There is no Switch, Redux

The status quo ante is not just waiting for us around the corner.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled There is no Switch. The basic premise of the post was that just because we reopen does not mean we are going back to the status quo ante. As more states make the shift to lift restrictions, I think this point needs further emphasis and along those lines, I would recommend a piece at The Bulwark written actually one day before my linked post: We Cannot “Reopen” America.

The movement to “reopen” America is a fallacy based on a fantasy.
The fallacy is the notion that lifting stay-at-home orders will result in people going back to their normal routines. This is false. The state-issued stay-at-home orders did not determine most people’s desires to stay home—they merely ratified behaviors that the vast majority of people and institutions were already adopting in response to COVID-19.

The fantasy is that we can go back to what the world looked like 12 weeks ago. This is not possible now and will not be possible until we possess a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

Understand that I am not saying that stay-at-home orders should be indefinite. What I am saying is that whenever the stay-at-home orders are rolled back—whether it is tomorrow or a month from now—it will not result in anything like a “reopening” of the country.  And the sooner people grasp how completely and fundamentally the world has changed, the faster we’ll be able to adapt to this new reality.

He points to two examples, Las Vegas and movie theaters, to underscore how the basic issue here is not whether governors are opening or closing the economy, but rather highlighting that the real economic consequences of the virus are human reactions thereto.

I think the movie theater example is really telling. Most of us already have pretty nice televisions sets that allow us to enjoy a near-cinematic experience in our homes. Indeed, with streaming services, we also have access to practically any movie we could possibly want to watch (except current new releases). These factors alone will lead a lot of people to ask if going to the movie theater is worth the risk of catching Covid-19. Worse (for the theater industry) the main reason people go to the theater is to catch the next Big Action Movie. And, at the moment, there aren’t any because there is a fear by studios that either viewers won’t show up or that revenues would be down due to having to social distance in theater, which cuts down on ticket sales. So why risk a release right now?

It is a vicious cycle: no patrons disincentivizes new movies and the lack of new movies leads to fewer patrons.

If theaters open, but have no new movies to show, who is going to the movies save for some cinephiles who cherish the theater experience? That will not be enough to keep theaters open. It really does feel like this present moment could significantly alter the theater business, and by extension, Hollywood itself.

I recommend the whole piece but want to also take a minute to highlight the notion of “adapt[ing] to this new reality” because a major problem we have at the moment is not a national consensus on what that even means.

Instead of working towards some level of cooperation about what steps we take next, we are a situation in which individual states, cities, and even businesses are making their own choices. On the one hand, yay freedom! but on the other, the reality is that without some level of consensus we are going to flounder about while different people do different things and turn issues like mask-wearing (or not) into a political statement rather than a public health issue.

What we sorely lack is clear guidance because the only actor able to provide that guidance is the federal government via the President of the United States. We don’t need this guidance because we are incapable of making our own decisions. We need guidance because collective action is hard and we all need help coordinating. There is also the issue of basic trust. Trump’s approach undercuts public trust. It makes public health policy choices into partisan tests.

Letting everyone just do what they want may sound like a libertarian paradise, but just like we need traffic rules to coordinate the collective enterprise of driving, we need some rules to help guide the public health labyrinth that in the current pandemic. The only way that we don’t need this kind of shared agreement on behavior is if the disease simply isn’t as dangerous as it appears or if we really are willing just to let ten of thousands die because it was too difficult to decide if masks, social distancing, and/or some other policy choice was needed.

Trump has utterly failed at this basic task of the presidency. Instead of helping manage the crisis in a common, shared direction, he has been all over the place and now seems poised to want to pretend the crisis is pretty much over with (or that since nothing can be done, we are just going to soldier on).

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. David M says:

    The requests and protests that we need to reopen the economy should better be described as complaints that we are still lacking leadership and action from the federal government. There is no re-opening plan that isn’t based on making sure people feel safe enough to go out again.

    Right now, even if it was allowed, who would meet up with a dozen acquaintances at a crowded restaurant? How about attending a sold out sporting event or concert in an indoor arena? Go to a recital at an elementary school? Etc, etc

    We all stayed home in April because they were slow to react in February, and the outbreak was out of control. We’re still staying home in May because they are still wasting time, and there is no plan

    10
  2. grumpy realist says:

    Half of the complaints we’ve been having I feel are from people who unconsciously realise we’re not going to “get back to normal”. Their attitude seems to be “if I have enough of a tantrum, the rest of the world will fix itself.”

    Sorry, guys. The world doesn’t act as you want it to.

    8
  3. Michael Cain says:

    Good that you mention driving. Am I the only one that thinks people have gotten much more sloppy about their driving habits? The other day I was nearly hit twice in a single parking lot, once while I was in my car and once while I was walking to the grocery’s entrance. Both episodes were people ignoring where the lanes are painted and driving considerably faster than is typical for a parking lot. One appeared to be doing something with her phone and counting on people like me to get out of her way.

    1
  4. CSK says:

    @Michael Cain:
    I haven’t noticed anything like this, but I can see how it would happen. If there are lot fewer cars on the road, the temptation to do what you like must become overwhelming for some people.

    3
  5. Mikey says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Am I the only one that thinks people have gotten much more sloppy about their driving habits?

    Here in Northern Virginia we have no shortage of news items about people taking advantage of the sudden lack of traffic on area freeways to drive a lot faster than is prudent. I saw a Tweet a couple days ago from the county sheriff’s office where a driver had been cited (and summonsed) for doing 125 in a 55 on I-95 in the middle of the day. That certainly wouldn’t have been possible before so many people started working from home.

    1
  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven:

    It really does feel like this present moment could significantly alter the theater business, and by extension, Hollywood itself.

    I was pitching a TV series before all this fun started. Yesterday heard from the producers who asked if I had any clever way to virus-proof a production with a dozen cast members and untold hordes of crew. The thing is, if some studio is going to shell out millions they can’t have the stars rushing off to the hospital or dropping dead mid-shoot. Think about a feature where a studio is betting 100 million on the star power of an actor. The next Tom Cruise movie. . . oh, shit, Tom can’t smell his coffee and he’s got a fever.

    I’d love to hear from @Eddie on this as he knows a great deal more than I do, but the sense I get is that Hollywood thinks it can get back into production as early as June.

    As for movie theaters, good luck. NATO is furious at Universal over the Trolls World Tour and some chains now threaten to boycott all Universal movies. That’s a bold stance to take and it may hold unless Bob Iger says he’s going to start streaming first run stuff, because you can boycott Universal, but you cannot boycott Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney.

    4
  7. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I was pitching a TV series before all this fun started. Yesterday heard from the producers who asked if I had any clever way to virus-proof a production with a dozen cast members and untold hordes of crew.

    Perhaps all the kids could be wearing haz-mat suits?

    I actually suspect that if this keeps up we are going to see a lot more animation. It’s only a matter of time before Disney does an animated remake of the live action remake of Aladdin.

    8
  8. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Good that you mention driving. Am I the only one that thinks people have gotten much more sloppy about their driving habits?

    My driving is worse since it happens so rarely now.

  9. Teve says:

    This week several restaurants in North Florida opened up. Almost nobody is going to them.

    2
  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    My suggestion was unoriginal: quarantine. Lease an entire hotel, test everyone coming in, and bus people to and from sets. Include a nurse practitioner in the quarantine. Cater solely out of the hotel kitchen with catering staff also in quarantine. Clean all equipment. Total lockdown. Given that we’d be looking at streaming, ideally 8 episodes per, (and would already have issues of aging cast), shoot two seasons at once. That’d be ~ four months under lockdown. The actors would do it because young actors will do anything, but crew and execs?

    4
  11. Teve says:

    Why is it that nobody, without Googling, can tell us the administration’s plan for this virus?

    4
  12. Teve says:

    @Michael Cain: there’s always a tendency to think things are so much worse than they were back in the day. You got me curious so I found these statistics on a law firm’s website.

    50 Years Ago Versus Now

    Even though The United States is not performing the best out of some of countries in the world, it’s nice to know we have improved since 50 years ago. Taking a 10 year span from 2005-2015 and 1955-1965, we have decreased an average of 108 car accidents per 100,000 population.

    1955-1965: 237 car accidents per 100,000 population
    2005-2015: 129 car accidents per 100,000 population

    1
  13. CSK says:

    Oh. My. God. Apparently OAN (One America News, Trump’s new favorite) had a segment last night about how there is “mounting evidence of a globalist conspiracy” on the part of the Clintons, George Soros, Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, and the Chinese government to use Covid-19 “to establish sweeping population control.” They will accomplish this by backing remdesivir over hydroxychloroquine.

    So sayeth our president’s favorite “news” operation. Paging Alex Jones.

    5
  14. Teve says:

    @CSK: it’s bad enough with Fox News Republicans. If Congress starts getting controlled by OANN Republicans, the blue states are going to need to hit the ejector seat.

    4
  15. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    Don Jr. is involved in some sort of deal to acquire a major stake in OANN as a means of getting the elder Donald his own network.

    2
  16. Joe says:

    @Michael Reynolds: My son is looking for production work in LA. 4 month lock down seems a small price to pay for experience.

    4
  17. @Michael Reynolds: In regards to the Trolls movie, this is a wow:

    Within a couple of weeks of its online debut, the Trolls movie shattered Universal’s most optimistic models, grossing about $200 million, and convinced the studio that some of its films could turn a profit without a theatrical release.

    Via Bloomberg.

    2
  18. @Teve:

    This week several restaurants in North Florida opened up. Almost nobody is going to them.

    My wife and I were talking last night that even when restaurants open up next week (50% capacity) we will continue to do take-out. It is more pleasant eating on our back porch in any event and the drinks are cheaper.

    8
  19. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Food, shelter, and a social group that has been entirely isolated from covid? Essentially a tiny town with well controlled access points where anything coming in is scrubbed, disinfected and quarantined?

    Honestly, I’m surprised there aren’t resorts offering packages like this. It would require the staff being quarantined with the residents, and it would get very expensive very fast, but for the $100M crowd, they could afford a disinfected staff — maybe create a staff ghetto that is demonstrably less comfortable. IKEA furniture for the staff.

    You arrive, you get tested, enjoy an isolated cabin for two weeks with meals and clean laundry delivered, get tested a few more times in the process, and then get to move to the central resort.

    2
  20. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK:

    Don Jr. is involved in some sort of deal to acquire a major stake in OANN

    Whew! Well that’s one threat averted. With a Trump involved they’ll be bankrupt in months.

    11
  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Four months safe isolation in company with several hundred people, hotel bar, hotel pool, meals and housekeeping? As we say in software, if you can’t fix it, feature it.

    6
  22. Kathy says:

    @David M:

    Right now, even if it was allowed, who would meet up with a dozen acquaintances at a crowded restaurant?

    MAGA-hats and other morons.

    3
  23. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’d love to hear from @Eddie on this as he knows a great deal more than I do, but the sense I get is that Hollywood thinks it can get back into production as early as June.

    Several studios are ramping up already, with some personnel allowed back on the lots. The show I was working on wrapped in January, and I haven’t gotten a paycheck since. I was supposed to start up again mid May, but that will probably pushed to mid July with a hopeful start of shooting first week in September. Television will ramp up faster than features, as it’s easier to control. Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Sony, and Disney all have preliminary plans in place for reopening. It’s going to be a different world in production. Everything we did before will now have to be rethought through the prism of Covid-19 and it’s contagiousness. Hair, Make Up, and Wardrobe will be changed forever. So will catering and craft services. Video village will shrink. Walkie Talkies will not be shared or swapped out. Cleaning and sanitation crews will be constantly working. Locations will be curtailed.

    Make no mistake. Production will ramp up soon. There are huge pipelines to fill. My work will evolve into part time remote work. Alot of the prep will be done via conference calls and video conferences. Only essential personnel will be on set, as opposed to the past where everyone who wanted to be on set showed up, even if they didn’t need to be there.

    It’s gonna be interesting. I’m both terrified and excited. We shall see.

    6
  24. Teve says:

    @green_footballs

    I notice Trump isn’t shouting KEEP AMERICA GREAT so much anymore.

  25. Teve says:

    Obviously right wingers don’t win prizes for having big brains, but this idiot brought a bazooka to a Subway.

    idiot

    2
  26. Mikey says:

    @Teve: Because there is no plan beyond hoping America gets used to 3000 dead a day for the foreseeable future.

    Horrendous.

    3
  27. Michael Cain says:

    @Teve: I was just getting old enough to take a real interest in cars near the end of that period. Things are indeed so much better these days: radial tires, disk brakes, ABS, enormously improved suspension, and on and on. I learned to drive in a ’53 Buick. If you needed to change lanes, you made an appointment (“How about Tuesday? Would Tuesday be good?”). Getting that mass stopped with those little brake pads was much the same. It wallowed around corners. My little Honda Fit stops and accelerates much quicker and is a lot more agile.

    I’m talking about the last eight weeks. My perception, at least, is that people have become more careless just in that time. The parking lot thing. Drifting out of their lanes and then recovering. I haven’t seen anything like Mikey described, but I am now regularly passed by people doing 60 in the 40 zone, something that used to be very rare.

    2
  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    The irony is that the “Reopen or die” crowd is actually making reopening harder. The more people see nuts running around in public refusing to comply with any safety precautions whatsoever, the more they’ll want to stay home to avoid the risk of running into them.

    12
  29. Mike says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Every parent who can, will pay $20 + for a kids movie release. Few hours of peace…

    2
  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Teve: I don’t think that Google-fu will help matters….it’s about as understandable as the Voynich manuscript. And at least that had pretty pictures.

    1
  31. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    @EddieInCA:

    Saw this article Why the porn industry has a lot to teach us about safety in the Covid-19 era

    It seems to be a workable model for many industries and individual companies. Not perfect, but nothing is.

    Re-opening will be a slow, painful process that will suddenly be curtailed again due to outbreaks of the virus. Eventually, after a vaccine regime has been implemented, we’ll return to a new-normal. We’re not going back to January, 2020.

    3
  32. Kenny says:

    @EddieinCA … If you don’t mind my asking … what sort of work is it that you do in TV? We were just having this as an idle conversation here and it turned into an impact-via-perspective-and-role sort of thing …

    1
  33. EddieInCA says:

    @Kenny:

    Currently, I am a Producer or Line Producer or Co-Producer on network TV series, mostly. In the past, I’ve also worked on features, but not at the Producer level. I’ve been in the business for 38 years, going back to shows like Hotel, Dynasty, even The Love Boat while working at ABC Television.

    1
  34. CSK says:

    @EddieInCA:
    Line producing is a ton of work.

    1
  35. Matt says:

    @Teve: Holy cow wth. It’s an empty tube for god’s sake. What his official AR is in the shop or something? Might as well have a giant spray painted cardboard tube tied to his back lol..

  36. EddieInCA says:

    @CSK:

    Not if you love it. And I do. I freaking love going to work and I look forward to the new normal whatever it will be.

  37. Mister Bluster says:

    The recent obit post for Richard Friedman mentioned some 70’s gay sitcom characters.
    Now @EddieInCA: has tripped my memory of the show Hot l Baltimore.
    All I remember is laughing when a character(s) came down the stairway behind the registration desk.