This is not an American success story

Margaret Dougherty, Managing Editor

I’m disappointed in America. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way and it will probably be far from the last, but I have felt especially disheartened recently. I understand that expressing such disenchantment with our nation may attract some critics. However, I believe having pride in your country shouldn’t prevent you from dealing a healthy dose of deserved criticism as well. 

I was scrolling through Twitter a few weeks ago when I saw a video of a baseball game in Taiwan. The batter hit a home run into the stands, where hundreds of people stood cheering. I assumed the video dated back to 2019, a fond memory of the good old days. Yet this game was actually played in July. With a population of 23.7 million, Taiwan has reported 496 coronavirus cases and only 7 deaths as of Sep. 10. The United States, with a population of 330 million, has reported over 6.3 million cases and 190,000 deaths. You don’t have to be a math major to be alarmed by those numbers. 

 Of course, it is difficult to compare countries’ responses to a pandemic. Besides population size, you need to account for geographical area, cultural differences, governmental systems, travel restrictions, etc. Taiwan, along with all countries, will probably continue to face a long battle with this pandemic. Nonetheless, even without comparisons to another country, the United States’ response to the COVID-19 crisis has been deplorable by nearly every measurement. This disease has exposed an untold number of weaknesses in one of the most powerful developed nations in the world. 

In Oct. 2019the Global Health Security Index released a benchmark assessment of every nation’s preparedness for a health emergency. Although the overall evaluation did not show promising signs for the world as a wholethe United States came in first place. Just months later, the U.S. discovered that the capacity to deal with a crisis alone is not enough. There must also be effective leadership, a problem that many people have pointed to as the one of the primary causes of the atrocious U.S. coronavirus response. There is no expectation of perfection from a president during an emergency, but there is an expectation that he won’purposely lie about the severity of the pandemiccontradict health experts, disavow masks and social distancing, promote miracle drugs, call for less testing, withdraw from the World Health Organizationpeddle racist names for the virus, support anti-lockdown protestors, hold unsafe rallies or even ponder disinfectant injections. President Trump has failed to live up to the moment as an example of judgment and character, and the entire country has tragically suffered the consequences. 

Although a lack of leadership is a crucial factor, there have been many more missteps that are indicative of more longstanding and problematic patterns. Over the past six months, hospitals have run low on personal protective equipment, spare beds, ventilators and even staff. Although some of these issues have become less prevalent, the U.S. continues to have an insufficient number of COVID-19 tests conducted each day, a vital practice for preventing further spreadMass graves were filled with the deceased, while many of those that survived were hit with massive medical bills. These complications are byproducts of a profit-driven healthcare system that is not incentivized to plan for such disasters.  

Many people willingly went into lockdown and suffered financially for the safety of others, but they were not provided relief by their government. While other advanced countries subsidized lost salaries, U.S. citizens were given a single $1,200 check. Unemployment rose to 14.7%, with 26 million people losing their jobs. Thousands of families have waited hours in line at food banks or on the phone trying to file for unemployment. These problems are byproducts of an ineffective social safety net and a deadlocked Congress that could not agree on relief bills. 

Ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Preexisting inequalities in systems such as healthcare and housing have led to distrust in medical providers and increased rates of infection for Black AmericansAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionLatino Americans and Native Americans have also faced rates of infection three times as likely as those of white Americans, while Asian Americans have faced relentless abuse because of the virus’ origin in China. These problems are byproducts of deep-rooted, systemic racism in this country that affects every aspect of daily life. 

American culture prides itself on the value of exceptionalism, and in many respects this title is merited. However, this ideology can go too far. While other countries heeded the warnings of health officials in January and February, the U.S. remained stagnant. Many of us fall victim to this dangerous pattern of thinking. Surely, we’ll be safe. We don’t have to worry about this type of thing here. We’re the exception. Yet now we should all face the brutal truth that has been around for centuries. We are far from an exception, not solely in terms of global pandemics but also in terms of poor leadership, defective healthcare systemsinadequate governmental policies and rampant racism. This pandemic is far from over, and all signs point to similar challenges in the future. It is possible to turn America’s response around, but it will require uncomfortable self-reflection and drastic change. The rest of the world is watching.