America’s Exceptional Failure
Our response to Covid-19 has been exceptional in all the wrong ways.
The NYT has a thorough piece, worth reading in its entirety, on US failures as it pertains to the coronavirus pandemic: The Unique U.S. Failure to Control the Virus. A failure that can be grimly underscored that by the time you read this post, we will likely have our 5 millionth confirmed case (accounting for ~26% of confirmed global cases with ~4% of global population).
The piece makes a comparative point that I have made in private, but am not sure I have noted here at the blog:
Yet even with all of these problems, one country stands alone, as the only affluent nation to have suffered a severe, sustained outbreak for more than four months: the United States.
When it comes to the virus, the United States has come to resemble not the wealthy and powerful countries to which it is often compared but instead to far poorer countries, like Brazil, Peru and South Africa, or those with large migrant populations, like Bahrain and Oman.
Put another way, the US response has been more in keeping with countries that we once termed “the third world” or the “developing world” than the “first world”/”developed world. Setting aside those out of date (and problematic) concepts, it is decidedly the case that the UNDP’s Human Development Index that we are performing not like our Very High Human Development peers (1st to 62nd), but instead like High Human Development cases (63rd to 116th).
I have studied political development since my undergrad days (unavoidable since I focused on Latin American politics), it is especially stunning to see the US, which is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest (depending on how one defines parameters) country in the world be so inadequate to this task. Even from the perspective of general American self-image, it ought to be a massive embarrassment. The self-perception of US citizens that we are “the greatest country in the world” ought to be rocked by this colossal policy failure–but, of course, Americans are exceptionally bad at making informed global comparisons.
As to why this is the case, the piece posits two themes (that basically echo what I said in one of my posts on masks a few weeks back):
First, the United States faced longstanding challenges in confronting a major pandemic. It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries.
“As an American, I think there is a lot of good to be said about our libertarian tradition,” Dr. Jared Baeten, an epidemiologist and vice dean at the University of Washington School of Public Health, said. “But this is the consequence — we don’t succeed as well as a collective.”
The second major theme is one that public health experts often find uncomfortable to discuss because many try to steer clear of partisan politics. But many agree that the poor results in the United States stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration.
The piece details comparative examples of failure in the following areas
- a lack of effective travel restrictions;
- repeated breakdowns in testing;
- confusing advice about masks;
- a misunderstanding of the relationship between the virus and the economy;
- and inconsistent messages from public officials.
Again, I recommend the whole thing, but will highlight the following key failure that needs to be constantly repeated and widely understood:
But there is one way — in addition to the scale of the continuing outbreaks and deaths — that the United States stands apart: In no other high-income country have the messages from political leaders been nearly so mixed and confusing.
There has been an massive failure of governance and leadership by the Trump administration. All of us who feared how a Trump administration would handle a major crisis have had those fear confirmed, and in the extreme.
“If you had to summarize our approach, it’s really poor federal leadership — disorganization and denial,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicare and Medicaid from 2015 to 2017. “Watch Angela Merkel. Watch how she communicates with the public. Watch how Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand does it. They’re very clear. They’re very consistent about what the most important priorities are.”
To quote Trump “It is what it is.”