As the coronavirus scourge surges to new levels of horror, it is not too soon to consider what it has already taught us ... about ourselves and about our government and our political leaders.
There have been serious, protracted bureaucratic and political miscalculations and lack of foresight since before the onset of COVID-19, enough to occupy scholars and analysts for years ahead. Before then, however, we should reflect on two broader societal and governmental shortcomings that have prolonged and worsened this pandemic.
Follow the science: Too many have forgotten school lessons about science and the scientific method. Science is the systematic, continuing search for truth. When mistakes and errors occur, they are corrected through questioning, testing and replications.
Science has shown us how the coronavirus behaves, and science will show its vulnerabilities and overcome it. Public health scientists with decades of training and experience long warned of the threat of pandemics and urged preparation but were ignored. Now we must rely on them for salvation.
We wish fervently for deliverance through new vaccines, and they will come in time, yet scientists tell us that we can still avoid untold, unnecessary pain and suffering and enjoy life much as before with disciplined wearing of face masks and practicing social distancing. Instead, too many tragically and selfishly follow their immediate economic interests, ideologies or conspiratorial theories and prolong our agony. Meanwhile, our president makes us the laughing stock of the world by espousing ineffective, dangerous medicines and swallowing of disinfectants.
An effective national government: Americans have long distrusted excessive control by the national government. Yet when needed, a strong national government response has never failed us through the challenges of multiple wars, economic collapses and natural disasters.
Only the national government has sufficient fiscal resources, sufficient regulatory and constitutional authority, sufficient control of all our productive resources, and sufficient stature to rally the entire nation and overcome this pandemic. States are valuable laboratories for testing different approaches; they should never be used as excuses for national government inaction and failure. If we are indeed in a war with coronavirus, we must respond nationally, as we have with all other wars.
Sadly, the most egregious shortcoming of the national government pandemic policy is that there has been no national policy, no national strategy or plan. The failure to develop an adequate national testing regimen was the original sin in efforts to combat the pandemic. Shockingly that enormous shortcoming continues to this day. Production of vital equipment and allocation of resources have been ad hoc without agreed priorities and coordination. Shockingly, we still do not have a national mask requirement. Schools are told to open fully without a national strategy or national resources.
Are we not shamed and disgraced when the United States, with all our economic resources and scientific talent, compares so poorly to nearly every other modern, industrialized nation — which typically have strong, effective central governments — in battling this scourge?
We may ultimately prevail, but it is staggering to consider what we have lost by failing to respect science, experience and expertise and by not utilizing a more responsive national government.