We had a remarkable cushion of time to react compared to China or Italy and enjoyed the benefit of the Germans providing the W.H.O. their coronavirus test which the W.H.O. made available to the U.S. But we said, “no thank you” and killed the only hope of containing the virus which was to test, test, test. Pride goeth before the fall.
So the whole month of February got frittered away (the NY Times has a great piece on the forensics of how this happened here and how the big players are the CDC and the FDA and they rather neatly complemented each others flaws).
The root cause for both failures seems to be leadership that lacked experience hired by a guy (Trump) who lacked experience.
Lest you blame Trump, think again. The American people have longed and thirsted for inexperience with every fibre of our being, both Republican and Democrat, Independent and Socialist. From a reformed drunk who managed one state successfully for a short time (GW Bush) to a nobody community organizer (Obama) to a real estate honcho (Trump), the American people have demanded inexperience.
But the devilish quandary is that thirst for inexperience is completely legitimate! From the “experienced” LBJ and Vietnam to “experienced” Nixon and Watergate, to the taping of MLK by the FBI and “experienced” Hoover excesses, to the “experienced” robed justices who declared that killing your baby is protected in the Constitution, to the deep state and swamp-ish contemporary behaviors -- well it’s been a long time comin’.
You can see that startlingly illustrated by the binary election of 2016: corrupt, experienced politician in the mode of Hoover/Nixon/LBJ (Hillary) or rank newcomer with the inexperience of ten GW Bushes (Trump).
To alter the Dylan lyric, “there ain’t no way out of here.” Which, counterintuitively, for me is a satisfying answer. Knowing there was nothing we could do makes it easier to stomach.
Closer to the ground we see this 2-year old Atlantic piece that eerily presages the failure of the newly hired C.D.C. leader:
“Dr. Redfield will begin his directorship at a pivotal time for the CDC. Infectious diseases are emerging at an ever faster pace, drug-resistant microbes are sweeping the world, and the United States is struggling to deal with its opioid epidemic...
Given these challenges, others have concerns about Redfield’s experience. That may seem odd for someone with such deep medical credentials, but the CDC is a public-health agency, and improving the health of entire populations requires different skills and knowledge than caring for individual patients. CDC directors must be more than experienced physicians or scientists; they must run an agency of 15,000 employees with a budget of over 7 billion dollars, and ideally, they’d jump into the post already having strong relationships with public-health officials at the state and local level.
For that reason, most former directors have either run a city or state public-health department before, or have worked at the CDC itself.”Hmmm...what could go wrong?
And the die was cast likewise with FDA hire. In a column written last year and thus likewise without hindsight:
"There have been concerns raised in media reports about Hahn’s lack of experience working in the federal government. The majority of his professional experience has been running radiation oncology departments at academic medical centers, including the University of Pennsylvania, for nearly two decades. He is also a clinical trial investigator. Gottlieb, in comparison, had worked at the FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before being named FDA commissioner."The money phrase there is “academic medical centers”. Working in academia neatly explains his holy and apostolic reverence for the feelings of the scientists under him than the crass citizenry and front-line medical community. He’s a first responder to his his team, not vulgar outsiders.
So after reading the articles, including the Times piece, it seems like our muddled first response was no accident, was actively willed, by a society in decay.