You Have Nothing Nice to Say About Coronavirus

There are some who grasp the importance of situations early and others who take more time to absorb new developments. One challenge for the early adopters is that others might find them tiresome or even a bit nuts.

One such person was having a conversation about the coronavirus with his wife back in January or early February. It is possible he misjudged her interest in the latest details. No matter because he elicited one of the funniest lines ever: “you have nothing nice to say about the coronavirus.”

Both Hillary Clinton and former White House Chief of Staff and Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel are credited with the phrase “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” though they might have pinched it from Stanford economist, Paul Romer.

Could anything happen in the coming months or years to enable us to say something nice about the coronavirus?

I am a fan of Bruce Mehlman, a name partner in the government relations firm, Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas. Once a quarter, he comes out with a thought provoking slide deck and, for the third quarter of 2020, it is called “The Great Acceleration – How 2020’s Crises Are Bringing the Future Faster.”

I have cherry picked a few of his slides to suggest some things that might actually improve as a result of this unusual year. Unsurprisingly for a government relations firm, he also has some observations about the November elections. Equally unsurprisingly for 2020, the majority of his observations relate to developments that one might prefer to move in the opposite direction.

Lest anyone wonder whether 2020 is really as disruptive as it seems, it is. In the last 120 years, there have been three with multiple “super-disruptive events,” but never more than three at a time. This year has four. Not just sure how World Wars I and II avoided Mehlman’s scrutiny.

In the near term, the odds for change in November seem high. In the 20 elections from 1960, there were seven changes of party in either the White House, the Senate or the House of Representatives. In the 10 elections since 2000, there have been eight. The odds have more than doubled from 35% to 80%.

Be careful what you wish for in November, because the party that loses might be the first to imagine what it has to do better. There is a gap in the political middle because it is perceived to be more expensive to change minds than to energize the base. Only about 54% of US voters have turned out in the last 10 presidential elections so there are plenty of untapped voters (though there is no correlation between non-voters and centrists). If a political party saw its future in the middle, I would score that as something nice to say about the coronavirus.

Here are three areas with significant room for improvement. Some will move voluntarily, and others will need to be pushed.

Imagine a Moneyball scenario (more player skill at lower cost) for hiring new college graduates. I hope some bright engineer is at work on ways to discern the real value an individual might contribute to an enterprise as an alternative to blind reliance on brand name colleges. It is hard to think of an endeavor more in need of a shakeup than higher education unless it is college sports.

The ability to live anywhere rather than in dense and expensive urban centers would be another major improvement. Maybe Whole Foods / Cracker Barrel divide would even diminish? For overseas readers, Whole Foods is an upscale grocery store while Cracker Barrel is a chain of family restaurants featuring almost exactly the opposite food choices. The Whole Foods Cracker Barrel divide is widely used in political discussions, especially on the subject of voter sorting.

I find it difficult to imagine that any of the five items on this slide would be a bad development.

Sadly, it appears to me that political reform is the least likely because there are too many diehards holding the levers. They will seek just one more bite of the Washington apple and misjudge the arrival of pitchforks and torches.

There might be far more bad things to say about 2020 and the coronavirus, but wouldn’t it be good if there were at least a few nice things to say about it?

18 Responses to “You Have Nothing Nice to Say About Coronavirus”

Ron Bogdasarian, August 16, 2020 at 3:54 pm said:

1. Less energy use. Maybe it can be sustained to help slow global warming
2. Some have learned the illusion of American exceptionalism. Time to (re)establish true strengths and abilities
3. Medical science is making great effort to manage and eventually control Covid-19, an accelerant for future challenges
4. Maybe a few more will recognize the snake-oil con man who rode into town


Haven Pell, August 16, 2020 at 6:16 pm said:

Here’s a goal though I am not confident it will be achieved. There are 32.8 million people in our top decile of the population measured by the skills needed for the 537 federally elected official jobs on offer. Let’s choose only from that group. Or at least not exclude them.


Meg Dodge, August 16, 2020 at 9:23 pm said:

5. American families are spending more time together and relearning how multiple generations can live with each other.


Haven Pell, August 17, 2020 at 10:33 am said:

Great thought, Meg. That could be a story all by itself. Wonderful to hear from you.


Allankeene, August 16, 2020 at 4:28 pm said:

in America it pays to be always optimistic..
I carry in my wallet a saying from J.P. Morgan..”The man who is a bear on the future of the United States will always go broke”..
Warren Buffet agrees..
In my time. Graduating from college in 1968. Race riots, assassinations, Vietnam War, a hated draft, Watergate, recessions, oil shocks,
End of Soviet Union, subprime fiasco and now the pandemic and Racism and Trumpism..

I wager 10 years from now when I am 83 I will look back and say the past 10 years led to telemedecine, the decline of fossil fuel, the reform of education, the end of student loans and who knows what…

Better to be an optimist than to live as a frightened pessimist hiding in a what end..


Haven Pell, August 16, 2020 at 6:10 pm said:

Like the optimism. Rooting against offsetting negatives.


Garrard Glenn, August 16, 2020 at 4:48 pm said:

It may be that the virus affords Big Pharma the opportunity to understand and combat killer illnesses
better than they ever have. For pharmacology, this is a Sputnik moment. I have always found the phrase “never let a crisis go to waste” rather glibly obnoxious, but in this case, there might be something to it.


Haven Pell, August 16, 2020 at 6:09 pm said:

could not agree more on the glibly obnoxious phrase. Perhaps we could add “opportunistic?”


Haven Pell, August 16, 2020 at 6:07 pm said:

might be better if that was not a byproduct of the virus


Russell Seitz, August 16, 2020 at 6:16 pm said:

Apart from its failure to recall Scientific American publisher, and Esquire editor Gerard Piel as the author of the best-selling book, ‘The Acceleration of History’, The Great Acceleration ‘s riff ignores the rise of comic book and graphic novels , and their Hollywood apotheosis as the foundation of a cultural phenomenon verging on an internet for the illiterate.

Where is McLuhan now that we need him? Tune into this evening’s premiere of ‘Lovecraft Country’ on HBO, and you’ll see what I mean.


Livingston Miller, August 16, 2020 at 6:20 pm said:

Dear Pundificator, the good Mr. Mehlman is wrong about 1968 in fact there was a little known, but serious, pandemic in that fateful year which would give it 4 “Yeses” like 2020. Check this link from the CDC…


Haven Pell, August 16, 2020 at 6:24 pm said:

Good call Livy. I have heard about it but only in recent years. Why didn’t we know about it then? Wasn’t that the summer we drove across the country?


Haven Pell, August 17, 2020 at 10:59 am said:

Liv, I just looked back at Bruce Mehlman’s slide and it shows that there was a pandemic in 1968 but no recession, hence back to only three disruptors for that year.


John Austin Murphy, August 16, 2020 at 6:58 pm said:

Well done…being thought provoking is always a good thing.


haven Pell, August 17, 2020 at 10:35 am said:

Anything that increases the ratio of thought-provoking to endlessly-partisan has to be a good thing.


Susan Weiss, August 20, 2020 at 7:19 pm said:

Hi Haven,
Jim and I say hello. Fyi, Bruce MEHLMAN’s mom and I were college classmates and chaired our 25th reunion.
All best, Susan


Haven Pell, August 20, 2020 at 8:05 pm said:

Susan, great to hear from you. Hope you and Jim are doing well. As long as Bruce keeps doing his quarterly slide decks, I will keep writing about them. He is terrific. Cheers, Haven


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