Coronavirus in America: A Failure in Leadership

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America practiced enough social-distancing to crash its economy, but not enough to make significant gains in the struggle against coronavirus. The only thing that can be hoped for now is for herd-immunity.

The US government’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic is becoming clearer with each passing day.

Every country faced the difficult decision between two unsavory approaches to tackling Covid-19: social distancing or herd immunity. It was a choice between sacrificing more people, or sacrificing the entire economy.

The choice the overwhelming majority of countries took, social distancing, deprives the virus of a chance to jump from one person to another. The less popular alternative, herd immunity, allows the virus to spread to 60% or more of the population, which presumably would result in enough people developing antibodies to fight the virus, thus denying it the opportunity to spread any further. The downside to this approach is that more people could succumb to the disease more quickly and break the health-care system in the process.

When it comes to Covid-19, choosing a course of action is an either/or decision. There is no middle-ground, no “a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” Once a decision is made, the country must commit to it in order to see the desired results.

Most of the Northern Hemisphere shut down weeks before America did; and, they did so in earnest. As a result of steadfastly adhering to their respective lock-downs, the vast majority of European and Asian nations have seen flattening of the curve and even significant reduction in new cases and corona-related deaths.

The rules and restrictions implemented were clear, and penalties could perhaps be described as a bit draconian in some places. But, the success of such measures was largely the result of the residents taking these actions seriously.

The same cannot be said of America.

The US proved to be ill-equipped to implement social-distancing — in part owing to the government’s convoluted priorities and the nation’s so-called “Leader” (or misleader) hedging and equivocating on his own Federal guidelines. He is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Presidents in the time of a national crisis. But the American people also share a large part of the blame.

Americans are Pollyanna’s. There have been no wars, famines, or epidemics on American soil in a century. No American alive today has any recollection of such horrors or hardships shared by the entire nation. Surely we’ve seen our share of devastation — 9/11, Oklahoma City, mass-shootings, Katrina and countless other natural disasters — but, they were gone as soon as they arrived, and as sensational as they seemed in the moment, they were all focused on one relatively minuscule segment of the population at a time, usually hundreds, if not thousands of miles from one’s home. There was never an enduring catastrophe that affected every American in every part of the country in such tangible ways.

American’s embrace their rugged individualism and freedom (of movement). Or to put it more bluntly, we’re selfish. In national crises, we love to brag about how Americans are uniquely generous and empathetic people. We endlessly extol ourselves for our compassion and good will. But, the shutdown has revealed just how selfish we really are. Examples of Americans’ selfishness were plentiful: runs on toilet tissue, face masks, hand sanitizer and latex gloves; buying up hydroxychloroquine in response to Trump blindly touting the drug — thus depriving people with Lupus of the medication they depend on to ease their symptoms; spring-breakers throwing caution to the wind in Florida at grandma’s expense; grotesque, unmasked protesters shouting and honking at exhausted, overworked, desperate medical workers in full scrubs.

While perhaps the majority of Americans have reluctantly adhered to the CDC guidelines — withdrawn into their homes and taken precautions at the supermarket — there are enough egocentric, devil-may-care sociopaths in nearly every corner of the USA to render all of these efforts useless.

But, even without these jerks, the US government’s response has been so abysmal in its lack of attention to its citizens’ needs, even well-meaning individuals could not stay cooped up in their home without an income for very long.

While Congress throws a life-preserver to businesses (mostly large corporations), they toss us little people (the working class and the poor) nothing more than crumbs!

Though a little slow at first, the government ultimately decided to take the correct course of action and shut everything down. But, obviously that meant people would be furloughed without pay for an indefinite period of time. Following such a shut-down, many businesses may come back to life, slowly; but the fact that they won’t immediately return to their former glory days means they would inevitably need to let many employees go — and, going forward, rehire as needed.

Congress passed multiple coronavirus response bills, but only one even feebly addressed the needs of the countless desperate Americans who will probably not have work again unless and until there’s an effective treatment (or, much farther down the road, a vaccine). And that relief was immeasurably insulting. It came in the form of a one-time payment, a paltry $1,200 check. Compare this with the $2,000 per month payment Canadians will receive for a minimum of four months, to be extended as needed.

There has been legislation to try to save businesses (even though many of them will probably not survive this hit regardless of how much money D.C. throws their way). But, the immediate needs of Americans have been almost entirely ignored. They threw us a few scraps to keep us quiet while they funneled money to the entities Washington really cares about, business and industry. Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted that she was “looking at” universal basic income, but does anyone really think she’s seriously considering it?

It’s no wonder Americans are getting anxious! People can’t be expected to stay at home when there is no money to pay for that home, and no food on their table, and no health insurance.

Trump and many red-state Governors demonstrated that they don’t have the discipline, the forbearance necessary to stay the course long enough to see results in the social-distancing approach. They are anxiously rushing their “Grand Reopening” so government doesn’t have to throw the lowly working-class anymore crumbs.

And, the rush to reopen loses sight of the very reason we’re in this mess to begin with. Shutting down the economy was supposed to be the solution to the problem, but only if it was shut down long enough to significantly reduce new cases. That goal has not been achieved. At best, the curve has been flattened, for the time being. But, we are now prematurely going to open the floodgates, and let the virus run amok again.

The economy has already been decimated. Consumers already harbor fears that grave dangers lurk outside their homes. It’s true that people will move about as soon as the restrictions are lifted, but only to the extent necessary to conduct business essential to their survival. Nevertheless, they will move about enough to undo the progress we’ve made. Americans’ desire to return to work is so strong because of our government’s unique hands-off approach — neglecting to provide enough monetary assistance to struggling individuals and families to ease the pain visited by the government’s actions.

Nevertheless, as long as businesses are open, even though they aren’t rehiring, Washington will place the onus on the individual for not having work. Once we “open” (whatever that means at this point), no more crumbs will be thrown to the peasants who will be expected to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (as is the American way).

We are left with this vicious cycle: We were ordered to stay home, and the lock-down destroyed the economy; the consumer stopped spending money; the jobs disappeared; now, without adequate government support, Americans can’t afford to stay home (heck, they can’t even afford their home); they will go out to protest or to look for work and, consequently, spread more virus.

We only practiced enough social-distancing to crash our economy, but not enough to make significant gains in the struggle against coronavirus in America.

Trump’s mixed messaging to his antsy supporters — simultaneously laying out guidelines while encouraging people to protest the implementation of those very guidelines — means that we won’t reach the other side of the curve in a few weeks (as other countries have achieved) or even a couple months. When we overcome Covid-19 in America, it will be via herd-immunity, or the development and widespread distribution of effective treatments or a vaccine. American Pollyanna’s need to realize that medical breakthroughs are likely years, not months, away.

Since Americans refuse to practice strict social-distancing, we are only left with herd-immunity. It’s a shame that we had to take a wrecking-ball to our economy to learn we are inferior to the rest of the world insofar as we lack what it takes to stay home and do nothing…and our government is inferior to other Western democracies in that it favors industry and snubs the working class.


Michael Avalon
I've been traveling around the world more-or-less continuously since October 2016, starting when I was 43. When the midlife tour began, I was working at a web design company as a Web developer -- touring or transiting between cities by day and working into the wee hours of the night.
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