COVID-19, Healthcare, and American Identity (Part II)

The Henry Clay Center reached out to program alumni for their perspectives on COVID-19 and how it has impacted their communities and outlook on current events. Their responses offer a unique range of political opinions that reflect the diversity of thought among the Center’s alumni and the greater American public. This series pairs student op-eds that share a similar theme but diverge in opinion. The Henry Clay Center then offers its analysis of the two opinion pieces, identifying areas of agreement and opportunities for mutual understanding. Please be advised that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the Henry Clay Center or the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

The American Identity
By Kennedy Jones


Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the three ideals upon which the United States was founded. With these values lying at the core of our democracy, the collective actions of each and every American have served to further that more perfect union since its founding. Yet with this challenge, an unprecedented global health crisis, the American people are confronted with a crisis of identity like no other – to surrender those ideals in order to protect their families, friends, and neighbors. In these critical moments, we are accustomed to becoming closer than ever, and using those values as weapons against the adversity faced. Instead, we must surrender our freedom, and live with the reality that the fate of not only our country, but our own individual lives relies solely on the actions of others. 

This new state of disconnected interdependence will inevitably alter the fabric of our nation, and usher in a new wave of economic and political thought. It cannot be ignored that this crisis came at a time of great political unrest coupled with the splintering of ideology within both the Democratic and Republican parties. While the majority of the American People have put their partisan differences aside for the time being, it will not be long before we return to normalcy and must reconcile the long-term effects of this crisis. The uncertainty of our country’s future will inevitably outlast this pandemic, and raises a critical question to be answered by the American people over the course of the following decade – How will we define life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? 

In the United States, we have long been granted the privilege to determine for ourselves what constitutes a life, and furthermore how we desire to live it. Life today for most modern Americans, with little regard to age, location, or occupation, can be described in one word – busy. This culture of efficiency and drive may be producing a more accomplished, intelligent, and successful America, but has also led to a sense of purposelessness and discontent among many. In this somber time, we are all forced to press pause on this lifestyle, and return to a simpler time of reflection. In this time of introspection, many are reimmersing themselves in culture, literature, philosophy, and religion. This inescapable period of reflection is likely to spark a rebirth of appreciation for religion and morality, coupled with a slower lifestyle. How exactly this new attitude will manifest in our policies depends upon what values the American people adopt, but is guaranteed to be a powerful force in the political era, particularly in the redefinition of what each party stands for.

Liberty is perhaps the most integral of these values to the identity of the modern American, evident in the full utilization of freedom and independence in actions large and small. Yet this crisis has called upon the American people to surrender their world of choices in exchange for unprecedented levels of government influence upon their daily lives. Will the American people become accustomed to less personal liberties, or so hungry for freedom that they call for less regulation? Secondly, how will this impact our response to the economic crisis that comes with this extended shutdown? Perhaps we will take our laissez-faire economy to the next level, creating an open playing field for entrepreneurs and businesses to rebuild. But we may instead look to big brother for answers, granting the federal government a greater hand in our economy than ever before.

For the past decade, both policymakers and citizens alike are disconcerted by the divisive state of our current politics. In the wake of this tragedy, it is more necessary than ever for us to come together and answer the call for change. To do so, we must determine what set of comprehensive policies will create an environment that allows for the true pursuit of happiness. This means answering the question of healthcare, and how we can care for all Americans while understanding our fiscal and bureaucratic limitations, so we are better prepared for the next global health crisis. It means dealing with the economic ramifications of this shutdown, and rebuilding our economy to be even stronger than before. Most of all, it means ensuring a new wave of social, economic, and political equity like never seen before in our country’s history. When we meet this existential threat, I have no doubt that we will emerge resilient as ever, one step closer to that more perfect union. 

Kennedy Jones is a senior at Boyd County High School in Ashland, Kentucky. She will be attending Duke University in the fall with an intended double major in Economics and Public Policy. After college, she plans to pursue a career in law or public service.