This Pandemic Could Be Over By Now — IF Our President Believed in Government
Tenth in an ongoing series, Notes from a Plague-Time
As we mourn the deaths of nearly 200,000 Americans lost to COVID-19;
As we mourn the deaths of nearly 1,000 medical personnel sacrificing their lives as they endeavored to save those of us felled by the coronavirus;
As we mourn the lonely deaths of the nearly 80,000 elderly who died in nursing facilities, with their families shut out from expressing their last loving goodbyes;
As we watch parents grapple with the on-off signals whether schooling this new school year would be in-person or virtual; and as we see the extreme pressure put on the parents as they endeavor to continue their own work, thus earn an income; and as we hear of a “lost year” in their children’s education;
As we watch the young people, who, trying to launch as America’s bright tomorrow, were knocked back by the 2008 financial crash and, now, are knocked back again by a virus, leaving them with reduced lifetime income, reduced dreams, some with lost lives;
As we see the homeless population mushroom, with more people living in their car, if they have one, or if not, bedding down under bridges, wherever;
As we lament the closing of our favorite local businesses — restaurants and coffeeshops, pubs, bookstores, theatres, retail outlets, you-name-it; and as we see local factories, some of them longtime family operations, struggle with sudden loss of demand and close;
As we imagine the toll on mental health that all the above pain and suffering and loss has on the individual and on the family, on their well-being and on their souls;
As, pulling back and surveying the national scene, we gape in astonishment at banner headlines announcing 30,000,000, then 40,000,000 Americans losing their jobs — a record worse than the previous national nadir of the Great Depression; and as we gape at graphs showing economic activity not just sloping off, but — hair-raising sight — like a stone, dropping straight down;
And as, if we cast a glance at the world beyond, we see the world gaping back at us in astonishment as the former “can-do” nation gives proof after proof it can’t do at all;
And, finally, as we look to Washington, the nation’s capital, where, as guaranteed by the Constitution’s provision to “promote the general welfare,” we should be able to look for guidance and, if need be, salvation, but where we see only Chaos;
We can connect all the above dots and conclude this: that the aforementioned litany of catastrophe — all the pain, all the suffering, all the loss, so much of it permanent — can be laid at the feet of our head of government, who — worst joke ever! — does not actually believe in government; who does not believe in its capacity and indeed responsibility to “promote the general welfare”; whose response to a basic task required of a head of government in a pandemic — for one, organizing the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to our valiant medical heroes — is to say of the federal government he heads, “We’re not a shipping clerk.” He likes the thrill of power, not its responsibility.
Also complicit is this nominal head of government’s party, who blindly backs up his criminal inaction and now is beyond all reasoning, though in truth this party and its adherents are only delivering on decades of anti-government rhetoric and vilification of government bureaucrats.
For the indisputable conclusion follows: Had we had a head of government who actually believed in government, who organized and coordinated the central response to the novel coronavirus, this pandemic, six months underway, could be over by now.
Think about that: This pandemic could be over by now.
And, like other advanced industrialized countries whose governments followed the science and acted accordingly, taking decisive and comprehensive action in aid of their peoples, America could be fully back to business and we could get out and about. Instead we have ruination upon ruination to ponder, sift through, clean up.
How to turn all our pain and suffering and loss, so much of it going unmemorialized in our sulfurous political atmosphere — how to turn it to account, so that it has not been endured in vain? How to resist becoming fatalists — an abrogation of the can-do American character, now severely in jeopardy — and save American democracy?
For one thing, in the coming election, up and down the ballot, we can vote for the party — the Democrats — that actually believes in government and in its capacity to do good. If we learn nothing else from this pandemic, it is that a coordinated, whole-of-government response is needed in a national crisis, where every government official, from the federal level to the local, rather than shirk their responsibility, steps up to the plate. The absurdity of each constituent part of the polity reinventing the wheel and, moreover, doing battle with other constituent parts for, say, PPE (to recur to the previous test) is, literally, killing.
For another thing: As we ponder and sift through and clean up the ruination, along with rolling up our sleeves, we should repeat to ourselves what Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden declared recently: “This pandemic didn’t have to be this bad.” There are many other lessons to absorb, but this one, truly existential — our survival — is one.
Abraham Lincoln defined government’s role thus: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities.”
A pandemic is a crisis that no one individual, no matter how fiercely self-reliant they may be, can beat back alone. The next pandemic — and epidemiologists now warn there will be more — must be met with a coordinated and comprehensive response from the people’s proper protector: their government.
Image: Plague doctor, circa 1656, during bubonic plague, Rome.