In Ed Yong’s Anatomy of An American Failure, Yong explores the actions and implications of the American government. If the American government were said to be holding a position of paternalism over the American people, it is safe to say that it did not end up being for the best interest of said American people. While it is not my place to speak for the motivations of the Trump Administration as I do not know them, it is plausible to assume that part of the reason that they withheld information about just how wide the spread of COVID-19 really was in late January to early February was to preserve peace and not cause mass panic. This ended up backfiring, as this withholding of information and encouragement that everything was under control just emboldened those who doubted the legitimacy of the virus. It is my opinion that there were also much less noble reasons at play such as financial obligations and infrastructure shortcomings, but I do think that the paternalistic viewpoint of the Trump Administration thinking it was in the best interest of the American public was part of it.
The same can be said for the Trump Administration’s stance on masks, and how it changed throughout the spring. At first, they were adamant that masks, especially N-95’s, were not necessary to be wearing in public. While this is obviously not true, one could argue that the reason the Trump Administration said this was because they were trying to preserve what was left in the stockpiles across America that were a non-negotiable necessity for those at the frontline of the battle against COVID-19. Again, the Trump Administration withheld vital information that led to more deaths and higher spread among the public and looking through a paternalistic lens they did this thinking they were helping most of the American public. I would like to point out that this was before issues such as this became partisan.
In general, the infrastructure of the national stockpile and ability for the Public Health systems to handle mass influxes of patients was extremely lacking. As many things are, these changes and shortcomings were mainly tied to financial obligations. The defunding and expulsion of existing measures in place meant to safeguard against pandemics exactly like this one was mainly to allocate more money to other areas that were found to be more relevant or financially beneficial to the government. How would our nation look now if we had not had an administration withholding vital information and an infrastructure to support us?
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.
Ed Yong is admirably frank in this Atlantic article, asserting that Covid-19 in the U.S. was an utter failure. Yong defends this argument with abundant statistics, stark comparisons to other nations, and historical parallels which make his case hard to contest. In practically every action taken (and lack thereof), the United States went wrong, and the consequences are extensive. Is the blame really on President Trump? Or is it on his supporters and other Americans who neglect the importance of public health? Both, it seems, went hand in hand.
I appreciate Yong’s claim that the “normal” life we were so used to is what actually led to this pandemic. In many ways, this global crisis is a wake-up call to fundamentally change lifestyle norms which are unnatural, especially in the United States. The elemental American belief that health is a matter of personal responsibility rather than a collective good was the first strike that led to our downfall. The capitalistic system contradicts many ethical pillars of allocation of healthcare in itself. In a pandemic, this exacerbates. Yong notes, “Black people have higher rates of chronic illnesses that predispose them to fatal cases of COVID‑19. When they go to hospitals, they’re less likely to be treated. The care they do receive tends to be poorer.” It’s hard not to think of Henrietta Lacks and the countless other people of color who have been mistreated from this affair. The selfish every-man-for-themself notion inevitably hurts certain groups who come from a nation built on specific oppression. Yong also flips the value of capitalism on its head. America may be the richest country in the world, “but dollar bills alone are no match against a virus.” In summation, our country has been deservedly humbled.
Americans are used to waking up to notifications with statistics on their phone. News headlines such as, “America tops 200,000 new cases” is now nothing unusual to us, but it’s important to think about the lives behind the numbers and the consequences of this normalization. In many ways, social media inflamed this pandemic, and it does not seem to be declining whatsoever in the near future. With evidence that media is impactful, it adds another layer of accountability for our leaders to handle their platforms maturely. If, say Hillary Clinton, had won the 2016 election and served as our president during this time, how different would the outcome have been? We can only wonder…
Ed Young highlights the myriad of ways the pandemic has been mishandled in his article, An Anatomy of American Failure. He highlights the intersection of problems that have exacerbated the pandemic, such as weak public health infrastructure, conspiracy theories, and a tenuously connected global supply chain. Moreover, the pandemic has disproportionately affected minority communities, such as African Americans, the elderly, and immunocompromised. All of these factors have created an almost apocalyptic landscape for many Americans.
Additionally, Young also highlights the role the president had in determining the scale of the pandemic. As he says “Trump is a comorbidity of the COVID‑19 pandemic. He isn’t solely responsible for America’s fiasco, but he is central to it”. This is an undeniable fact about the pandemic. In a time of crisis, a leader is supposed to ensure safety to all people – not just his supporters. By any standard, Trump’s actions have been unethical. Though Young doesn’t touch on this, he robbed the American people of informed consent when he lied about the danger of COVID-19. In February, he publically downplayed COVID-19 as only being as dangerous as the flu while privately confessing to Bob Woodward that it was a seriously deadly disease. Some may say Trump didn’t have a moral obligation to disclose this information as he isn’t a medical professional, but as Commander in Chief, I feel he takes on the same level of responsibility for the entirety of the American people.
Though this is a turbulent time, I feel it is quintessential that we evaluate the morals of our elected leaders today. Putting aside political affiliations, Ed Young lays bare the myriad of ways Trump has acted unethically – just concerning the pandemic. With this in mind, it is important to consider how we ought to move forward as a county. In this class, we have been tools to evaluate actions plainly as being ethical or unethical. We have analyzed case studies and debated them in class, but these are real tools that we can use outside the classroom. Thus, as we wait to see what the future of our country holds, I urge everyone to truly evaluate his actions. Simultaneously, I wonder, beyond political action, how we can repair the damage this administration has caused and restore trust in our public health system? Currently, I am overwhelmed by watching the election results and have no idea how we can move past this politicization of the pandemic. If anyone could offer a sliver of comfort, it would be greatly appreciated.
Ed Young’s article detailing the “failure” of America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights many of the inequalities and healthcare problems pervading our country. He explains that women, the elderly, dementia patients, people with mental disabilities, Asian Americans, Black Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans have all been disproportionately affected. Young continues to expand on how Black Americans have been impacted, explaining that they account for 30% of the 3.1 Million people in America who cannot afford health insurance and claiming that this is a modern day continuation of Jim Crow when hospitals were not built around Black communities and Black patients were separated into separate hospital wings if they were able to seek treatment. Former slave states, he cites, were some of the first to lift social distancing measures around Covid and invest the lowest amount of money in public health. The result? Covid has disproportionately affected the Black community as a result of the medical disadvantages already in place, higher rates of chronic illnesses, and their roles as low paid, essential workers. All the “existing inequities stack the odds in favor of the virus.”
The parallels between Black American’s lives now, spotlighted through Covid-19, and Henrietta Lacks’ story 70 years ago are shamefully similar, because she as well as her family faced numerous inequalities when seeking medical treatment, were effectively being forced to work and live in unhealthy environments, and possessed distrust in medicine resulting from their experiences. Henrietta had to drive or walk a very far distance to get to Johns Hopkins, because there were no hospitals near her that would treat black patients. They lived next to toxic factories and the men worked there to support their families. Additionally, all the Lacks were wary of going to the doctors because of fear at how they would be treated, exactly similar to a patient in Young’s article. The fact that Black patients, and really all Americans, are still not being treated equitably in regards to medical treatment is a disgrace. It makes me think back to Daniel’s article, stating that everyone is entitled to the necessary resources to achieve “normal functioning” in society and compete, as equally possible, for opportunities. Healthcare is thus a right to achieve said normal functioning, and it not being available impedes citizens ability to thrive. The question again however thus arises, what really is “normal functioning” and even if it is achieved, how do we address the problem of people continually being exposed to Covid-19 because of their area of work?
Ed Yong explores various ways in which the U.S has failed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and during this exploration, reveals several ethical dilemmas and issues that was either highlighted due to the pandemic, or arose in the midst of responding to the pandemic. Issues such as the president’s lack of awareness and immediate action and the health care system not being funded properly can be thought to be caused by the country’s lack of care for the health care system, and their view on health care as an individual responsibility rather than a collective good.
Other issues, such as more cases of COVID 19 occurring in prisons and nursing homes due to a weak and vulnerable system can be seen as an ethical issue, as the system may be seen as directly endangering the health of the individuals located within the system, and thus violating their basic human rights to be protected and receive the minimal health care treatment that could prevent obvious and easily preventable spread of the disease.
Lastly, the article focuses on how the already existing inequalities within the United States, such as health care systems not being readily available for black patients due to Jim Crow influenced policies that purposefully distance health care treatment from these people, or the Native Americans who are unable to enact basic disease preventing actions such as washing hands or receiving sanitization due to a lack of water source.
I believe that all the issues discussed above are fundamentally caused by the deeply rooted individualism and a lack of care for the common good which is necessary when dealing with issues such as health care. By arguing for the emphasis on the common good, I do not necessarily mean that the U.S should completely except collectivist ideologies proposed by people such as Karl Marx or Hegel, which emphasizes the need for a sovereign state and control of the population by the government, as this would fundamentally diminish the freedom and autonomy that Americans are able to have today.
Although a full outright control of people’s actions by the government with the intention of giving the best health care would be ideal for solely steepening the COVID 19 curve, I believe that instead of relying on the power of the state, such as how China utilizes by manipulating the media in order to maintain a good reputation, we should rely on our rational mind and the good will that we have towards the people that are part of the society. Perhaps, it may be useful to consider this common goal to provide health care and prevent the disease in terms of Kant. But even in an individualistic sense, it is in the best interest of individuals to act collectively in order to prevent the spread of COVID.