Last week’s Last Week Tonight episode encapsulates a consensus view among my fellow liberals that Donald Trump botched his COVID-19 response by failing to heed public health advice.
While Trump’s record on COVID is indeed atrocious (not in the least for the President’s sociopathic acquiescence to the virus’ continual murder of his subjects in order to save face), I am not certain that the US would have fared much better with a more competent president. Even European countries like Spain, which has a moderately left-leaning prime minister, are seeing sharp second waves, that have no sign of relenting.
Throughout the west, public health experts showed hauntingly relaxed attitudes through February. As the pandemic spread in March, top public health officials’ disregard for common-sense measures like masking suggest that the virus would have gained ground under any administration. A Vox article from March 3rd read that “experts doubt it (the disease) can be totally contained and stopped (through isolation of the sick),” quoting an epidemiology professor who declaimed that “there (are) already too many undiagnosed cases out there.” (this being back when the US had under 30 confirmed cases).
And we shouldn’t forget the disease modelers who insinuated (at the end of February!) that air travel could be conducted safely.
None of this is to let Trump or the GOP off the hook. Their callous disregard for the virus’ seriousness has deprived our country of national leadership and engendered fatal skepticism of the virus among the sizable pro-Trump constituency.
And yet, public health professionals–whose career mission can be summarized as fighting pandemics–should aim to perform better than an incompetent kleptocrat.
This requires that they acknowledge and reflect on previous failures. That they evaluate which pieces of advice or approaches currently work and abandon the ones that do not.
It necessitates, on the one hand, a degree of humility and, on the other hand, a faith in concepts that work empirically, even if they have not passed a textbook-style research experiment.
The results of this introspection will not only affect how we fight this pandemic but how our policy-makers govern.
On a host of areas, from housing to public transportation to social services, both America’s Republican and Democratic polities govern with abject failure.
Especially for those of us on the left, who cherish social progress and equity, it is imperative that we do better.
And that starts with some introspection on what went wrong.
And how to fix it.