

Who, among you, recalls the September 29, 1982, death of Mary Kellerman, a 12-year-old-girl from Elk Grove Village, a suburb of Chicago, whose mother gave her a Tylenol capsule to treat a runny nose and sore throat, and who died by 7 a.m.? Or on the same day, 27-year-old postal worker Adam James of Arlington Heights, Ill., succumbed after taking Tylenol?

It was soon discovered both capsules had been laced with a lethal dose of potassium cyanide. As a result of the crime, makers of Tylenol developed new product protection methods, as did the manufacturers of all products requiring no-tampering evidence, and these practices remain in place to this day.

And yet for another example, recall Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, hijacked on November 24, 1971, by a man known as D. B. Cooper, who parachuted out between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., with $200,000 in ransom money he extorted, never to be seen again. The rules and regulations resulting from that escapade include various governmental mandates taking much of the leisurely informality out of flying.

In addition, the FAA requires that airlines comply with numerous provisions, such as aircraft fitted with a device dubbed the “Cooper vane” to prevent lowering the aft airstrip during flight, as well as installation of peepholes so the cockpit crews can observe people in the passenger cabin without having to open the cockpit door. Conditions change; what was once normal is no more.

A final word: There can be no doubt change is inevitable. Just as the automobile and the telephone altered the way persons traveled and communicated with one another in an earlier century, the computer and technical devices perfected today will modify the way we act and react to modern intercourse. No thinking person can systematically decline to fashion their reactions to the present. Whoever chooses to ignore this reality is destined to forever be among life’s losers.

Despite this reality, I cannot deny my predilections; I’m of the old school, and welcome as few changes in human interactions as possible. Thus, I intend to avoid or ignore whatever I perceive to be blatant nonsense.

Although Dr. Fauci stated he’ll probably never shake another hand, you may be sure your extended hand will receive my firm grasp. And irrespective of a six-foot social distancing recommendation, I am perfectly willing to give a warm and hearty hug to any person, male or female, for whom the embrace will improve their attitude.

And lastly, unless the law mandates I wear a mask, I intend to leave mine in the top drawer of my desk … unless I’m selected to play the lead roll in a Broadway production of The Lone Ranger. Under those circumstances, I’ll don a mask.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. Al can be contacted at al@abjacobs.com

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