Two weeks ago I wrote about the corrupt political response of China to COVID-19.
Last week I wrote about the corrupt political response of the World Health Organization to COVID-19.
This week I’m writing about the corrupt political response of the United States to COVID-19.
Because it’s happened before.
In August 2005, the city of New Orleans fell.
New Orleans did not fall because of Hurricane Katrina.
New Orleans fell because of the corrupt political response to Hurricane Katrina.
We can stabilize the situation. Again, I want to thank you all.
Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!
– President George W. Bush
In January 2020, the city of Wuhan fell.
Wuhan did not fall because of COVID-19.
Wuhan fell because of the corrupt political response to COVID-19.
Wuhan is a heroic city, and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in history. All regions and departments performed their duties actively and conscientiously.
– Xi the Commander (no, I am not making this up; this is how the Xinhua news service describes him now … “Xi the Commander”)
A corrupt political response is always the same. It never changes in form. It never changes in function.
A corrupt political response occurs when a political leader sacrifices national interest for regime or bureaucratic interest … when a constructed narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” is maintained for the political benefit of the Leader at the expense of the Led.
Oh, the Leader and his flunkies will convince themselves that the narrative “is in the public interest” … that the narrative will “buy them time” … that the narrative is necessary because “the other side” would do the same or worse if given half a chance. It’s all the excuses that all the Renfields to all the professional politicians tell themselves as they slowly sell their souls. It’s what every President and every Director-General and every Senator and every CEO eventually comes to believe, that their personal interests are identical to “their” people’s interests.
Corrupt political responses occur all the time. Literally every day, all over the world. It’s not a left/right thing. It’s not a Democrat/Republican thing. It’s not a Chinese thing or an American thing or a Russian thing. It’s a power thing. It’s a high-functioning sociopath thing.
Not only are corrupt political responses as common as rain, they’re almost never big deals. It’s not treason. It’s not Benedict Arnold selling a map of West Point. It’s petty stuff. It’s patronage appointments. It’s log-rolling. It’s pork barrel politics. Who’s gonna notice? Who’s hurt?
Precisely because these corrupt political responses are so commonplace and so quotidian, they are almost never revealed publicly. I mean, sometimes you have a “whistleblower” listening in on your petty corrupt bargaining with the Ukrainian President or some such, and it blows up into a bit of a tempest, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. And even so, these normal-time reveals are almost always tempests in teacups … full of sound and fury, but no more than that.
But every once in a very great while, an honest-to-god crisis reveals the consequences of your petty everyday corruption, consequences that are paid in the LIVES of those who trusted you to be better.
Every once in a very great while, an honest-to-god crisis reveals the political self-interest and mendacity behind your carefully constructed narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” .
Like the fall of New Orleans revealed George W. Bush.
Like the fall of Wuhan revealed Xi Jinping.
What we must prevent today is the NEXT city to fall.
We must prevent the fall of Daegu. We must prevent the fall of Qom. We must prevent the fall of Milan. Looking ahead, we must prevent the fall of Yokohama. We must prevent the fall of San Francisco.
Because containment has failed.
What we’re seeing in South Korea, Iran and Italy is what exponential disease propagation looks like in the real world. Real world data is spiky. Real world data is messy. Real world exponential growth looks like nothing, nothing, nothing … then cluster, cluster, cluster … then BOOM! My rule of thumb: when a country reports a death from a local COVID-19 infection, then the disease is already endemic in that country. Implementing extreme quarantine measures after that first death – either within that country or by other governments to isolate that country – is closing the barn door after the horse is out … it’s too late. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it for disease minimization or social distancing. But it does mean that a goal of containment is unrealistic.
What we’re seeing today in South Korea, Iran and Italy is the BOOM. Other countries will follow. The United States will follow.
And so now we must fight.
As individuals that means social distancing. As individuals that means doing what we can to stay healthy and prepare for a storm. As a nation that means a war-footing to build dedicated treatment wards before they’re required, to protect healthcare professionals before they get sick, to update our testing and diagnostic capabilities before they are swamped … to do everything possible to bolster our healthcare systems BEFORE the need overwhelms the capacity.
Above all, that means calling out our leaders for their corrupt political responses to date, and forcing them through our outcry to adopt an effective virus-fighting policy for OUR benefit, not theirs.
Because a city does not fall just because it is hit hard by a plague.
A city falls when its healthcare system is overwhelmed. A city falls when its national government fails to prepare and support its doctors and nurses. A city falls when its government is more concerned with maintaining some bullshit narrative of “Yay, Calm and Competent Control!” than in doing what is politically embarrassing but socially necessary.
That’s EXACTLY what happened in Wuhan. More than 30% of doctors and nurses in Wuhan themselves fell victim to COVID-19, so that the healthcare system stopped being a source of healing, but became a source of infection. At which point the Chinese government effectively abandoned the city, shut it off from the rest of the country, placed more than 9 million people under house arrest, and allowed the disease to essentially burn itself out.
And so Wuhan fell.
The disaster that befell the citizens of Wuhan and so many other cities throughout China is not primarily a virus. The disaster is having a political regime that cares more about maintaining a self-serving narrative of control than it cares about saving the lives of its citizens.
We must prevent that from happening here. From happening anywhere. Yes, containment has failed. But that does NOT mean the war is lost. We can absolutely do better – SO MUCH BETTER – for our citizens than China did for theirs.
And so we must call out the Director-General of the World Health Organization for his corrupt political response to COVID-19, where by continuing to toe the (literal) party line, he sacrifices WHO’s authority and credibility on the altar of China “access”.
During my visit to Beijing last week, I was so impressed in my meeting with President Xi at his detailed knowledge of the outbreak, and for his personal leadership … if it weren’t for China’s efforts, the number of cases outside China would have been very much higher.
WHO Director-General Tedros
And so we must call out the President of the United States for his corrupt political response to COVID-19, as well.