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Thu 4 June 2020
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CJ Werleman explains how the Coronavirus has starkly exposed all of the US’ structural social problems and made them worse.

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The US reached 21,300 COVID-19 related deaths and 500,000 confirmed cases on Easter Sunday, after recording the highest death toll in a single day and thus placing the country in the unenviable position of being the world’s number one Coronavirus disaster zone.

Whereas the US holds roughly 5% of the world’s total population, Americans now represent 20% of COVID-19 caused total deaths and 30% of confirmed cases, bearing in mind that only 1% of the population has been tested, ranking the country 41st in terms of testing per one million citizens.

Almost four years ago to the day, then presidential candidate Donald Trump promised the country that “we’re going to win so much, you’re going to be sick and tired of winning”. Turns out Americans are sick and dying because their President ignored repeated warnings made by his top health officials and intelligence agencies as far back as January, choosing to downplay the Coronavirus in the belief that doing so would help calm the stock market and thus improve his re-election chances in November.

“By the last week of February, it was clear to the administration’s public health team that schools and businesses in hot spots would have to close,” according to an explosive New York Times investigative piece, which drew upon dozens of interviews with current and former White House officials and a review of emails and records. “But in the turbulence of the Trump White House, it took three more weeks to persuade the President that failure to act quickly to control the spread of the virus would have dire consequences.”

The timeline of events laid bare in the words and warnings of top Government officials reads like an open-and-shut case for a criminal negligence lawsuit against Trump, particularly when you bear in mind that the President managed to squeeze in seven rounds of golf during this period.

But his willful incompetence, braggadocios ignorance and insatiable appetite for self-gain is only one part of the reason for why the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country is currently ground zero in the fight against COVID-19.


‘Land of the Free’

In many ways, Trump, the former host of the television game show The Apprentice, is the perfect metaphor for the United States, a country in which a majority of the contestants – citizens – walk away with nothing in the pursuit of fortune and fame that remains all but out of reach except for the fortunate few.

Behind the glitz and glam, it must be said, the US is a third-world country with billionaires – a reality the Coronavirus pandemic has now made crystal clear.

Put simply, the US is a catastrophic COVID-19 case study because it spends trillions of dollars on high price ticket items that are purposefully designed to rain terror and misery on foreign countries – specifically bombs, missiles and aircraft carriers – but little on things that actually improve the lives of average Americans at home such as infrastructure, education and healthcare.

“We don’t have the machines, we don’t have the beds,” a New York City doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN. “To think that we’re in New York City and this is happening. It’s like a third-world country type of scenario. It’s mind-blowing.”

It has gotten to be this bad because, unlike most of its democratic peers, its almost woefully inadequate and decrepit public healthcare system lacks the resources to test and contact trace an adequate slice of the population, a problem faced by all developing and under-developed countries in the face of a pandemic. By almost every metric, the US trails the rest of the developed world.

“The US performs worse than average among similarly large and wealthy countries across nearly all measures of preparedness for a pandemic,” Cynthia Cox, director of the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker, told VOX. “The Coronavirus outbreak is already exposing inefficiencies and inequities in our health system and it is likely to put much more strain on the system in the coming weeks.”

Things have become so dire that the Governor of California declared the state to be a “nation state” last week because “the federal Government is no longer a reliable partner in delivering healthcare”. The country’s most economically powerful state will now use its “bulk purchasing power” to acquire the medical supplies it needs and then “export” its surplus to other distressed states.

By almost every measure, the US more closely resembles a broken banana republic than a prosperous developed country. Not a single US city ranks in the world’s top 10 most livable. Only three US airports (Denver, Houston and Atlanta) rank in the world’s top 50. The country’s roads, schools and bridges are falling apart. There’s no high-speed rail. US high school students are ranked 30th in mathematics and science, while life expectancy in some counties rivals that of Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Tanzania.

The only thing America remains number one at these days is its rates of COVID-19 infections, adult diabetes, gun deaths, drug addiction, teen suicide and total number of incarcerated citizens – with the reality of the latter bringing us full circle to the current Coronavirus pandemic.

“The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Dostoevsky famously opined. It is no secret that the ‘land of the free’ puts more human beings into cages than any other nation on earth, with 25% of the world’s prison population currently incarcerated in the US. Advocates of criminal justice reform are accusing state and federal governments of doing nothing to prevent inmates from being exposed to COVID-19, even denying them access to hand sanitiser, face masks and clean running water, while being “crammed in like sardines”.

“I was given a sentence to serve, but it was not a death sentence and that’s what it seems like with this pandemic and no one seems to care about us on the inside,” an inmate at a Mississippi state prison facility told the Clarion Ledger.

Prisons are now the largest known source of COVID-19 cases outside of hospitals, airlines, cruise ships and nursing homes in the US. In fact, Chicago’s Cook County jail is now the largest known source of the Coronavirus in the US, with at least 353 cases which can be traced back to the prison.

What all of these points of data suggest is that the US was already in great distress prior to the arrival of the deadly virus and that, far from “Making America Great Again”, Donald Trump’s criminally negligent mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis might have made a nation’s illness terminal.


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