One lesson Americans should have learned from the past four years is that competent governance matters.
I understand that most Americans don’t follow the “inside baseball” of agency regulations, don’t realize the ways in which EPA rules, for example, affect the air they breathe and the water they drink, or how the disaster named Betsy DeVos has undermined their children’s education.But every sentient American should be able to appreciate the consequences of federal ineptitude in the face of COVID-19.
Perhaps it’s true that America was always going to bungle the vaccine rollout, as Ryan Cooper recently wrote in The Week, but if there was any doubt, the last couple of weeks should have dispelled it. Throughout the last, ghastly year, we’ve been treated to a do-nothing federal government–an administration unwilling and unable to provide coherent leadership or even accurate information. The effort to develop a vaccine was successful thanks to international cooperation and the allocation of a lot of money (although I should point out that the first vaccine “past the gate” didn’t even participate in Operation Warp Speed.)
The rollout has been equally unfocused, with the federal government shipping vaccine to the states and telling them to figure out how to distribute it. According to Bloomberg, as of January 2d, something like 12.5 million doses had been sent out, but just over 3 million shots had actually been administered. If efforts continued at this rate, it would take seven years to inoculate the whole country
President Trump, of course, has completely failed to organize anything at the federal level. For all his manic shattering of political norms, his most characteristic behavior is simply not doing anything in a moment of crisis. Since early November, over a thousand people a day have died of COVID, steadily increasing to nearly 4,000 on some recent days, but Trump has done virtually nothing except try to overturn the election with tweets, play golf, watch television, and pardon his criminal friends…
That of course is making things exponentially more difficult for those lower levels of government. The federal government has always played a central role in previous mass vaccination efforts, because it is the only entity that can coordinate the whole country. States and cities have already endured brutal austerity, laying off millions of employees and cutting back services. Now they are trying to organize a massive logistical operation during a murderous pandemic by the seat of their pants.
It isn’t simply a lack of experience with this level of responsibility. As public health officials have repeatedly pointed out, the state-level public health departments that suddenly find themselves responsible for distribution of the vaccine have been starved of resources for decades.
Here in Indiana, that lack of experience and resources has sent the 80-and-up cohort who have finally been told they can now get vaccinated to a website that wouldn’t be considered “user friendly” even by tech-savvy youngsters. Their alternative is a telephone number that takes callers to an automated phone tree and an interminable wait. (As an aside, whoever designed that website should be tarred and feathered…)
Cooper notes that the utter incompetence that has characterized America’s response to the pandemic means that the task facing the incoming Biden Administration will be enormous.
Frankly I do not believe [Biden] will get very close to the standard of other wealthy countries, but on the other hand he could not possibly do any worse than Trump. Let’s hope when the void at the center of the American state is filled by something, the pace of vaccination can be drastically accelerated, and 2021 isn’t the nightmare that 2020 was.
Meanwhile, as Americans continue to die in horrific numbers, our insane President has taken up full-time residence in la la land, entirely absorbed in his delusional effort to overturn the election and hang onto a job he has shown absolutely no interest in doing.
As the old saying goes, this is no way to run a railroad–or a country.