Port: Calm, my friends

Patrons leave the West Fargo Public Library loaded with books on Monday, March 16, after the announced closing due to the coronavirus outbreak. David Samson / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — Despite what you may have heard, this is not the new normal.

As this dark cloud of agoraphobia descends on our communities, we're all reading and viewing a lot of content telling us that our lives have been forever changed.

They haven't.

Not really.

We are a pampered people. Cynicism about America may be en vogue in 2020, but it's a cynicism born of plenty. We have time to complain because, on any typical day, the grocery store down the street is packed full of food. Our garbage is picked up from our curbs reliably. Clean water is plentiful, and the sewers reliably whisk our waste out of sight.


If we have trouble, police and firefighters and medics will descend with alacrity.

We can summon to our homes, with a few clicks on our smartphones, just about any product we could imagine.

Our nation's perpetually aggrieved socialists hold forth about revolution, and the plight of the working class, while ensconced before big-screen TVs.

They tap out their missives on thousand-dollar smartphones before completing their Stitch Fix orders.

Obesity kills more Americans than hunger.

These luxuries are serviced by an enormous and complicated but resilient network of infrastructures. Much of it private, the spontaneous creation of free markets serving demand with supply.

This comfortable cradle of consumerism has left us ill-prepared, emotionally, to deal with something like the COVID-19 outbreak. Pandemics and quarantines and shortages are things we read about happening in other parts of the world.

Not here.


This has unsettled some - on social media conspiracies and an almost steroidal hysteria run rampant.

Let's get some perspective.

Your neighbor is panicking about bare shelves at the grocery store, but during WWII, the federal government rationed things like food and clothing.

The coronavirus has disrupted our nation's economy, but in 1918 we lost approximately 675,000 people to the Spanish flu pandemic while simultaneously losing about 116,000 troops to World War I in Europe.

Yet in November of 1918, despite war and pestilence, we held a national midterm election (the Republicans took Congress from the Democrats).

In 1864 our country held a presidential election in the middle of the horrors of the Civil War.

Our nation has endured and thrived through the dustbowl and the depression, through stock market crashes and terror attacks and disease.

This, too, will pass.


What we need is calm.

We certainly don't need overreactions.

In the past 24 hours, I've had North Dakota readers bombarding me with ideas to use the billions in our state's Legacy Fund as some sort of coronavirus response.

At the national level, President Donald Trump wants our government to cut checks , representing money our government doesn't have, to give every American a financial boost.

This has proved a popular proposal with the political class who usually have to be more circumspect in their efforts to buy popularity.

We need to slow down.

Coronavirus is serious. The changes implemented to the way we go about our lives and business are appropriate (if aggravating) for the moment. They may prove, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been a bit of an overreaction, but in the here and now, better a too-strict response than the alternative.

Eventually, though, life will go back to normal, and hopefully, we'll have learned some things about how to stop this sort of thing in the future.


There are few concrete conclusions we can draw at the moment.

At the very least, let's hope we haven't done anything too stupid.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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