Image source: Economic Times

Rakesh Neelakandan

The coronavirus pandemic is raging globally and the US is heaving for breath. It is fighting a fractured and fragmented battle with individual states vying for essential medical supplies even as fatalities and new positive cases continue to rise.

“We don’t have a national plan,” says epidemiologist Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. “We are going from press conference to press conference and crisis to crisis trying to understand our response.”

The issues faced by the US are so grim that many observers intuitively feel it is almost time to write off the United States of America, whatever that means. The US is on ventilator support, they feel. Perhaps, nothing could be farther from the truth. This is because many of them forget that the present corona pandemic in the US is not a crisis of capability but one characterised by utter negligence and zero preparation. The general characterisation and belief of the pandemic as, ‘this is just a seasonal flu; it will go away’ flew in the face of America. Millions of Americans got it wrong, just like the transatlantic people.

In other words, the USA does have the capability to overcome the problems posed by the global pandemic. But it was least prepared, ignoring it at its own peril to the point that now it is depending on emergency medical supplies from Russia, an undeclared arch enemy. But now with the body-bag purchases on, this must have jolted the US back to reality. And it shall overcome, as it always has. And this is not a piece of misplaced optimism. On the contrary, it is firmly rooted in reality.

If history is any indication, if it teaches us a lesson, then that is this: don’t bet against the United States of America. Ask the Oracle of Omaha, the legendary investor, Warren Buffett. He will not dispute.

“For 240 years it’s been a terrible mistake to bet against America, and now is no time to start. America’s golden goose of commerce and innovation will continue to lay more and larger eggs. America’s social security promises will be honoured and perhaps made more generous. And, yes, America’s kids will live far better than their parents did.” Buffet said this in 2016. His words have not gone obsolete, yet.

The US first fought a bloody, existential-centric Civil War and later marched into two world wars fending off a Great Depression in between and emerged out of all of them not only victorious but also stronger.

“…The strains of twentieth-century total war on the states and peoples involved in it were almost bound to stretch both to their limits, and, as like as not, to breaking-point. Only the USA came out of the world wars very much as it had gone into them, only rather stronger.” Eric Hobsbawm wrote in his iconic narrative of ‘The Age of Extremes.’

In the post-modern world, the US has ruled all the physical, intellectual and emotional realms of humanity as represented by its military dominance, intellectual property filings and soft power manifestations for more than 60 years, it being the paramount power since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Its technological capabilities are immense and unrivalled on many fronts.

The US, notwithstanding the pandemic, is still the world’s biggest economy harbouring a GDP of US$ 21.43 trillion. The stimulus package of US$ 2 trillion passed by the US House to fight the crisis is the biggest ever in recorded history. It is still the technological capital of the world. Silicon Valley is still the Mecca of innovation with the leviathans of IT still in their pride of place and in their comfortable nests. It will take decades before they can be challenged by any means. Greenback continues to be the globe’s reserve currency.

What the US does have is a leadership problem in the sense that it elected a wrong leader four years back — one can state this now with surety and with the benefit of hindsight — a leader incapable of wielding and directing his power of astronomical proportions to leverage opportunities of growth and healing for America in a just way.

Thus, on the one hand it has a robust governance system in place primarily characterised by its topnotch legislative, bureaucracy and military personnel. On the other hand, it has a truly weak executive leadership imbibing energy from a xenophobic, racist, opportunistic citizenry, which of course has been a minority and does not represent the true spirit of America.

And there are places where Uncle Sam got his act right. Ohio; America’s seventh-most-populous state. There, its governor foreseeing the havoc, announced a ban on spectators at the Arnold Classic, a sports festival which is normally attended by millions of people. This happened on March 3, and the State had zero positive cases of Covid-19 at that time. In-person classes in colleges were the next in line to go. Public schools went off the grid in the subsequent move followed by the closure of bars and restaurants. In stark comparison to New York, with a death figure of 6367 attributed to coronavirus, and cases running into 100,000 as on April 12, Ohio has 253 deaths and 6518 cases for the same date.

This means, where the leadership is not lacking, the US can fight and contain the epidemic. This is also the reason why this episode of epidemic shall be the unravelling of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The author was a former Research Intern with CPPR. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

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