This third timeline is grim. Let’s not sugar-coat it. But it’s also avoidable. It takes the premise that America fails to overcome its divisiveness and work together toward common goals of getting the economy righted while also keeping people healthy.
Taken to its ultimate extremes, this ends badly. Just because it’s horrific, however, doesn’t make it impossible. It’s worth keeping some of these dark thoughts in the back of your head as you plan.
Testing is ineffective and not well distributed. Lack of FDA approval for antibody tests, counterfeit tests and more, mean that we never have a clear picture of how widespread the illness is or how to measure the effectiveness of various measures to combat the spread. Therefore, the disease itself continues to rage and even though the economy is open, people continue to die at an alarming rate. Living with the disease, social distancing, and wearing PPE when in public becomes the norm for many. For those who don’t follow these guidelines, protests and tensions persist as resentment grows on both sides: those who resent the lockdowns; and those who resent people whose defiance of restrictions only prolongs those restrictions and the death and suffering of many.
Almost exclusively due to a lack of widespread national testing, even parts of the economy that do open wind up closing again because of continued high rates of infection. Tensions grow between areas that are still under various degrees of social distancing and lock-down and those that aren’t. And tensions continue to boil up among those who prioritize their personal sense of freedom over the restrictions put in place for the good of the society writ large. Border checkpoints — some official and some set up by local extremist groups calling themselves “militias” — become more commonplace. Xenophobia increases with regard to people from Asia and of Asian descent, but it’s joined by a growing sense of geítonaphobia — or fear of your neighbors. State by state and city by city, urban vs. rural, Americans turn on each other. Fears of a new form of civil war grow.
Small businesses and retail take a massive, prolonged hit and many never recover. The shift to online and BOPIS (Buy Online Pick up In Store) accelerates rapidly. But this is a huge problem for real estate, especially in the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas. The revival of main streets comes to a crashing halt. K-12 schools don’t reopen in fall leading to a continued childcare/work-from-home crisis and bifurcation between those who can work remotely and those who can’t. Many colleges and universities — also unable to open — fail, creating a crisis of higher education.
Bickering at the federal level means that the stimulus is too slow and too rife with corruption and graft to be effective. The federal government tosses responsibility to the states who aren’t used to having the lead in many programs and services and aren’t equipped (financially or otherwise) to handle them. This leads to interstate competition, infighting and regional hegemonies that do little to unify or heal the nation and exacerbates existing blue and red state fault lines as well as rural/urban tensions within states themselves.
Stimulus money runs out in May and Congress can’t agree on further packages amongst partisan infighting. Governments at all level begin huge cuts in services and investment. Our infrastructure begins to literally collapse around us. The social safety net is depleted when people need it most. All of the “lack of retirement planning” tropes about the Boomers are exacerbated. The huge generational transfer of wealth that was supposed to save the Millennials vaporizes. The chasm between the 1% and the 99% widens to unsustainable levels. Fears of a “French revolution” rise.
State, local and federal authorities fail to coordinate plans for a massive mail-in ballot campaign which is wholly exacerbated by the default and subsequent privatization of the USPS, for which the Senate blocked a bailout supported by the House. Rampant reports of possible hacking, and, similar to the Wisconsin primary, accusations of voting locations being closed based on voter demographics for those who are allowed to vote in person. But the mail is a substantial problem to the point that the validity of the results is questioned after Biden’s apparent victory. The GOP challenges the results in every state they don’t win, and the court cases lead to a constitutional crisis.