The Lesson of the Pandemic: Choose Good Government over Bad Government
Updated: Sep 16
Because societies will always be burdened with some people who behave badly, we need to collectively create common sense rules, and we need to enforce them judiciously. In other words, good government. Our Constitution is predicated on this assumption.
As I write these thoughts, 196,000 of our fellow U.S. citizens have died from COVID-19 over the past six months. In our rural New York county, the verified cases over that period amount to 158 (and sadly 1 death), with 58 of them (about one-third) occurring just over the past week, a sudden and alarming increase likely due to thousands of students coming to the SUNY Cortland campus from all over the state and beyond.
As we now know, up to 80% of cases are asymptomatic, so testing only people with symptoms is very ineffective. The original plan to test only students who exhibited symptoms was never going to work. On June 1, the union that represents SUNY’s faculty and staff (United University Professions) called for the university’s administration to test every student before allowing them to enter our campus communities. After a great deal of political pressure, six campuses implemented pool testing on August 31, and Cortland will begin its testing this week. Being able to immediately quarantine people with COVID-19 and test those who’ve been in contact with them should curtail the spread of the virus. Community members had to insist that officials do better for all of us. The decisions of the people in charge are critical for our health. So is our own role in voicing our demands.
In the absence of a vaccine and treatment, universal mask-wearing and the accurate, rapid testing of an entire population and contact tracing to isolate all infected people has proven globally to be the most effective way to prevent the catastrophic spread of the disease. The astounding success of other countries like Canada, New Zealand, and South Korea, that have executed appropriate public health responses to COVID-19, goes to show how critical an appropriate national response is.
The utter lack of such a scientifically driven national response in the United States accounts for the staggering number of cases and deaths here, along with the looming specter of 400,000 or more deaths before the end of 2020. The mortality rate isn’t the whole story. Rates of depression, in itself a significant physical health factor, are three times higher than before the pandemic hit. Many of the current 6.5+ million survivors of COVID-19 will have debilitating, lifelong health problems, such as damage to the heart, lungs, or brain. And we’re not even talking about economic impact.
The current federal executive branch, supported by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, shows no signs of reversing its disastrous paralysis in the face of the pandemic. In fact, some of its actions, like hoarding PPE and bidding against state agencies attempting to procure PPE for health care providers in cities with outbreaks, or promoting quack cures like hydroxychloroquine, have made the situation far worse and contributed to the death tally.
Despite Trump’s statements taped by Bob Woodward during phone interviews dating back to February in which he admitted that COVID-19 is a highly contagious airborne virus, much deadlier than the flu, he still refuses to wear a mask in public and mocks those who do. He is still holding indoor rallies with thousands of closely packed, cheering, unmasked supporters. He still refuses to enact the Defense Production Act to manage an effective nationally coordinated response.
Public outrage has thus far not persuaded the Trump White House and the Senate leadership to change course or to pass the bipartisan Heroes Act with its funding to address the health and economic issues resulting from the virus. The Trump administration continues to insist that each state fend for itself. It continues to sideline and hamstring our federal scientists in the CDC, FDA and NIH, even going so far as to appoint a paranoid conspiracy theorist with no qualifications, Michael Caputo, to control the public information published by the CDC. The Trump administration is responsible for millions of people believing that this virus is a hoax they can ignore or worse, actively invite by taking extraordinary risks.
This pandemic has revealed the life-and-death consequences of the kind of government we choose. Incompetent, corrupt politicians who fail to serve the public literally kill and cripple citizens. The solution is not to eliminate government. Who wants a free-for-all in which you’d have to kill or be killed? The reality of so-called “small government,” with cities and states cut adrift from any centralized coordination, is a prescription for disaster in the face of global challenges like climate changes and pandemics. COVID-19 has also shown us the ability of good government and leadership to save lives and prevent unnecessary suffering.
We are the “united” states for good reason. The Republican destruction of federal government structures in the name of “dismantling big government” has actually warped democratic institutions for the purpose of empowering and enriching a dictator who serves only himself, his family, and friends. The current government with its gutted agencies and corrupt appointees who have replaced dedicated career public servants is still “big” in its negative impact on our lives, arguably bigger than it has even been. Just look at the unprecedented national debt (over $20 Trillion or about $62,000 per capita) racked up by the Trump administration and the self-proclaimed “fiscally responsible” GOP.
We cannot continue to allow the corrupt and de facto cruel people in power to dictate to us. Our very lives depend upon our political engagement. Resisting the chaos and peril of the past few years has been exhausting, but we can’t slack off now that the opportunity to change our government lies just around the corner. We can defeat those who seek to seize power or to stay in power solely out of self-interest at any cost. We have the power to elect officials who have our best interests at heart, people with integrity who believe in shared power and democracy. Let’s do everything we can to elect or re-elect them in our local, state, and federal offices in November, by donating money, voting early, and encouraging others to vote for good government.