Saturday, October 16, 2021
Oct. 16, 2021

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Estrich: How will we live together?


And Then We All Watched Walter Cronkite . . .

What happened?

How was it that what we once celebrated — the triumph of vaccines, those cups of orange juice that spelled the end of the iron lung — are now viewed with suspicion by those whose lives are most in danger?

I remember the older brothers and sisters. I read Philip Roth. I imagined the playgrounds in Newark at the time of the polio plague. It was the generation before mine. It was history. It was relief.

It was hardly a time in which truth triumphed or justice reigned supreme. Not at all. Common falsehoods, more like it. Shared delusions, important ones, about who was winning the war, who was paying the price, about the corruption of power, about real conspiracies.

And yes, shared realities. Because at the end of the day, we all did go home and watch Walter Cronkite — and Peter Jennings, and Huntley and Brinkley. We watched the world from the point of view of the boys on the bus; we started the day with the front page of The New York Times; you didn’t show up at work at the White House or on the campaign plane without having already inhaled the Times and the Post, which told you what would be on the news that night.

It was, in its way, the upside of homogeneity, the strength that comes from a shared foundation, even one that is shaped by race and gender. And science. At least there is science, or what we think at any particular point in time is science — even when it is more sociology than biology.

So, for a while, we had science. But then there were those hippity-dippity pediatricians who sold that vaccines cause autism knuckleheadology — which caused countless kids to be exposed to diseases they could get from not being vaccinated; which somehow led the QAnon crowd to take over, the transmutation proving only that there are knuckleheads across the ideological spectrum.

And across the spectrum, they prey on children.

And when we lack consensus on anything, when there is no “legitimate media” anymore, how do we live together?

A pandemic requires us to live together.

A public health crisis will always weigh most heavily on those at the bottom.

Access to health care in this country is directly related to race, income, education, age and ZIP code. Take your pick.

We have witnessed the breakdown of fundamental norms of political decency in this country. What is striking to many people is not how shocking the Bill Clinton impeachment soap opera is to watch, but how absolutely ridiculous. After four years of Donald Trump, it is positively ludicrous that the Republican Party could turn a blue dress into an endless national soap opera.

Give me Ted Lasso and the spirit of optimism, decency and Christianity, which we have been craving, almost as much as we once did the reassuring voice of Walter Cronkite getting us through another challenging night.