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Contemplating a post-coronavirus world: Something better than what we lost, perhaps?

Contemplating a post-coronavirus world: Something better than what we lost, perhaps?
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Sitting in the silence of my own contribution to the war against the coronavirus, I wonder what the next years will bring. The world pre-virus was not at peace with itself. There was economic prosperity, hardly enjoyed by all, but of course far better monetarily than that which has since disappeared and may not come again.

Working harder and longer in the shadow of robotic substitutes that can work even harder and longer, human productivity and efficiency pre-virus was ever-increasing. Yet, there was a problem: There was no one to blow the whistle for a time-out. Our lives were exhausted, disappearing snapshots in which what was being photographed was seldom experienced. Life as seen through Facebook and Instagram became a pictorial parody of fake news.

Having created our better existence, at least in pure economic terms, we failed to appreciate the nonquantitative consequences of substituting an uncaring recorded voice and heartless machine for a real body or soul.

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Maybe we could not algorithmically compete with our robotic creations, but they could be programmed to reward a powerful few with a life of opulence, and even reward a sufficient number with enough of the trickle-down dividends to preserve the appearance of economic upward mobility and cultural social stability. But the appearance was only Potemkin: Student loans, mortgages, medical expenses and the cost of housing itself stood, pre-virus, as barriers to entry into a fulfilled life.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE correctly observes that Americans are not well-suited to idleness and they want to get back to work. So they do, but having been given this unplanned time off, we should make good use of it. If we are fortunate enough to be survivors, it should not be enough to just reopen the business operations of America; rather, we should contemplate how work and family might be rebalanced. Similarly, with the intensive introduction of remote learning, high-priced universities might be less elitist with an obligation to be open to the education needs of all, and not just to those preparing for their first employment. Even apart from the social obligations of colleges and universities, the traditional cohort of twentysomething students might find the transition into adulthood better advanced by a few years of work or a stint as a community volunteer.

Before the virus, baby boomers had not yet fully demonstrated how they might match the Greatest Generation’s aspiration to leave the world better than they found it. My mother and father in the 1940s (and perhaps yours) kept that promise in a heroic effort that is hard to duplicate. Ridding the world of ethnic Hitlerian hatred and reattaching it to freedom was truly an extraordinary gift built on sacrifice and a war that was anything but virtual. Acceding to the directives to stay home hardly equates to that. The action is not even totally selfless, since voluntary self-confinement secures our own safety as much as that of others.

The boomers of the 1960s and ’70s, in youthful hippie-ish ways, did have a legitimate complaint — namely, that material gain cannot be the sum and substance of life. This, unfortunately, was often perceived as ingratitude for the battlefield hardships of the greatest generation. It was much more: It was a plea to raise up the American ideal of equality for all.

The boomer generation is passing from the stage; indeed, the virus seems meanly targeted to facilitate just that. But the legacy gift of the boomers to millennials, GenXers and generations yet to come is premised upon the boomer reminder that there is an objective value and reality to human life that is not contingent upon amassing influence, wealth or power.

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When will it be safe to reopen for business? That is unknown. What should not be equivocal is our resolve — whenever that day comes — that it will not just be a reopening for business-as-usual.

And, oh yes, the virus also proclaims that it should not be politics as usual, either. Candidates whose singular purpose is the defamation of opposing candidates need not apply. If the party selection process is not aimed at getting answers to the deeper questions of the relationship between work and family, between economic prosperity and disparity, between the lost ideal of objective equality versus subjective preference, is it little wonder that Americans are indifferent to the emerging choices?

Douglas Kmiec is professor emeritus of constitutional law at Pepperdine University School of Law. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Malta from 2009 to 2011, and headed the Office of Legal Counsel during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Follow him on Twitter @dougkmiec.