Peggy Noonan has written a very provocative piece entitled “The Old New York Won’t Come Back”, in which she contemplates the very realistic notion that, after one year, the pandemic has shaped a fundamental transformation of what we can consider “normal”. And I don’t mean anything like the flippancy of the term “new normal”; I mean, and I think she means major change in how we perceive what has really happened to us. As she says, “we keep saying the pandemic changed everything, but I’m not sure we understand the words we’re saying.” She believes that it will be decades before we fully appreciate what the pandemic did to us.
And by “us”, she is referencing New York, but I would suggest that we could pretty much substitute America for New York and be safely in bounds–the old country won’t come back. I’m a “war baby” of the generation born during World War II, and for all of my life, and that of the succeeding “boomers” as well, the point of reference for trends in American culture, economics, religion, business, education, technology, entertainment, foreign affairs, and way of life has been “postwar”, meaning since World War II. But the times are hyper-transformational, and it is possible that we will be shifting from this point of reference to “post pandemic”.
Noonan says we can’t stay fixed in the Before Times, we’re in the After Times, and I agree we won’t fully know what that means for maybe 20 years, but we can’t wait to adjust. She thinks that times like these will require more artists who see the broad shapes of things, not an analyst who sees only data points. I think of Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave, the most strategic book I have ever read. The first wave was launched by the agricultural revolution, the second by the industrial revolution, and the third by the information revolution. Are we ready for the fourth? There will be mistakes in vision, but never have we needed visionaries more than now. Henry Kissinger once said that great leadership means taking people from where they are to where they have never been. We’ll need plenty of those kinds of leaders and we will also need to maintain our grounding in, and even double down on, our country’s founding principles.