by Robert E. Wright
The American Institute for Economic Research
The phrase “to jump the shark” at first referenced the point at which a television program started to lose its moorings, and its audience. Specifically, it referred to the episode of Happy Days (1974-84, ABC) when “the Fonz” (played by Henry Winkler, now better known for his role as an acting teacher on HBO’s Barry) jumped over a shark tank on water skis. Ratings for the show did stay up after the episode because there were only 3 or 4 channels available back then. Many fans, including this then eight-year-old, however, became mere viewers after that episode.
Today, though, the phrase has expanded to include any turning point eventually ending in disaster.
Lots of folks, from politicians to used car salesmen, are trying to calm fears associated with the COVID-19 pandemic by harkening back to America’s glorious past. “We” can get through this, they say, because “we” successfully traversed worse travails. The problem with that analysis is the “we” has changed. Yes, America suffered invasion and the destruction of the national capital in 1814, a long, bloody Civil War, and so forth. But the Americans who preserved or prevailed then are all long gone, as are many of the nation’s most important institutions.