Over the course of a few months, the country as residents knew it looks very different due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but there may be too many variables to predict what the U.S. will look like a year from now.

Still, ideas are often floated about the future state of the nation. And the opinions of many locals on the lasting impact the pandemic could have might not be considered optimistic.

Dr. Shannon Grimes, Cherokee County Libertarian Party chair, said time will start to show the "disproportionate damage to people caused by the fear-based responses to 'do-something' policies." He expects politicians to be patting themselves on the back because the situation won't turn out as bad as some thought it might be.

"Sadly some things are fairly predictable. Government will continue to expand control, further eroding freedom while spreading fear in the name of safety," he said. "In doing so, politicians will continue to dig our posterity into crazier amounts of debt for immediate gain to make voters happy. Politicians will effectively continue to buy votes by putting our future generations in debt. People will continue to cheer or jeer these actions along partisan lines. The destruction of lives, families, and the economy from the broad draconian overreactions will continue to be felt and probably more over time as federal spending likely continues to show exactly why the meatheads in D.C. - of all flavors - shouldn't have, and were never intended to, have the power in our lives they now do."

Grimes expects little accountability for government agents, and regardless of whether policies were beneficial, they will continue to be "cheered and jeered" again along partisan lines.

"People will continue to do what they can to survive and thrive, adjusting behaviors to economic and political realities of the moment," he said. "And while all those personal, financial, and economic harms are ongoing, few will note the relationship similarities between government and public and the psychological trauma of fear-based manipulation and abuse."

The ongoing precautions and emergency safety declarations enacted by the federal and state government have generated concern that a precedent is being set to allow officials to order similar measures in the future.

"People have been very open about being onboard with violating others' rights for the sake of perceived safety or health benefits," said Justin Kennedy, Cherokee County Young Republicans chair. "It seems very problematic for me in the future, if all we've got to do is say, 'this is for your safety,' and we can violate the Fourth and 14th Amendments and order people to stay in their homes who have committed no crimes and aren't sick."

Kennedy expects to see an increase in social programs for those who are have gone into debt, and he is concerned future generations will be stuck with the tab.

The Daily Press asked readers in a Facebook Saturday Forum what lasting impact they think the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the country. Tavia Armstrong thinks it will be "increased polarization and discord."

"Certain entities - politicians, the press, special interest groups, and social media influencers to name a few - seem to be working harder than ever to pit 'us' against 'them,'" she said. "Why? Because there is so much at stake in the form of votes, clicks and dollars. Without being able to safely get out and be around people, and see how much we have in common, it is too easy to get suckered into believing the polarizing rhetoric and envisioning those who hold a different opinion as the enemy."

R.J. Williamson said the more things change, the more they remain the same.

"I have quite a cynical view of things and/or what may come to be, which is likely shaped by a due-to-me age group, along with what I've observed and learned during my years," said Williamson. "Regardless of who is president or which political party holds a controlling position, I don't think we'll realize any significant changes whatsoever."

Steven Burden expects states will be "flipping red next year," and that "media and local governments [will go] bankrupt for their actions."

Dawn LeForce, on the other hand, believes President Donald Trump is "trying to start a war between the parties during a pandemic to kill off even more of either party, leaving this country to the rich and those young and healthy enough to work for them."

In an online poll, the Daily Press asked readers if they believe the American way of life will have returned to normal a year from now. Out of 86 respondents, 19 people answered, "Probably not; there will still be some restrictions, and the pandemic will continue, though not as serious." Eighteen said, "Yes, in all ways, and the pandemic will be pretty much over." Sixteen said, "Mostly, but there will still be a few restrictions, and the pandemic will still be around in certain areas." Another 16 answered, "No, because many restrictions will remain in place and the pandemic will still be present, if not worse." Ten people said, "No, and it will never return to normal, because COVID-19 will be with us for a long time." Seven readers said they were uncertain.

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To see more discussion on the future of the U.S. in the wake of the pandemic, go to www.facebook.com/tdpress and scroll down to the May 16 Saturday Forum.

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