Can America Weather the Perfect Storm of 2020?

Have we ever faced such a “perfect storm” as we are facing in 2020?

Posted Aug 24, 2020

 Ray Bilcliff/Pexels
Source: Ray Bilcliff/Pexels

“Storms” aren’t new to us Americans. Whether the Civil War, the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, World Wars I and II, 9/11, Hurricane Maria, the list goes on. America has found a way to weather some dramatic and traumatic storms in its 244-year history. But have we ever faced such a “perfect storm” as we are facing in 2020?

We are currently in the eye of no fewer than five storms that are raging around us and causing previously unimaginable damage.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought our country (and the world) to its knees with effects that will likely be felt for years to come. The pandemic has ignited a health storm in which more than 170,000 Americans and millions more around the globe have died.

COVID has also created an economic storm in which, due to the shelter-in-place orders imposed around the country, our economy came to a grinding halt with tens of thousands of businesses closed and millions of people out of work. COVID has laid bare for all to see the failures of government, the inadequacy of our health care system, and the unfairness of our financial system.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has created a cultural storm of unrest driven by a long-overdue reckoning of racism and inequality in our country.

A political storm that has led to a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between parties.

Lastly, we are in the midst of a moral storm in which the values and norms that have guided our country to a place of greatness in the world over more than two centuries have been under attack, and what is right, fair, and just plain decent is being upended.

The question that many are asking is whether we can survive this perfect storm of 2020. There is no doubt that the magnitude of these upheavals is unprecedented in the depth, breadth, and impact they are having on every level of our society. And there is no doubt that the divisions that afflict our country make weathering these storms all the more difficult.

Yet, one thing that we Americans have proven ourselves to be is resilient. Through ingenuity, innovation, collective action, sheer will, or the strength of the foundation upon which our country was built, we have somehow managed to “get our act together” and do what is necessary to survive the many storms we have faced over the years. Moreover, our country’s historical character has enabled us to actually thrive in the aftermath of these storms and emerge a little better, a little more compassionate, a little stronger, and a little closer to the “more perfect union” that the U.S. has always aspired to.

Can America weather this perfect storm? It remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: We must weather this storm. If not, within our own borders, millions of Americans will suffer. Internationally, our place in the world order will be lost and, with it, our ability to positively influence other actors around the globe. Though we are an imperfect nation, we nonetheless have done much good for the world in our relatively short history. America is needed like never before.

So, what must we do individually and collectively to survive this perfect storm? Here are a few ideas.

Reconnect With America’s Values

I’m always a little afraid of using the “V-word,” because it carries so much baggage. Values have been weaponized by various constituencies in America in the so-called culture wars. They have been used as bludgeons against those who may hold different views and as shields to protect against those who are perceived as threats.

But when I talk about values, I don’t mean those hot-button values that separate us. Despite appearances, Americans of all stripes share far more values than those on which we differ. I’m talking about the values on which our country was built and that have made us great. Values that we can all agree on, regardless of where we live, our political bent, where we exist on the socioeconomic ladder, or what our faith is.

There are the values that have been codified into our Constitution and laws, including liberty, freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, justice, equality, and due process of law. There are other values that have been woven into the fabric of this “great experiment,” including honor, humility, courage, integrity, respect, responsibility, community, and compassion, to name a few. These values have served America well throughout its history, acting as both our moral compass in the present and our road map toward the future. They also remind us of the vices that can tear our country apart, including ambition, avarice, demagoguery, hubris, and political intolerance.

For us to weather this perfect storm, we must all reconnect with and recommit to these fundamental values. In doing so, these values can act as a solid foundation upon which we can stand together with safety and security and from which we can move forward collectively. They can also act as our North Star, providing us with a clear and agreed-upon path forward in resolving the many differences that have turned America from “one nation” into hostile factions.

Have Hope, But Take Action

America began with hope for freedom, opportunity, equality, and much more. Hope is an essential emotion because it engenders optimism and the belief that good things can happen. But hope is not a strategy. Instead, hope must act as the fuel that propels us to take action in pursuit of a worthy goal. Hope without action will only lead to frustration and despair.

So, based on the values I shared above, ask yourself whether you have hope for yourself, your family, your community, and for America. If you don’t have hope, I encourage you to find it in this perfect storm, however small that hope might be, because I don’t believe that we are beyond hope, and without it, we are certainly doomed. If you do have hope, take action, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it might feel.

No, one stroke of a paddle won’t get us to safety, but if everyone “pulls their own oar” in the same direction, we can move America out of this perfect storm. Pick your storm, whether COVID-19, social justice, economic inequality, or the mean-spiritedness that has overtaken our country. Then, pick your battle and fight for what you believe with determination and relentlessness. That is how America has weathered previous storms, and it is the only way we will weather this perfect storm of 2020.

We Not Me

The #WeNotMe hashtag has been spreading across cyberspace and, in my view, beautifully and powerfully expresses what America must do to weather this perfect storm. We cannot do it alone. We cannot do it if we are fighting amongst ourselves, and we cannot do it if we just focus on “me.”

We see egregious examples of the “MeNotWe” mentality across America. People are flouting the recommendations of medical experts to stop the spread of COVID-19 by not wearing masks or social distancing, and partying and going to bars. Profiteering in the face of an international health crisis. License to violence and crime in the streets (as distinguished from protesters). The gilded class closing their gates to those less fortunate. The lack of gratitude, compassion, and support for our essential workers and those who are suffering most in this perfect storm.

The only way we will weather this perfect storm is if we do it together, not as a nation of individuals meeting our own selfish needs, but rather as a nation of one, committing all of our considerable energy and resources to our country’s selfless needs. Yes, America was founded on the rights of the individual. Yet, an essential part of the American ethos is also about a shared struggle against oppression and for the kind of country that our forbearers envisioned.

As the original version of the Pledge of Allegiance so evocatively memorialized: “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That is what America is all about. Now, more than ever, we must live up to the American dream and make it a reality. Only then will we have a chance to weather this perfect storm of 2020.