Charting potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

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GRAPHIC BY PHOEBE KALLAHER

There are few ultimates in this world, the greatest one above all is the future itself. Sometimes it feels right in the grasp of our mortal hands, at other times it feels as uncontrollable as the clouds in the sky.

Whatever the case, with our current predicament of isolation or full-on quarantine, it is smart to hypothesize the future ahead. Where a chapter that has lasted for nearly a century will come to a close, extremism will rise, and a new order will take a mantle left behind. And to best look at this, we must look at the last major pandemic and how it changed the world with it: the Spanish Flu.

The Spanish Flu took a heavy burden on the world and is our best source when looking at the after-effects of a mass pandemic. It was first documented in Europe in 1918, but the exact location of its start is unknown to this day due to censorship of the press at the time. It is scarily similar to the current virus we have, attacking the respiratory system, mainly killing immuno-compromised people, and spreading from hand to face contact. Its total death toll is estimated to be around 20-100 million people.

Foremost, a sad certainty of this virus’ after-effects is xenophobia. Already, we are seeing an increase in racist acts against Asians. General physical dissent is shown with accounts of people moving away at first sight of them on the rise. The Spanish Flu was much the same. Even though the disease didn’t originate anywhere near Spain, it still took the name due to various complications, such as Spain being one of the first nations to not censor news of the virus. Although the discrimination caused by this naming was never widespread, it still caused rancor among the Spanish people at those who labeled the disease. I believe the current status of American politics may lead to a far worse outcome in this regard.

Xenophobia has existed in the United States and other countries for as long as there have been countries. In 1918, during the Spanish Flu, a group of 125 white nurses at the Los Angeles County Hospital threatened to quit when the hospital allowed African-American nurses to work there. This shows how a pandemic exposes and puts xenophobia in power once again, due to fear, and fear in most cases leads to extremism.

The current political divide in the United States has made this extremism greater. This is a major reason the fallout of COVID-19 will be a monumentally terrible one socially. The current extremism will cause a tidal wave of anger and xenophobia against Asian-Americans. Stereotypes will be reinvigorated, as already “Bat-Eater” has been sadly popularized and the reemergence of the “disgusting and barbarous Chinese” stereotype will almost surely come.

The Coronavirus will lead to the downturn of the economy and isolationism. Following the Spanish Flu and World War I, the United States entered a period of isolationism and an economic boom in the 1920s. In our current times, that economic boom will not come. The current world economy is already failing to handle this crisis, and a recession is almost sure to happen. Poverty and unemployment rates will soar in the United States, causing unrest and anger among the working class. Conservative law-makers will use this to their benefit, because with a crisis comes a scapegoat, a truly despicable but highly efficient weapon.

Isolationism will return to the United States, along with a firmer anti-immigration stance. Extremist law-makers will tear the divide in American politics further apart, causing greater anger and distrust between liberals and conservatives. Asian-Americans will be used as a scapegoat to push the agenda of Conservative law-makers, starting a new era in the seemingly never-ending trend of American xenophobia. The economic recession will set up a perfect backdrop for politicians to scapegoat minorities, and easiest of all, immigrants. Immigrants are barred from voting in many states, and hold fewer rights, leaving them an easy target to fear campaigns. All of this chaos will lead to neo-American isolationism. Both the Democratic and Republican parties will change their stances on foreign policy, mainly due to being faced with the fact that the government’s budget can’t handle the cost of an aggressive foreign policy. Trump had already been moving in this direction prior to the pandemic.

President Trump has led a disastrous foreign policy, allowing China to form a vast trade network with authoritarian regimes across Asia, Africa, and Europe. China has also isolated India, America’s greatest ally in South Asia. Disentanglement will become a major buzzword thrown around as both political parties turn against an aggressive foreign policy. That, with the recession making its enormous cost more relevant, will lead to a major reduction in America’s presence overseas. The Middle East will be abandoned because the booming shale oil industry in Texas will make the need for foreign oil irrelevant. The United States will defund many of its offshore bases, maybe even abandoning a few. This all plays into COVID-19 being the final nail in the coffin of the “Age of America.”

Many experts predicted that this century was to be the “Century of Asia” such as the last was the “Century of the United States,”and it seems it has become a correct prophecy. But still, China will be left in a vulnerable position. It’s economy, though not sustaining the same damage as Europe and America, will still be on the decline for a bit following the pandemic. Even now, as the amount of cases slows down in China, the Chinese government is trying to jumpstart the economy. The thing that will keep China in its position of power is its modern trade league. Many poor Asian nations are reliant on China, such as Cambodia and Mongolia. They hold no hostile borders, except for possibly Vietnam and definitely India. And this is where the alternative path goes, the Path of India.

If China were to truly suffer an economic blow due to the pandemic, it wouldn’t be the Americans who would get the most out of it, it would be the Indians. If India is to “come into its own” as a world power, it sits upon one of the most lucrative trade regions in the world. Along with a growing tech industry, India is on the cusp of threatening China’s rule of the Indian Ocean. But this is a path that is far more unlikely. A miracle would have to occur for India to get the influential power needed to project its influences across the Indian Ocean. In most cases of the future after the pandemic, China is set to win, and they will continue to isolate Indian trade.

As a result of COVID-19, xenophobia will rise alongside extremism in the United States. The almost guaranteed recession will lead to the scapegoating of immigrants and Asian-Americans and the United States will become more isolationist. This will end the “Age of America” and most likely leave China to pick up the mantle and truly begin the “Century of Asia.”
In Brookline, it’s somehow harder to imagine what will happen. I hope to think that those in our town will be better than the people who will spread rampant xenophobia and lies soon to come after this crisis. But in the end, it’s the future. And the future is anything but fully predictable, I believe the entirety of this year so far is the best example of that in many of our lives.

For the time being, social distance and wash your hands.