Pandemic leaving us frayed

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 5/27/20

Here’s a question for “people of a certain age”: Who remembers what the great social/political debate was in the summer of 2001? Anybody? Of course not — September 11 sort of wiped all those …

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Pandemic leaving us frayed


Here’s a question for “people of a certain age”:

Who remembers what the great social/political debate was in the summer of 2001? Anybody? Of course not — September 11 sort of wiped all those arguments aside.

In the summer of 2001 we, as a country, wasted all of our pent-up disdain for each other arguing about whether or not the government should fund research into using human embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes. And, yeah—it was a big deal. There was a prime-time Presidential address, there were marches and rallies and all the usual signs of American divisions.

You know why you never hear about that issue any more? Because, somewhere along the way, somebody discovered that human beings produce their own stem cells, and that they can be harvested and used for the same therapeutic purposes that the embryonic stem cells had been intended for.

It turns out that sometimes science renders our divisions irrelevant.

Did the country recover from that summer? Well, yeah, I guess so — we all pulled together and became one country in the wake of the terrorist attacks. And then, in the wake of an expansive war effort and other events, we ripped asunder again.

In a manner of speaking, for the last three months, we have, again, been under attack, this time by a virus. It was something new, something we knew nothing about, and which we are still scrambling to understand. In light of our ignorance, we instituted mitigation efforts to try to curb the spread and save some lives.

Anybody think anything in the above paragraph sounds like the sort of thing that should widen our cultural/political divides? We’re under attack—shouldn’t we have banded together?

And yet, widen the divide it has. And, sure, the fact that this has dragged out to three months is a big factor in all of this, as is the obvious illogic in some of our efforts (masks were useless, now they’re required; 250 people is fine in a WalMart, but one person fishing, no; it’s okay to have 250 people in Target, but you’re only allowed to have 10 people in the Cathedral downtown … which seats 800). Nonetheless, truly, I think everybody in power is doing the best they can given the dearth of information we had about this virus. We’re just trying to, ya know, keep people alive.

So why is it tearing us apart?

38 million unemployment claims since this began —that’s part of it. Pier One, JCPenney, Victoria’s Secret all filing for bankruptcy, to go along with millions of small businesses — that’s part of it. Eight weeks of strain on the educational and family systems of the world — that’s part of it, too. Looking ahead to next Fall and seeing how Jeffco Schools is imagining handling it probably didn’t put a lot of people on any more solid, “normal” footing. But that shouldn’t be enough. If we were really as strong as we think we are, would that be enough?

Is it really so hard to wear a mask, if that’s what it takes to open things up again? No freedom without responsibility, right? Is it really so difficult to understand that nobody wants to kill grandma, they just want to keep the family business afloat so they can keep feeding their families? Do you really have to celebrate when hydroxychloroquine (still in use, by the way) has any bad news associated with it, just because the President once touted it?

Science will render the Wuhan coronavirus (as opposed to coronavirus HKU1, discovered in Hong Kong, or coronavirus NL63, discovered in the Netherlands) relatively harmless in the near future, so that far fewer people will develop SARS-CoV19. In fact, the worldwide effort to find a vaccine in record time should be a source of immense pride for all of us.

Now, if only science could render our politics relatively harmless.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at, on Kindle, or through” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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