I recently sent an email to my doctor, who’s slightly older than me but who I fervently wish will never retire, and to my dentist, whose advice not to allow any European dentists to touch my teeth I have followed religiously, and I wished them both well. I thought they’d probably enjoy receiving a communication these days that wasn’t about a health problem.
What with the parks, museums, and palaces closed, lockdown here in Paris is pretty much like lockdowns everywhere else really, except for its great bakeries, cheese shops, and wine shops. But in a country that has raised protesting to a fine art and a mass sport, the French are nonetheless puzzled by the recent anti-lockdown protests in the U.S.
As a result, they want to know why Americans are so selfish and care so little for their fellow countrymen, why they would rather believe unqualified conservative talk show hosts and politicians than expert scientists. They certainly want to know what this strange fashion love affair with ugly camouflage clothing is all about, and what’s up with all the fetishizing of guns?
They’d like to know what happened to American world leadership, to that “shining beacon of light” so many once looked to for hope.
These and other questions made me reflect on communal sacrifice and American history. Do the current living generations (including mine) remember what Americans endured during World War II? For example, during the war years, everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables and fruit to gas, tires, clothing, and fuel oil was rationed – you were issued a book of special coupons required to buy these items and you could only buy so much per week. Communities conducted scrap metal drives for the war effort. To help build the armaments necessary, women learned to be electricians, welders, and riveters in defense plants. That was doing the right thing for your country.
Anne Frank and her family spent two years in an attic, hiding from the Nazis, but now here we are, after just one month of comparatively benign lockdown restrictions, and some Americans are going ballistic because their freedoms have been encroached upon. When did we become so spoiled? Has our sense of duty to our community and country gone out the window, along with our attention spans?
As in the U.S., stores and businesses are shuttered here in Paris. Fifty-percent of French private sector employees have been laid off, compared to 20% in the U.S. But, unlike the U.S., the French national government early on quickly passed measures to provide payroll continuation plans and the socialized medicine service already existed.
I can see the French people bending lockdown restrictions but protests here have been limited to mini-riots in poor neighborhoods in reaction to heavy-handed police tactics. There are no large protests or parades defaming democratically-elected officials doing their jobs, no demands for the “right” to be infected and to infect others.
I’m not lobbying for more or longer restrictions; I’m also suffering from “cabin fever”, and I’m sympathetic to those who are unemployed, unsupported, and afraid. But the U.S. is quickly becoming the world’s poster child for delusional selfishness, and it’s not entirely due to its President. U.S. mass culture, business practices, and education systems, and its other leaders are all part of the problem. They celebrate and reward the worst behaviors, glamorize greed and selfishness, care not for the awful impact of their actions, and never, ever seem to learn from previous mistakes.
France coalesced into a single kingdom from a collection of kingdoms in 987, over a thousand years ago. It has survived kings, religious wars, plagues, the Renaissance, revolutions, and two world wars and yet remains a strong country today. Sadly, I’ve started to wonder whether the infant U.S. (244 years) will last as long.