Candide in America — Or the Optimistic Reopening of the Economy

In a large mansion in a wealthy American suburb, there lived a youth with the most gentle manners. Candide had lived his entire life sheltered from the dangers and realities of the world. Candide was privately tutored by Pangloss, a renowned and respected political philosopher and cable news pundit. Pangloss instilled in Candide the understanding that America was the best of all possible countries in the world.

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded throughout the world, Candide was not concerned. It was a Chinese virus, he thought. Because America was the best of all possible countries in the world, such a disease could not affect it. “Fake news!” declared Candide upon hearing that coronavirus had spread to America.

When the Governor declared a stay at home order, Candide resolved to venture out into the world. Although the Governor and medical experts said the pandemic was dangerous, the President said it was not. The President said that the disease would go away like magic. Candide knew that the President of the best of all possible countries must be the best of all possible Presidents, and so he listened to the stable genius and ignored the order to shelter in place.

Candide chanced upon a mega-church displaying a marquee that read, “God Protects Against COVID-19”. This made sense to Candide. After all, if America was the best of all possible countries, then it must be protected by God. And so, Candide walked into the Church where he heard the pastor proclaim, “we will not get the corona, because this is America and we are protected by Jesus’ blood.” Candide felt safe. He took communion from a shared chalice, shook hands with his fellow parishioners, and did not fret when one of them sneezed on him.

Candide spent the next few days taking in all that America had to offer: Costco, Walmart, Walgreens, anywhere with a crowd. When Candide began to feel ill he initially attributed it to his overconsumption of Costco samples and 99-cent hotdogs. But as he started to feel feverish and developed a dry cough that he could not shake, he reluctantly went to the hospital.

At the hospital, the doctors performed tests on Candide and determined that he had the novel coronavirus. As the hospital was at capacity, Candide was simply sent on his way.

“Go home and hope for the best,” the doctor urged. “Make sure you wash your hands.”

“But how is this possible? Is this not America, the best of all possible countries?” Candide shouted on his way out of the hospital.

“Oh, but it is the best of all possible countries, Candide!” shouted a familiar voice. It was his teacher, Pangloss. He was wearing a hospital gown and looked older and weaker.

“Pangloss! Whatever are you doing here?” Candide exclaimed.

“I drank bleach,” said Pangloss. “I heard that it would prevent coronavirus. It seems, however, that a side effect is that it will kill me. But this is the best of all possible countries. You see, in a terrible country, I would die of coronavirus but here, I have the freedom to drink bleach!”

“Oh,” said Candide, “that does seem like the best of all possible countries. But I have coronavirus and no treatment, how is that good?”

“Why Candide,” Pangloss explained, “it is plain to see why you would get coronavirus in this, the best of all possible countries. Were we to close the malls, people would be robbed of Hot Topic, The Gap, and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. Were we to close theaters, they would be forced to endure the next Fast and Furious movie via a streaming service. And were we to close restaurants, people would be stripped of the right to enjoy fast casual burritos in the comfort of their homes rather than in a strip mall decorated with generic tex mex decor. These freedoms aren’t just what make America great, they’re what make America the best of all possible countries in the world.”

“Of course,” Candide thought aloud. “I hadn’t considered how truly terrible that world would be. But what if hundreds of thousands of people die, how can that be the best of all possible countries?”

“Candide, don’t be so simple,” said Pangloss with a laugh. “If those thousands of people did not die, we would not be able to open the economy. And what is greater than the economy? Nothing! Without the economy we would not have wealth and status. Billionaires would not have their numerous homes, private islands, and vanity sports teams. Yes, many people will die, but can you imagine the horror of a world without Elon Musk. He’s the real-world Iron Man!”

“A strong capitalist economy, that is what makes this the best of all possible countries!” exclaimed Candide.

At peace with his situation, knowing that no other country in the world could possibly be better than the one in which he lived, Candide lived out his final days. Candide slowly succumbed to complications from untreated coronavirus and Pangloss died of internal hemorrhaging brought on by bleach poisoning. But they died at peace, knowing that the economy would live on.

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Matthew Seely

Matthew Seely

Matthew Seely is a writer and performer based in Toronto. His works have appeared at McSweeney’s, Slackjaw, Points in Case and others.