Why America’s Pandemic Performance Is So Inferior

America, pandemic
Photo by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Europe took dramatic steps to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Its shutdowns were so tight that the eurozone economy has fallen into a recession even deeper than ours.

But guess what. Despite occasional spikes, Europe has beaten the virus down to size. With a public reassured that it could return to the beaches, bars and restaurants in relative safety, it reopened. That's why Europe "is having a much bigger snapback" than the U.S., Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding told The Wall Street Journal, "and there are some indicators that it may be getting ahead."

Both the U.S. and Europe pushed aggressive stimulus plans, that is, injected oceans of government money into their economies. The big difference today is that Europe contained the cause of its economic misery, and the U.S., with the exception of a few states, just let it grow.

And why has America's performance been so inferior? The answer is Donald J. Trump.

The president denied COVID-19's existence at the beginning and continues to downplay the virus as it rampages through the heartland. He undermined governors who mandated lockdowns (Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer) and praised governors who wouldn't (Florida's Ron DeSantis). He peddled fake cures, some dangerous, and gave moral support to the idiotic campaign against mask wearing. He attacks public health experts.

Many blame his failures on incompetence or cognitive inability to understand the threat. Let's just say that if foreign foes had foisted this incoherence on us, we'd suspect them of sabotage.

And so, America is left with a sick population — the U.S. has the world's fourth highest number of deaths per 100,000 people — and an economy whose prospects are weaker than Europe's.

It's true that the eurozone economy contracted about 40 percent in the second quarter (on an annual basis), whereas the U.S. economy shrunk only 33 percent. The reason is that Europe shut down tightly, whereas much of the United States remained open for infection.

But many parts of the U.S. formerly open for business are suffering an explosion of cases, which, they are discovering, is lousy for business. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had actually banned localities from requiring masks. Only after his hospitals started overflowing with the sick and dying did he put into motion a mask-wearing mandate.

In some places, a refusal to wear a mask is a sign of support for Trump. So much for self-respect or love of family. Is celebrating the lounge lizard from Manhattan the hill Trump supporters want to die on? If so, I can assure them Trump does not care if they do.

Europe still bans so-called superspreader events, such as carnivals and giant after-ski parties. One massive church celebration in France in February was believed to have spawned 2,500 cases. Every country makes grave mistakes. The difference is that we don't learn from ours.

The U.S. news still features crowded boat parties, high school gatherings with not a mask in sight and, in one case, a massive all-night blowout at a Los Angeles mansion, complete with gunfire.

What's going on here has left much of Europe in open-mouthed wonder. For all the dying America accepted in the name of preserving the economy, we have the slower-growing economy. The dollar is weakening against the euro. And despair grows.

Much of Europe is desperate for American tourist dollars, but the European Union is still banning visitors from America. We're the land of disease.

How is it that the country that was and remains a global center for medicine and scientific research could be brought so low by a pandemic others have managed? The answer can't be "It is what it is." Rather, what is never should have been.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.


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