Democracy failing: The US response to the pandemic
When the United States declared its independence in 1776, it followed a strict system of federalism, with the state holding vast amounts of power and powers divided between multiple institutions and leaders. At the time it made sense, because centralised control would have been too inefficient. It took weeks to cross the country and proper central policy planning would have been impossible.
Fast forward to the 21st century, the country has been connected both physically and digitally. New challenges have emerged, and the flaws of the United States’ old system have emerged. Ignoring the various other problems of American liberal democracy, this post focuses mostly on the negative effect of federalisation and partisan politics on the US response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Just as South Korea and Taiwan have proven democracies can be effective, the US has proven it can be just the opposite. China has been widely commended for the swift and effective actions that it took during the outbreak, while the US has been mired in inaction and political bickering.
Early on, Trump had tried to downplay the virus, calling it a hoax, saying it would go away, 15 to 0, etcetera. His downplaying cost the US weeks of precious time, turning it into a partisan issue, where you have one side claiming the lamestream media is exaggerating the issue to hurt Trump, and the other side saying that Trump is a murderer, that the virus will kill millions. As a result, you have half the population on each side. Because of this, the overall US response was delayed by weeks.
This is not the fault of Trump, but the US system of partisan politics. He was, in a sense, forced to do so because panic would have caused the stock market to plunge further, which would affect his re-election as he had previously linked his performance to the stock market. Trump is merely the symptom, not the problem.
The root problem is that partisan politics forces leaders to do things that improve their popularity, not things that are needed but unpopular.
So far, one of the only nationawide measures the government has been able to take is a “social distancing guidance”. The attempt by Trump to lock down the US epicenter New York was abandoned as he could not enforce it legally.
The New York governor complained that a lockdown would “paralyse the financial sector”, complained that it would be “anti-American”, threatening to sue Rhode Island if they continued to stop New York cars from entering. An advisory isn’t going to do much for freedom-loving Americans. There is no doubt hundreds or thousands will leave the state, very possibly spreading it all over the country.
The Governor of Mississipi rejected a lockdown, claiming they’ll “never be China”.
Even in March, when the US already had tens of thousands of cases, local officials refused to close beaches. Thousands of ignorant teens continued flocking to the beaches due to the lack of proper unified government response.
Even legal stay-at-home orders issued by Governors are subject to political bickering. Churches can openly defy orders and hold thousand-man masses, claiming political persecution and promoting faith healing.
In the US, no one man can truly enact measures across the country, even if they are undoubtedly useful and can save lives. By giving limited power to everyone, the system practically forces political bickering to occur. While an argument can be made for US-style power decentralisation, a nationwide crisis like a pandemic is one of the areas which it causes vastly more harm.
Its clear that the US system is outdated
If there is any key point to take away from this pandemic, its that the US political system is outdated and ill-equipped for modern problems. This isn’t the 18th century anymore when information was transmitted by horseback.
Nowadays due to the proliferation of social media and internet news, every small issue is quickly turned into a partisan issue and politicians forced to take sides. The US has become much more connected since the 18th century but things that can be handled by one man still go through multiple, slowing down the process due to the petty bickering along the way.