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So, so inept

This is only partially explained by its federal structure; the greater blame must attach to the frequent U-turns in governmental response provoked by a President who has consistently viewed public health through the prism of his re-election bid.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The world’s most powerful nation has also proved to be utterly inept in handling the coronavirus epidemic. By Saturday, the United States of America had reported nearly four million cases ~ some half of them active ~ and more than 140,000 deaths. The country has continued to report more than 70,000 infections a day and there is little evidence that the virus is going away any time soon.

In part, some of America’s problems may stem from the fact that its response has been less than a unified one. This is only partially explained by its federal structure; the greater blame must attach to the frequent U-turns in governmental response provoked by a President who has consistently viewed public health through the prism of his re-election bid.

If the virus was a Chinese export aimed at destabilizing the world as he has often maintained, Mr Donald Trump played a stellar role in ensuring that the plan attained fruition in his country. This week, Larry Hogan, the Governor of Maryland became the first Republican to openly flay Mr Trump for the US’ muddled response.

In an article published in the New York Times, Mr Hogan wrote: “The President downplayed the outbreak’s severity and… the White House failed to issue public warnings, draw up a 50- state strategy, or dispatch medical gear or life-saving ventilators from the national stockpile to American hospitals. Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the President to run the nation’s response was hopeless. So, every governor went their own way, which is how the United States ended up with such a patchwork response.”

Mr Trump has claimed more than once that his early decision to ban entry of travellers from China saved countless lives. But aviation records show that more than 8,000 people entered from Hong Kong and Macau, which were not covered by the ban, in the next three months. Then the federal government advised Americans that masks would not help stop the spread of the virus, in the face of evidence to the contrary from Asia.

It has since emerged that this advise was issued so that Personal Protective Equipment that was in short supply for emergency medical staff would not be consumed by ordinary Americans. Now, the federal government has made a turnaround and advised people to wear face masks, but it is still open to individual states to decide how they will enforce this. For several months, the President himself set a bad example to Americans by refusing to wear a mask and relented only on 11 July when he visited a medical centre.

Indeed, the wearing of masks fed a toxic political debate with the President’s supporters blasting compulsory use as a token of authoritarianism. America’s Presidential system bestows enormous powers on the occupant of the White House. During a national crisis, the incumbent is expected to provide leadership that transcends political and regional divisions. Mr Trump has in the past few months confirmed his utter inability to lead.