Is it time to get back to “normal”? Maybe, but not yet.
By Paul Rozycki
“It ain’t over till it’s over” -Yogi Berra
There is a feeling of spring in the air. The days are getting warmer. The snow is melting. More and more people are getting the COVID vaccine. The Flint water crisis seems to reaching some sort of conclusion. And the divisive, tumultuous election of 2020 is now history.
So, we’re ready to move on and get back to “normal”…Right?
No so fast. After a week of spring-like temperatures in mid-March, we fell back to a week of wintery chill, as Michigan often does. Just when we were about the get the garden tools out, the snow shovel is still waiting in the garage.
COVID-19 cases rise
Yes, the vaccination rates are moving along better than expected. Over 100 million people have been vaccinated so far, and soon nearly everyone will be eligible to get their shots. But the virus is still out there, and as many states let down their guard, the infection rates are starting to jump up again. In particular, Michigan has shown a significant spike in cases in the last few weeks. Many states have dropped their mask requirements, and eased entertainment and dining restrictions. More schools are returning to traditional classroom learning. College students enjoyed spring break with little regard for social distancing or masks. Along with melting snow and warmer weather there is the feeling that the cold hard COVID crisis is past.
It isn’t. In the last few weeks Michigan’s infection numbers have started to edge upward once again. The initial success against COVID caused many to step back from the actions that have led to progress. Even as the vaccine becomes more available, a surprising number of people say they won’t get the shot. One recent poll indicated that 42 percent of Republicans probably won’t get the shot. In recent weeks, much of Europe has been forced to shut down as their numbers began to climb again.
What may be most worrisome is that, if the virus is given more time to spread, and mutate, those new mutations may be more threatening than the current version of the virus. If the virus can be stopped, so can the mutations, and we can be confident that the current vaccines will continue to be effective.
It’s not over yet. We’re getting there, and with luck, by this summer we may be able to return to something that resembles “normal”. We’re almost there. But that will only happen if we hang on a little longer, stick with the masks, social distancing, and make sure we all get our shots.
Flint residents wait for water crisis resolution
After more than five years, it seemed that the Flint water crisis was on track to be finally resolved as the year began. Nearly all the pipes had been replaced, the water was testing better, and a legal settlement had been reached over the civil lawsuits. Even the criminal cases were moving forward. But, like the pandemic, we’re getting there, but it isn’t quite over yet.
As Rowe Professional Services prepared to check and replace the pipes in Flint’s last 500 homes, the city council voted against the final $500,000 payment for the services. It’s not clear whether the action was a response to the fact that Rowe was a party to the civil lawsuit over the water crisis or some other factor. But, at the very least, it may delay the final pipe replacement in the city.
The water crisis seemed to reach another final stage as the $640 million lawsuit against the state of Michigan, the city of Flint, McLaren hospitals, and Rowe Professional Services was approved by Federal District Judge Judith Levy early in the year. The funds are to be allocated to those harmed by the Flint water crisis, particularly those under age 18. However, the settlement was delayed when the attorneys bringing the lawsuits requested $202 million in legal fees, about 33 percent of the overall water crisis settlement. As a result of the public reaction against the large legal fees, Judge Levy will be reviewing the settlement and may reduce the percent paid to the attorneys. While a 33 percent fee is common for many routine lawsuits, there are legal precedents that would limit attorney fees in what are called “megafund” cases, like Flint’s. How long that takes remains to be seen, but it may take longer than expected before any checks are in the hands of those harmed by the water crisis.
Can we restore trust after the 2020 election?
After one of the most divisive and contentious elections in American history, it seemed that we could put that behind us as we entered 2021. There have been more than 60 unsuccessful legal challenges to the election results, charges of cheating and fraud, and an ex-president who sulked off to Mar-a-Lago, and refused to be part of the Biden inauguration on Jan. 20. After all the auditing, checking, and double checking, the 2020 election may have been the most fair and honest in our history, and it looked like we were about to return to “normal” elections in the future.
Not quite. According to some conspiracy theories, some expected Donald Trump to be inaugurated for a second term on March 4, others thought that somehow Pres. Biden was Trump in disguise. Rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block the vote count. Many refused to accept the election results months after they were made official.
Beyond the QAnon style conspiracies, more than 40 states have introduced 250 laws that would make it more difficult to vote in the future. A few of them may have been reasonable, such as cleaning up registration rolls, but most were aimed at discouraging voters, (particularly minority and Democratic voters), by limiting absentee or mail-in voting, closing polling places, and restricting early voting. On the national level there is legislation (HR.1) that would protect voting rights. It has passed in the U.S. House but may have a tough time in the Senate.
The 2020 election may be history, but the divisions and distrust are still there and it looks like we’ll be dealing with both for some time before we get back to “normal” elections, where the winners celebrate, and the losers graciously concede, and wish their opponents, and the nation, the best.
It will be over
While all these delays might be discouraging, there is at least some good news. While it’s true that “It ain’t over till it’s over,” there will be a time when it really will be over. The pandemic will end, the water crisis will be settled, and we will have elections that are trusted and open to all voters.
It may take longer than expected, but in the end, we will be able to get the garden tools out, and put the snow shovel away, at least until next winter.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.