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The Covid-19 Class of 2020

Francis Wilkinson

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The Class of 2020 has been doubly cursed. They entered college in the late summer of 2016. A few months later their elders ushered Donald Trump into the presidency. Now their final weeks at school are a sad, sputtering fiasco of remote learning, social distancing and mounting dread.

My own offspring, a senior, has generally made the best of her college experience, collecting friends and acquiring the kind of knowledge that you can pluck off the shelf at reputable institutions of higher learning. Lately, however, she has taken to messaging me with eminently sensible queries about whether her initiation into adulthood is inconveniently shadowed by apocalypse.

My answers lack conviction. I keep saying things will get better — provided she and her young friends vote in November and don’t fall into the generational trap of “Bernie or Bust.” But my encouragement must sound increasingly hollow. Cities and states are shutting down as a dangerously unprepared nation braces for viral outbreak. The financial markets, where avarice once again has routed foresight, are indulging their gyrating talent for panic.

It’s difficult to argue, under present circumstances, that the world is not speeding to hell in a designer handbasket. The crook and liar who entered the White House shortly after my daughter and her classmates entered college is presiding over a national disaster that highlights the blatant pathologies that made him unfit for the office in the first place. Given the opportunity to remove him, Republican senators instead protected him, preserving his capacity to mismanage and exacerbate a crisis that could lead to hundreds (thousands?) of deaths.

How does a parent explain that with an air of reassurance?

On campus orientation day four years ago, the U.S. was governed by an informed, rational and ethical president. Yes, all the familiar fault lines were evident, and there was a creeping sense of unease along with a partisan clown show in Congress. But executive branch competency was high, and ethical standards were generally viewed to be as well.

As these same students prepare for graduations that may not take place at all, the executive branch is in shambles. The president’s incapacity is magnified by his faltering staff. No one can succeed in this perpetually broken administration, or ever will, because of the malignancy at its center.

Meanwhile, the texts from my daughter keep coming. She is unnerved by the reckless malice displayed by her parents’ generation, which bears the greatest responsibility for foisting this grotesque on the world. And she is concerned about those younger than herself. What happens to kids enrolled in school-lunch programs when their schools are shut down? How will they be fed? She suggests that we focus locally, where there are plenty of needy kids and we have a better chance of having a positive impact.

It’s smart advice. The thought — and the impending need — hadn’t occurred to me. I have been wallowing too much in outrage. Though I’m heartened by her capacity to think positively and pragmatically at such a time, I can’t quite bring myself to tell her that things will turn out OK. The Class of 2020 is graduating into an epidemic, in a nation governed by a conservative political party that is itself deeply sick.

Meantime, in exchange for useless advice from her parent, my soon-to-be-graduate has provided me with marching orders. Don’t provide food, she says. Money is what social-service organizations need to feed the hungry. I appreciate the guidance. In times of widespread institutional failure, individual instances of leadership are especially welcome.

To contact the author of this story: Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.

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