We may still be in the throes of COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., but five huge lessons are already veritably slapping us in the face, ready to teach valuable lessons to all those willing to learn. These should be mandatory college courses.
Unfortunately, too many of them will be washed away through the flood of partisanship or the Get Trump Mafia in the media.
But these are virtually unassailable lessons.
Lesson 1: The American people still know how to rise to the occasion.
Private enterprise, private organizations, religious institutions all took the lead in response to the pandemic long before the giant behemoth of the federal government could begin to lumber into action. Some people see this as a failing of the federal government. It’s not. It’s the best of Americana.
So we had the NBA, March Madness, the NHL, college sports, Disney, Six Flags, Busch Gardens and other theme parks, fairs, conferences, and so on all voluntarily cancelled their events long before the government at any level lumbered into action.
This is an amazing approach. Apple closed all of its stores. WalMart and Publix, probably others, reduced open hours so they could do more thorough overnight cleanings and re-stock depleted shelves. Again, all before the government acted. No government told any of these groups or companies they had to do so.
The Republican Party across the country in hundreds and thousands of jurisdictions (and presumably the Democratic Party) cancelled all meetings, dinners and fundraisers, a very painful decision, all before federal or state governments acted.
We’ve already virtually forgotten this one, because all media focus is on government and what did Trump say or do, completely missing a huge lesson.
Lesson 2: State governments remain a better response mechanism than the federal government.
While Democrats will use this opportunity to try again for universal government healthcare, it should be noted that the federal leviathan was slow and incompetent for a long time in response to this. (See the CDC and FDA bungling of initial tests and treatments.)
But states, including generally badly run ones such as California and Washington, moved much more quickly. Washington state, hit very hard when the virus got into a nursing home before it was identified, killing dozens of elderly people, enacted strict policies on event size, travel, etc. and California soon followed. In Washington, D.C., however, it was nonsense as usual.
Now whether you think some of these state policies went too far or not, is a different question. The point is they reacted much more quickly than the federal government. This is classic historical Americana — and a great real-world study in the strengths of federalism.
Lesson 3: Big government is slow, inefficient and incompetent.
When finally the fat lard of federal government roused itself, the nation discovered it was both incompetent, corrupt and hopelessly politicized inside and out.
This may be the point when history will look back and see that Americans had seen enough of the permanent bureaucratic state and endless volumes of environmental rules, regulations and procedures that throttled life-saving actions early in the pandemic. It was this paper-gushing bureaucracy that, in January, blocked the CDC and FDA from COVID-19 testing.
Once those rules were kicked aside and the CDC got its tests created, it managed to bungle the first ones, sending out kits that had very high false negatives. Ridiculously, they refused to use the tests that Washington was already effectively using. They wanted to create their own — because that is how government bureaucrats think. Turf protection and expansion.
Imagine putting these sorts of people and systems in charge of all Americans’ healthcare. Well, not Congress of course. They’ll exempt themselves with platinum plans on the backs of taxpayers.
Add the CDC and FDA to the FBI, IRS and other federal government agencies that have badly failed the American people in recent years. The picture becomes deadly clear.
Or should. But because the media coverage only touched on these issues, while spewing like an uncapped oil strike about Trump, too many Americans will miss the lesson. They will be propagandized to think it was all because of Trump, when it was actually the federal bureaucracy — which will always be slow, incompetent and corrupt.
Lesson 4: American companies are leading the way out.
This pandemic is reminiscent of how big business mobilized the nation during World War II. For all his faulty policies, FDR was spot on in some areas. He recognized that to defeat Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, the government needed the help of the guys who knew how to make things happen and get the job done. And he was right.
President Trump called on business leaders to help lead response efforts by responding in ways the government is incapable of — quickly, efficiently retooling to begin manufacturing ventilators, N95 face masks, sanitizers and a range of other needed medical equipment. (These appeared to be needed. The more we learn, as we note in Lesson 5, the more we find the numbers were apparently vastly overstated.)
In fact, we are already seeing that we now have plenty of medical supplies. The reality that the experts got the projections badly wrong does not take anything away from how quickly American companies responded. This was just not seen in other countries.
Trump created partnerships with manufacturers such as General Motors to build ventilators, with tech giants like Google to develop a national website for coronavirus screenings and with Walmart to use their parking lots for drive-through testing.
On a small business scale, distilleries around the country shifted part of their production from whiskey, rum and other products to mass-producing hand sanitizer or surface sanitizers after reports of shortages. Many of them were giving the sanitizer away for free. There are hundreds of these stories.
Private enterprise is almost always the better path to a solution than government.
Lesson 5: The experts can be wrong, very wrong, even in their area of expertise.
This is maybe the toughest lesson for many Americans to swallow. We turn “experts” and “scientists” into little gods in whom we put our trust.
I examine this one in-depth here: The Evidence Is Coming In: Virus Experts May Have Been Badly Wrong.
This is not a knock on them getting it wrong. The truth is they were always doomed to get a lot wrong early on with this virus, because it was brand new. But as experts, they should have known that. Instead, they spoke authoritatively, put out numbers that were wildly inaccurate we now know, and we listened and followed as though it came from On High.
The consequences of the experts being overconfident, the media hyping the worst case scenarios of wrong data as though it was fact, and the rest of us following too sheepishly is having devastating consequences on our businesses, jobs and lives.
Further, we only listened to experts and scientists in the area of viral infections. But from the start of conversations of shutting down, we really needed to also be hearing from economists, businessmen, government tax revenue experts and so on. A broad range of experts would have led to a balanced approach to the outbreak, which is looking more and more like the route we should have taken.
Because the pandemic response has naturally become politicized, the challenge will be learning these lessons when every one of them can break down into tribalism and cherry-picking, and using Trump as the pinata for every failure of the bureaucracy. That is the path toward learning nothing.
Rod Thomson is an author, past Salem radio host, ABC TV commentator, former journalist and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.