Times of Peril

Instead of responding to each of your individual comments, I would like to start a few new threads highlighting some most important topics in our discussion. Each of you are welcomed to start your own thread if you feel the issue under your discussion deserves to be highlighted.
As for the lessons from the Spanish Flu, many of you mention that leadership matters. This is one of the biggest lessons we learn or unfortunately unlearned. President Wilson, focusing on winning the World War I and neglecting the advice from experts, did not take effective measure against the flu, which ended up with killing 12-13 times more Americans than the war. The cities, such as Philadelphia and St. Louis, under different leadership also produced remarkably different results.
Judging from what is unfolding with coronavirus in the U.S., this is a typical case of history unlearned. The American leadership, as defined by this administration in the White House, has been a total failure. As many students point out, it fails both domestically and internationally.
Let’s talk about domestic issue first.
The Chinese government mishandled the unexpected eruption of coronavirus at the end of the last year and even tried to cover up. However, it informed the WHO on December 31 and their major partners including the U.S. in January. We can always argue if the Chinese government told the whole truth. But as the Korean foreign minister pointed out, the Korean government took immediate actions based on the information that the Chinese government provided, and quickly put the situation under control. So did Japan and Singapore.
In contrast, our president did not take the issue seriously at all, claiming that it was a democrats’ hoax as late as February. I just did some cut and paste from the media to show how president Trump responded to the situation.
When he was asked by CNBC in an interview that aired January 22 if there were worries about a pandemic, he responded, “No. Not at all. And — we’re — we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
On February 10, he openly said of coronavirus: “”You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April.”
On February 26: Trump predicted the number of US cases is “going very substantially down” to “close to zero”. On March 6: after acknowledging coronavirus did hit the U.S., Trump claimed that US coronavirus numbers “are lower than just about anybody.”
On March 9, Trump tweeted, “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
On March 10, the day before the WHO’s pandemic declaration, Trump said, “And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” He added: “It’s really working out. And a lot of good things are going to happen.”
But now, about 20 days later, facing the stern reality, Trump administration projected 100,000-240,000 deaths in the U.S.
How did we get here? Or, using a phrase from a Chinese blogger: “We have had so many people dying in this, buying the precious time for you. What are your Americans doing?”
I think that the federal government should have taken strong actions at least in late January but it did almost nothing. The world community has rightfully criticized Chinese government’s mishandling the situation when the coronavirus erupted in Wuhan, trying to cover up and taking non action. But to its credit, as the first victim, the Chinese government was caught completely off-guard, and once it realized its mistakes, it took strong actions. It wasted less a month of critical window of opportunity but now put the situation largely under the control. In contrast, we was not caught off-guard. We say thousands of Chinese died as early as January. Not only did the Chinese government inform us, the U.S. intelligent community also warned the president about the coming threats. We wasted about two months, allowing the virus spread like a wildfire. This is an exaggerated version of mistake made by the Chinese government.
In addition to the domestic leadership, American leadership is rapidly eroding around the globe, which I had discussed and want to repeat here:
In January, when the coronavirus erupted in China, killing thousands, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross went on TV and said the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China could be positive for the American economy:
“I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease.”
“The fact is, it does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain… So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America,” he went on to say.
Basically, when so many people in another country were dying, our government was celebrating, believing that this was a good time for Americans to make money.
Even as late as March 6, Trump was still echoing this celebrating mood by saying that “maybe” the coronavirus improved US jobs numbers: “I think, you know, a lot of people are staying here and they’re going to be doing their business here.” He continued, “And maybe that’s one of the reasons the job numbers are so good. We’ve had a lot of travel inside the USA.” About 10 days later, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance in a week.
Grant it: we waged a trade war against China and just had a truce at the beginning of the year. But since the end of World War II, we have never seen any civilized nation celebrating the death of so many innocent civilians in another country, even if that country was its enemy. We fought two Iraqi wars but never celebrated the death of innocent civilian Iraqis.
Then, President Trump kept saying “Chinese virus.” He only stopped using the term when he realized the confirmed cases in the U.S. went higher than that in China, China controlled a half of mask production in the world and we badly needed China’s cooperation.
After this, how many other countries are going to trust us?
Ironically, after all those celebrating and gloating over other’s misfortune, China has flattened the curve, at least for now, and restarted its factories and business. If you are factory owner and have to decide your location, you would probably choose China over the U.S. right now. As Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize laureate of economics, lamented on New York Times two days ago, “the United States is on the worst trajectory of any advanced country — yes, worse than Italy at the same stage of the pandemic — with confirmed cases doubling every three days.” In the end, it is most likely that the U.S. has the biggest death tolls in the world, even though we are still the strongest nation, one of the richest on earth, and had two month for preparation.

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