Covid-19 and Trauma

Covid-19 and Trauma

By Bill Fletcher, Jr 

When humanity recovers from the plague – COVID-19 – there will be a new normal. This goes beyond the unknown numbers of people who have been sick or died. And it goes beyond the deep economic impact that this plague has already had on the planet. It’s about trauma. It’s about how most of us will be feeling.

I grew up as a child of parents who lived through the Great Depression. They did not suffer the worst of the worst effects from that economic calamity, but it did leave an impact. It affected the decisions that they made; the risks that they would take, or not; and it affected a basic sense of insecurity. They saw how everything could disappear, almost overnight.

Those who will survive this plague – and we shall survive it – will be forever marked by the experience. In all our progressive movements, institutions and organizations, we need to start considering the implications and how we shall address them.

This pandemic has made us all feel vulnerable. We may have, intellectually, expected the possibility of a pandemic, and we may even have experienced an epidemic or pandemic (e.g., Ebola, HIV/AIDS, etc). But the scale of COVID-19 is unprecedented, as is the potential for a long-term medical impact on those who have experienced the virus. When I have said to my friends, “Any day that I awaken healthy is a good day!”, I am told that this resonates.               

The World After COVID-19

Long-term we will also be affected by the vulnerability associated with economic collapse. Yes, there have been economic collapses previously, but the rapidity with which this has unfolded has felt like the sinking of the huge cruise ship Lusitania in 1915, going beneath the waves in 20 minutes. Those who have had nothing will have less. And those who have had little will have nothing. And while the collapse unfolds, each of us still must struggle to find work or income.

This means that governments across the planet must abandon their years of neoliberal nonsense about the need for austerity and reduction in public services, as well as abandon the regularly debunked myth that the private sector can solve all. No, humanity must go in the diametrically opposite direction.

The world has changed dramatically and will continue to do so. Recovery will not be limited to either the economy or our physical health. It will need to be rooted in a combination of the regaining of confidence that there will be a tomorrow and a sense that all is not lost. We will have to believe that we are not alone and have never been alone, even when we found ourselves in physical isolation. This means a resurrection of a basic belief in collective action and progressive social solidarity.

We will rediscover the importance of friendships and kinship. But we will also face the reality that the global elites care little for what happens to any of us. We have been witnessing the resurgence of social Darwinism and the suggestion by the elites that millions of people – if not more – are dispensable and can, in fact, be told to go off and die.

Capitalism has always had a genocidal gene contained within it, but the appearance of COVID-19 and economic collapse have simply brought it to the surface. Now that it has surfaced, we must come to grips with it, indeed come to grips with the reality that there is no such thing as humane capitalism.

We Will Heal ... and Conquer

Our organizations and movements will have to pay attention to the trauma that we have all experienced as a result of COVID-19 and economic collapse. There will be anger and despair. There will be impatience and paralysis. And, while we shall conquer that which is debilitating, it will take time and, as a result. It will be part of the new “normal.”


Caption: Lieutenant (junior grade) Natasha McClinton, a surgical nurse, prepares a patient for a procedure in the intensive care unit aboard the U.S. the hospital ship USNS Comfort. 

Credit: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sara Eshleman

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