If ever you wanted a lesson on the 'me me me' culture that exists in modern society, look no further than the US public response to the Covid crisis. This is not something unique to the US, it has taken root in Europe too to a slightly lesser extent too, but it remains a worrying indicator of how western democracies deal with a modern day public health crisis.
I've kept a journal since March 2020, when the crisis began to spiral out of control. It has caused catastrophic loss of life, not to mention the long lasting impact on many who have managed to survive hospitalisation. Politicians around the world were all under the spotlight, as each charted their path through a crisis the world hasn't seen since the early part of the twentieth century. It has highlighted cultural differences and the relative impact that Covid 19 has had in different parts of the world.
The response has ranged from the authoritarian approach of China who used the power of the state apparatus to quite literally lock down its citizens, to the bizarre approach of Trump and leaders like Jair Bolsonaro, who simply took the view that the welfare of their economy trumped any public health considerations. Here in the UK, Boris Johnson joined that school of thinking too until he nearly died from it, then he had a 'road to Damascus moment', by which time it was too late. There can be no argument, the response of national leaders has had a direct impact on the level of fatalities each country has suffered. Those with a structured federal approach have faired much better than those that didn't.
Western democracies seem to have suffered the largest losses, although it might be argued that we will never know the level of losses suffered by the likes of Russia and China. The US will I am sure be the textbook example of how not to handle a pandemic in the future. The failure in my book, comes in two distinct parts. The first being a culture of arrogance, where the view was 'this won't happen to us' and secondly, the abject failure of public health messaging and an unwillingness to take the necessary steps to shut down, in order to create a fire break for critical planning to be carried out.
The US was a unique situation because the crisis arrived slap bang in the middle of an election campaign. Unlike in the rest of the world, the whole crisis became politicised and that led to the signing of a death warrant for hundreds of thousands of Americans, as the Trump campaign decided that loss of life, was acceptable in the pursuit of four more years in the White House. Anything that affected the ability to paint the economy other than strong, was the enemy and had to be shut down. Throughout the summer shutdowns that caused problems for the economy was stamped on, as messaging to 'open up' were driven at every twist and turn. Everything from bleach to sunlight to Hydroxychloroquine were on the table in order to convince the American people it was safe to operate as normal and the message resonated.
For medical professionals, virologists and immunologists, the messaging was a nightmare, as they watched hospitals get flooded with cases and deaths just kept climbing. Trump turned his back on real doctors, preferring the likes of Scott Atlas who was promoting natural herd immunity against all the available scientific advice. I can't think of it as anything else but reckless negligent homicide on the part of Trump and the likes of Atlas. It still makes me feel sick, to think of all the families that lost loved ones who would still be alive today, had their president been guided by the science rather than a lust for power.
The normalisation of Covid deaths will forever be a stain on the GOP, who have been the amplification source for a messaging campaign, that has led to the death of over 550,000 Americans. This messaging hasn't been a misguided effort to do the right thing, it has been a callous and calculated message designed to protect the interests of the wealthy. It is the same messaging that said it's OK to kill children in their classroom, or to suffer endless mass casualty events. To Republicans, these are a price worth paying to uphold their values and their objectives. These values are a cancer at the heart of society and as long as they persist, good, decent, hard working Americans, will forever pay a heavy price.
A culture of rejecting anything that might cause inconvenience is the fuel that is and will continue to kill Americans and others in western democracies. Who would have thought that wearing a mask would be considered a civil liberties issue? Who would have though that consideration for others was somehow politically disloyal. Who would have thought that even now after a tsunami of deaths, that the equivalent of two 9/11 events per week should be celebrated as a success? That even day the equivalent of two or three aircraft falling out of the sky doesn't even register in the minds of everyday Americans.
Most shocking of all, even when you have a president that has moved heaven and earth to vaccinate everyone, put in place measures to aid recovery of the economy and helped those left behind. What happens? Science based public health messaging is ignored once again, putting others at risk and all to avoid being inconvenienced. It is a shocking indictment on US social values and makes a mockery of so called christian values often touted by the religious right.
Even the emotional pleas of the CDC Director will I suspect, have little impact on activity over the upcoming Easter break. Americans will just do what they would usually do and to hell with who is killed by it.
I know this assessment does not apply to all Americans, I know there is a responsible segment of society, who will act responsibly and not put others at risk. Sadly, a number of those will lose their lives through the irresponsible behaviour of others. There appears to be no answer in a world where the need to avoid inconvenience takes priority over social responsibility. God help us.