The family that is Maryland.

March 20, 2021

Have you ever walked into a room and something doesn’t feel right? When there is a palpable sense that something is off, but you’re not sure exactly what? That there’s a subtext to what you are watching that you can’t quite make out?

Politically, for example, there has been a lot of talk about a profound change in the underlying philosophy of the Republican Party. It’s drifted – “fallen off a cliff” is more like it – from legitimate conservativism to power-mongering and survivalism. Even after the screen door of a second impeachment hit Mr. Trump on the tush on his way out of The White House, his party has doubled down on efforts to restrict voter participation.

That’s not conservative Republican policy. In fact, it’s outright un-American, antithetical to democracy. It’s not breaking news either but, this time, in the context of a pandemic, it somehow feels different. Could the plague be bringing something into focus we had conveniently managed to overlook?

In Florida, Governor DeSantis is taking credit for an economic recovery that his lack of more stringent COVID restrictions has encouraged – whatever the cost in terms of its impact on public health. Technically, he may be right, but there’s that feeling again. What’s up with the little hairs on the back of my neck?

Superficially, what’s wrong is that the success DeSantis is claiming came at the expense of people’s lives, but somehow that doesn’t seem to matter to him and his many supporters. Economic recovery for the many, whatever the cost to the relatively few.

And so I’ve been thinking, looking for a underlying common cause that should be the principal subject of our concern. It’s not the pandemic per se, but maybe COVID is giving enhanced clarity to our thinking now that the next unvaccinated breath you take might kill you or a loved one. It certainly has me paying more attention and asking better questions than I had been a year ago.

Most Marylanders live comparatively well in a generally progressive political environment and will survive and recover from the pandemic recession. Most of us, but not all of us.

Including the city of Baltimore, there are twenty-four counties in Maryland. Unfortunately, when we do recover, at least one member of our extended Maryland family will struggle more than the others to get back on its feet.

At best, Baltimore will still be Baltimore, with its crime, undereducated children, ineffective government, pervasive un- and under-employment and other chronic problems. And the rest of us, with few exceptions, will breathe a sign of relief. “Whew.” We survived, some better than others. “Baltimore has its own problems. So what? I live in __________ County.” You fill in the blank.

In a family of parents and children, if even one of them is suffering, the others feel the pain and do what they can to help. In very real terms, Maryland is an extended family, although it’s not generally how we envision ourselves. For that matter, so is the entire country. That we are a federation is just a political technicality.

The hard truth is that Baltimore cannot and will never recover and reverse decades of economic decline on its own, nor should it have to. The city is a member of our family Maryland – in very good standing, with a history and future from which we have and will all continue to benefit economically, socially and culturally.

It’s okay to feel good about our own situations. That there are differences among us is a good thing, in many respects, but not relevant. At the very least, a homogeneous family or community is boring. More to the point, it’s less productive.

The feeling that something isn’t right? I think it’s that our people – in Maryland and across the country – have lost, hopefully only temporarily, some of our collective soul that gave us the compassion and common sense to help others. Maybe fear and a heightened sense of our mortality have something to do with it. For whatever reasons, we are turning inward, more so than usual, and caring less about others even though this change of heart is at our own expense.

Even if you don’t agree on social grounds, think about the economics of selfish behavior. The facts are that all Marylanders will benefit financially from Baltimore once again becoming a thriving center for industry and commerce. The untapped potential of the city and its residents is extraordinary and not to be underestimated.

“Now that we know the problem,” he says with bold oversimplification, “maybe we can do something about it?”


Les Cohen
Columbia, Maryland

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