Yong’s “Anatomy of An American Failure”

One of Yong’s more interesting characterizations 

is to describe the Trump administration as a “COVID-19 comorbidity.” We haven’t looked that closely at the liability of the state in either administering or providing healthcare. Yong emphasizes that the American healthcare system is particularly susceptible to breakdown in situations of pandemic due to its largely private character. Most hospitals try to limit their baseline staffing and capacity given the economic exigencies of running a private hospital. They tend to be prepared for treatments that have been provided recently or would be more profitable generally. 

At the same time Yong rightly points out that many of the world’s most able and expert medical practitioners work in the American hospital system and/or domestic scientific research. He thinks that the inability and unwillingness  to tap this resource of expertise was not only unfortunate but also a direct contributor to the deaths of many. For superficial political reasons, the Trump administration removed American WHO appointees who had been present in China not long before the Covid outbreak and. In addition, predictions of pandemic which had been provided to the administration by people such as Yong himself, had been shelved for reasons that had yet to be explained. This otherwise inexplicable behavior was only exacerbated by the Trump administration’s response to the foreign and then domestic spread of the virus which was to suppress evidence of its transmission and to restrain any effort on the part of a federal agency to provide coherent policy in the early stages of the pandemic. 

All of this is clearly evidence of mismanagement and politically inspired equivocation. Yong makes the additional statement — which is incredibly relevant not only to our assessment of this historic event but also to the liability of current government officials — that the Trump administration was a comorbidity just as smoking might have been. Since tobacco companies and insulation manufacturers have been found liable for deaths resulting from their negligence. Might it also be possible that those who administer public health policy might be liable for negligence when they suppress information about the danger about a situation that they’re responsible for or promote public health policy that is not reasonable given how informed they might be of the relevant scientific data. Why should a physician be culpable for malpractice but not a public health official who is also compensated for his or her work and therefore has an obligation to conduct him or herself without negligence. There are two possible ways of understanding this failure. One is in the structural sense in which the American healthcare system is poorly equipped to deal with a pandemic because of the profit motives that are ultimately most determinative. We could also assess liability in a more specific way by looking at particular individuals who have been tasked with administering policy which is not political anymore than the treatment of a given doctor is political, but should be assessed according to medical health criteria. Rarely before has there been such medical disregard in the midst of such a health crisis, but this might provide incentive to articulate a more coherent policy of oversight for public health officials. 

3 thoughts on “Yong’s “Anatomy of An American Failure”

  1. Will Cochrane

    This is a well written and informative summary of Yong’s “Anatomy of An American Failure.” The major points are summarized well and have been further developed. I hear your own personal voice coming out towards the end as well regarding the ways to look at the failure of the American healthcare system. It is obvious that the failure has come from a higher governmental power because the system should have been effective as it is already well funded. Comparing to the British NHS is interesting for me because it is extremely underfunded however it is well appreciated and so it has managed to deal with it better it would appear. Obviously, it does help not to have someone like Donald Trump and his administration running the country! I think similar to how you ended the piece which is that the pandemic has been challenging there has been medical disregard but hopefully now it something that we can learn from so that in the future we can actually begin to save lives.

  2. Amelia Dimas

    Throughout your blog post, you discuss the role of the ineptitudes of the American healthcare system and the inadequacies of the Trump administration in the disastrous American response to Covid-19. One question you raised that I found particularly intriguing is why public officials are not held accountable for actions of negligence (such as those of the Trump administration) while physicians are. Had the administration promptly come up with a plan to address the dangers of Covid when they first received warnings in early 2020, many lives may have been saved. Nevertheless, no actions have been taken to directly punish Trump or his administration for their negligence.

    What I find even more condemning of the actions of the administration is that their negligence was most likely not due simply to general ineptitude in handling an epidemic the size of Covid-19 (though ineptitude certainly contributed), but to active efforts to politicize the crisis. Covid-19 was used as a political platform by the Trump administration and campaign heading into the presidential election. Many of Trump’s supporters are “anti-maskers” who subscribe to a brand of extreme liberalism and believe restrictions made in an effort to limit the spread of Covid infringe upon their freedoms. Trump’s administration actively leaned into and helped to create the rhetoric of his supporters. Trump undermined the research and suggestions of prominent health officials such as Dr. Fauci. He consistently failed to wear a mask, held crowded rallies that failed to meet social distancing guidelines, and even used his own survival of Covid while under the best medical care available to further the narrative that Covid wasn’t truly dangerous. The Trump administration is liable for not only failing to limit the crisis, but worsening it in the hopes of gaining political ground.

  3. Muhammad Mukarram

    Harrison’s post on Ed Yong’s article is an interesting take on an already blunt, abrasive, and quite frankly, refreshing piece. Harrison does a great job of summarizing Yong’s takes The most impactful analysis by Harrison is in regards to what was said about the Trump administration’s (lack of) actions during the current pandemic. Harrison points out the facts. The Trump administration definitely removed WHO representatives who work in the U.S. and China, and not only did this potentially reduce the information gathered by the U.S., but it also sent a direct message to China, essentially saying that America has no empathy for China and is separating completely. In addition, the understanding of the Trump administration being a comorbidity to COVID-19 was spot on. Due to America’s terrible leadership during this pandemic, people who should not have fallen victim to this pandemic were/have been put in heightened danger because of the lack of seriousness surrounding this pandemic within the White House.
    All in all, I appreciate Harrison’s interpretation of the piece and the magnification of specific points presented by Yong. Regarding his last few sentences I do wonder as well;how should we hold people in office and people presenting health information responsible? Similar to physicians, these people have a direct influence on what their listeners do, and therefore the potential for them to follow bad advice and put themselves in danger of contradicting a health issue, such as COVID-19


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