Can US defeat COVID-19 and keep the republic?

By William Jones

The sudden onset of the coronavirus in the US came as a great shock to the nation. We had been watching its progress for some time, but we were somewhat used to seeing viruses appear in Asia or Africa. But this was the United States of America, a modern, developed nation, indeed, the leader of the “free world.” Those kinds of things just don’t happen here! We have a modern medical system that preserves the health of the nation. There are few remaining survivors of the generation that experienced the last great outbreak of 1918-19, which was inappropriately labeled the “Spanish flu.”
The epidemic in the US couldn’t have come at a worse time. The country is terribly divided. The 2016 election of President Donald Trump, a veritable outsider who was intent on upsetting some of the “sacred norms” of American society, had been something of a shock to many political observers. We were the world’s police and had to maintain unending hostility toward Russia and China or any country that has not adopted “Jeffersonian democracy” or something similar to it.
Donald Trump was elected because the American people were sick and tired of those “sacred norms.” They also wanted their country rebuilt – its decaying roads and railroads, its increasing “rust belts” that were once productive industrial regions. This is what Trump had promised to change.
But Trump’s opponents in the Democratic Party were not prepared to let him govern. From the onset, his Democratic opponents were intent on declaring his election a fraud, perpetrated by “Russian election interference.”
They failed to understand the mood of the country which had chosen an outsider as president. And now, suddenly, he was the head of a nation seriously threatened by a deadly pandemic.
While there were clear signals that the coronavirus was going to spread, the reaction of the White House was very slow, even when the first cases appeared in the US. Fearful that this virus would be a determinant to his reelection, Trump finally took control of the rudder and with some hesitation, declared a war on the coronavirus.
In spite of the continued divisiveness in the country, he was able to pull together the states’ governors, both Republican and Democrat, into a working relationship in which the federal government would assist them in getting what they needed to deal with the coronavirus. The Democrat-controlled congress even passed legislation providing more money than he asked for. But he has suddenly discovered that “the cupboard was bare.”
Over the past three decades, the US hospital system has been largely decimated through the shutdown of hundreds of smaller rural hospitals and the merger of other hospitals, putting most of the medical facilities in larger cities of the US. This was done in the name of “shareholder value.”
Suddenly the country discovered that it didn’t have enough equipment to deal with such a major health emergency, and while Trump finally used his executive power to force companies to produce medical equipment, it hasn’t been done quickly enough to slow the pandemic.
Trump then tried to shift the responsibility to individual states. Desperately, they were putting in requests to other countries, in particular China which responded. But it was not easy for one country to meet all the needs of a worldwide pandemic. Trump then became rather desperate, holding daily basis coronavirus news briefings, and began to follow the lead of people like Mike Pompeo, who were secretly intent on undermining his trust in the leaders of China and Russia. Pompeo was the first to label the virus the “Wuhan virus.” And Trump also began to label it with racist terms, but he pulled from such rhetoric several days later.
Trump’s desire to quickly “reopen” the country to avoid a “lockdown” as the election approaches also led him to create a wholly unnecessary tiff with the nation’s governors by insisting that he – and not governors – had the sole right to reopen the country for business. The revival of this states-rights debate was the last thing the country needed. And any abrupt “reopening” could well lead to another “spike” in deaths and spell the end of the Trump presidency.
How this will ultimately play out remains to be seen. But already Trump is seeking “scapegoats,” hoping to deflect handling of the still raging epidemic. Pompeo and other neocons in the Trump camp are seeking retribution from China, where the virus first came to public notice.
The immediate casualty, however, has been the World Health Organization, which had praised China’s successful efforts in containing the outbreak. This was apparently too much for Trump to take and he has halted US funding to the WHO – in the middle of a worldwide pandemic – pending a review.
How many people in Africa will die as a result of the WHO’s cut in funding is anybody’s guess. The phrase attributed to Sophocles, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,” could well be applied here.
And what will all this mean for the future of America. The finely honed structure bequeathed to us by the “founding fathers” has proven fairly resilient through many difficult periods. But even a finely tuned structure of governance is only as good as the wisdom exhibited by its leaders.
This was clearly stated by Benjamin Franklin, an admirer of Confucius, when he was asked after the Constitutional Convention in 1789, what kind of government the Convention had created, Franklin replied laconically, “A republic – if you can keep it!” When the dust has settled on this present existential crisis, it is hoped that we have kept our republic – and that it is prepared to live in harmony rather than in conflict -with all other nations of the world.
–The Daily Mail-Global Times news exchange item