It’s OK to be outraged by how the federal government is responding to the pandemic.
At this point, we are all deep into this nightmare of the coronavirus. We’ve been immersed in bad news for weeks, and we’ve all struggled to find ways to cope with this madness.
People find meaning in reaching out to friends, or going for a walk or just appreciating a sunset. We’ve experienced an array of emotions, including sadness, denial, humor, reflection and determination. Perhaps those are the natural stages of emotions during this tragedy. I’ve gone through all these feelings myself, just like everyone else.
But at the risk of sounding insensitive, it is my hope that aside from our introspections about life or our silly jokes or our nature hikes, we also feel outrage at what we are seeing every day. Without outrage, I fear, we will become complacent and accepting of the dire situation in which we find ourselves and the way our government has responded, and that just cannot be. There is so much to be outraged about:
Outrage at seeing our country caught woefully unprepared for this pandemic.
Outrage at seeing severe shortages of medical workers and the equipment necessary to protect them and keep their patients alive.
Outrage that this global virus has hit the U.S — the richest country in the world — harder than anywhere else.
Outrage at seeing states forced to engage in a bidding war with each other — and even FEMA — in order to locate scarce supplies. (Many states report they have resorted to seeking private funds to secure those supplies.)
Outrage at seeing thousands of American lives lost because we cannot do something as seemingly simple as test everyone.
The list goes on and on and on.
Sorry to be so blunt, but this is shameful. I don’t recognize my country. We cannot accept this. We cannot pretend that we attacked this thing with all the smarts and vigor of a great nation. We cannot excuse away the thousands of needless deaths because we couldn’t mobilize a strategic national response. We knew about this in late 2019, and yet we wasted valuable weeks — and thousands got sick and died — while too many key leaders denied, minimized and politicized the severity of this virus.
As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently noted, “It didn’t have to be like this.”
The comparison to South Korea speaks volumes. On the exact same day — Jan. 20 — both the United States and South Korea reported their first case of coronavirus to the World Health Organization. Since then, South Korea has become a model to emulate, while the U.S. is a model of mismanagement and ineptitude. South Korea immediately jumped into action. It attacked the virus with a focused and comprehensive national effort: boosting private businesses, testing (it has the highest testing rate in the world), data collection, isolating, enforcing social distance orders. At the time of writing this article, South Korea had 174 coronavirus-related deaths, while it is projected the U.S. will see over 100,000 deaths, and possibly many more. Seventy years ago, the U.S. came to the aid of South Korea, which was being ravished from war, and yet now that country — not us — is better able to protect its people than we are. How can this be?
Anyone who works at a hospital, or knows anyone who does, is well aware of the sobering reality of this crisis. Our health care workers are, I believe, the best and the brightest, but if we have to supply them with garbage bags to use as protective gowns or bandanas to use as face masks, then isn’t it time to acknowledge the harsh reality of our health care system and demand much more? What good is it to have all this vast talent if we are incapable of fully deploying it during a national health emergency? Isn’t it time to completely re-think our belief that we’re the global gold standard when it comes to public health care? Hasn’t that myth now been shattered? Isn’t it time, actually, to re-think everything?
No one can blame President Donald Trump for this insidious virus. But I’m quite sure that in the coming months and years, there will be countless articles, books and movies about how COVID-19 was bungled by this administration (and others) during the critical early days. Around New Year’s Day, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, George F. Gao, spoke with Dr. Robert Redfield, the U.S. CDC director. According to a New York Times article, Redfield burst into tears when Gao told him about the uncontainable spread of this virus. So we were certainly on notice that the “invisible killer” was on its way.
But this administration hardly jumped into action. Instead, it fiddled with precious time and generally took a “leave-it-up-to-the governors” response. On March 6, Trump issued the wildly untrue statement: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was forced to walk back that statement, telling Congress that not conducting widespread testing was indeed “a failing,” and later asking, “Why were we not able to mobilize on a broader scale?”
During those critical days, the president called the whole thing a “hoax,” he disfavored certain Democrat governors and called them childish names (Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was a “snake”; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a “half-Whitmer”), he favored those who supported him, he submitted a budget on Feb. 10 that would severely slash CDC funding, he bragged about the TV ratings of his press conferences as Americans were dying and he refused to own the responsibility of the federal government’s response. His exact words: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
In a different era, in 1933, America was deep in the grips of a dark and frightening crisis. In his first inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt confronted the reality of the Great Depression head on by being brutally honest with the American people. “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth,” he said, “the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.” Quoting proverbs, he said, “When there is no vision the people perish.”
Don’t we want — need — “the whole truth, frankly and boldly,” as FDR said? We don’t need a “cheerleader,” as Trump proudly described himself at a recent press conference. We don’t need to be sold half-truths or unrealistic timelines. We don’t need name calling or politicizing. We need vision. Most importantly, we need this to end, as soon as possible, and we need our leaders to learn the lesson of immediate, decisive, federally-coordinated action so that we’re never in this awful position again.
We’re fed up. We’re angry, and we have every right to be.
The fictional TV personality Howard Beale in the movie Network angrily shouted to America, “We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller … Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! … You’ve got to say, ‘I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”
People thought Howard Beale was losing his mind. But if I apply his words to how this country has mishandled this coronavirus pandemic, I think those words pretty much echo how we all should be feeling these days.
Mark Jacobs is a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council-AJC and the director of Jewish Family Service’s Legal Referral Committee.