We can’t get back to “normal”

Sile Surman, Columnist

If you haven’t parsed through Trump’s 2020 campaign platform yet, first of all, smart thinking. It’s a waste of time. The “goals” are so vague and unattainable that I question the judgment of its author. (I seriously question the judgment of the entire administration, too, but that’s beside the point.) Last week, out of curiosity, I took a look at the campaign’s list of goals.

The page reads like a last-minute project from a sleep-deprived high school student. I’m sorry. That doesn’t give high school students enough credit. Under the header “Eradicate COVID-19” reads a particularly interesting bullet-point goal to “Return to Normal in 2021.” Normal.

Normal? What does it mean to return to “normal”?

I keep hearing the phrase, “after this is all over.” Six months ago, our daily life decisions were unaffected by a widespread virus. Currently, however, coronavirus cases in the U.S. are rising. I don’t mean that feeling hopeful for the end of COVID-19 is a bad thing. I hold out a cautious optimism despite the current situation. Regardless, we must confront the circumstances.

Make no mistake, the world before COVID-19 was anything but normal. In fact, this desire to return to “normal” is damaging because normalcy never truly existed. Pre-pandemic, the United States already had its fair share of issues. “Normal” stability entailed the existence of healthcare inaccessibility, accelerating climate change and rising income inequality. This country already embodied poverty, mass incarceration and police brutality.

Mental health conditions are on the rise in the United States. Millions of renters across the country face eviction. Wildfires continue to rage and cause damage in the west. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color by exacerbating unemployment, reducing healthcare accessibility and creating barriers to affordable housing. In addition, the COVID-19 death toll is approaching two hundred thousand in the United States.

I mention these sobering facts to illuminate the current reality, though none of it should come as a surprise. These disparities aren’t new. If anything, the virus has only accentuated America’s deeply-rooted systemic issues. The pandemic has exposed societal disparities that were already in place.

There’s this sentiment that once the election season runs its course or COVID-19 fades away, some semblance of order will be restored. Absolutely not. Post-election, things will hardly get better. I don’t think that America will sigh in relief. No, we’ll hold our breath with even more strain. Call these words negative if you want, but right now, rejecting a return to normal is the most productive thing I can imagine. Instead of yearning for a return to ordinary life, let’s acknowledge the ways in which ordinary means harmful, for the status quo has allowed socioeconomic disparities to exist in the first place.

What we call “normal” does not take into account those who are deprived of its benefits. If normalcy is ignorance, and if normalcy is comfort, I don’t want any part in it. Please keep it away from me. So, no, let’s not “return to normal in 2021.”