Some excerpts from that article:
It didn’t have to be this way. Fighting a pandemic is difficult work, even more so when the disease is “novel,” our understanding of it fast-evolving, and the population, at first, entirely unexposed. From a certain vantage, one can even marvel at just how thoroughly and how quickly the activity of the world was reoriented around fighting this disease. Even here in the United States, with a know-nothing narcissist in the White House presiding over a do-nothing governing party that has — over decades but especially during this administration — kneecapped the federal bureaucracy into a state of say-nothing subservience, its tradition of quasi-separatist libertarianism and its culture of entitled grievance and its all-encompassing partisan culture war, even here the country’s states snapped into lockdown, the vast majority of them by just March 30. At that point, there had been about 3,000 deaths and 164,000 confirmed cases. Today, we are north of 3 million cases and 134,000 deaths. At the outset of the pandemic, Americans were horrified by the experience of Wuhan, which tabulated 50,000 cases officially, in total. The U.S. is now adding 50,000 cases every single day. The death toll has risen 45-fold since the country went into lockdown.
…None of these new outbreaks, defining America’s summer experience of the disease, had really gotten going before New York, the worst-hit place in the country this spring, had gotten a handle on its terrible outbreak. And yet none of them managed to learn from New York’s example.
Distressingly, this has not just been an American problem, though the United States has distinguished itself by not just refusing to learn from the example of other nations but from itself. .. Everyone had to suffer themselves, and learn for themselves, through that suffering and death.
In Europe, this meant that every nation failed first before ultimately succeeding. In America, it has meant failing once in the spring and now again in the summer, with the prospects increasingly grim for a robust response in the fall, when the pandemic will likely intensify, thanks to the moderate effect of seasonality on coronavirus transmission. In some places, like New York and California, we are not just failing to learn from other states, but failing to learn all that well from our own experience, earlier in the spring.
The first failure is one of hubris: Western nations looking on a disease outbreak in Asia and feeling protected by a sense of cultural superiority and wealth, and disregarding the emergency response in China and other nations as a reflection not of the seriousness of the disease but of an imagined, innate conformist authoritarianism. The second is a bit harder to name, but it does seem peculiarly American — a pattern of failure following failure, with each successive failure normalized by the last, which should have shaken us out of complacency.
If failing to prepare at first is dangerous cultural arrogance, what is it to just give up? Already, there have been a fleet of damning postmortems assessing and picking apart the total failure of the country to respond in the winter. But that failure wasn’t final, or ultimately determinative, since many other countries that failed similarly at first have managed to quite dramatically turn things around. But not the United States, which is failing again every single day. As James Surowiecki joked morbidly, “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.”
He notes that the only bright spot is the falling death rate for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s ticking up as one might expect with the rising rate of hospitalizations.
That is what counts as the good news — the current course of a pandemic disease that has already killed 134,000 Americans. On the side of public response, it is, outside of the northeast, almost all bad news. Where we have built contact-tracing programs, they are failing. There are again looming shortages of PPE. Republicans are less worried about the coronavirus than they were in April, and are not wearing masks at any higher of a rate even though conventional public-health wisdom has hardened around that guidance. Texas senator John Cornyn recently took to Twitter to ask, rhetorically, whether anyone could explain why Houston and Dallas had such similar fatality numbers, despite having very different caseloads, only to be told that the state’s doctors and nurses had set up a call with him to discuss these very questions, which he then bailed on. As Andy Slavitt, Barack Obama’s head of Medicare and Medicaid, has pointed out, the country could have produced enough high-quality N95 masks for every single American to have one by now, but hasn’t. Reopenings are supposed to happen when states get down to one case per million residents; Florida is at 400 cases per million, and growing, and hasn’t yet returned to lockdown. In Spain, the country put a region of 200,000 back into lockdown after just 60 new cases.
In theory, the U.S. could be testing much more widely, indeed even testing every American every single day or every three days as Harvard plans to, generating enough medical surveillance capacity to actually suppress the disease, as so many other countries have, even though the majority of transmission seems to be from pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic patients; instead, the lion’s share of testing is devoted to those with symptoms, meaning the country is, almost by design, missing the majority of the problem. (And the CDC is advising schools and universities against widespread testing, as unfathomable as that may seem.) Symptomatic test capacity has expanded somewhat dramatically, as Donald Trump is so fond of pointing out, but lab capacity has lagged far behind, meaning that, in many parts of the country, patients have to wait five days, sometimes more, before getting results, a delay that renders those results, if not entirely useless, than largely so. In Arizona, the results are taking weeks.
He runs down all the evidence of our massive, monumental failure. But he doesn’t address why.
Two words: Donald Trump.
His presidency has revealed that his office is much too powerful. As long as he has the support of a one-third plus one members of the US Senate a president who cares nothing for the constitution or his own legacy is completely unaccountable during his term of office. This has been demonstrated for everyone to see now. And it is a big problem.
The flip side of that is that an incompetent president has now been shown incapable of using that power to deal with a national crisis, which is why those powers were granted in the first place. We have the worst of all possible worlds in Trump.
This administration, a reflection of Trump’s own chaotic and disordered mind, has refused to muster a national response, largely because the people he’s appointed are incompetent but also because much depends upon a president leading the government and delegating tasks to experts. Trump can do neither because he can’t understand the nature of the crisis or what needs to be done. He has instead fallen back on magical thinking and hoping for the best. (He says over and over again the “the virus is just going to go away.”)
I have written a hundred times over the past four years that “Trump can’t learn.” This is obvious. He doesn’t even try to hide it. And now we know that when the extremely powerful office of president is occupied by someone like that, America can’t learn either.