11 May 2020

The New Republic: “Grim Reapers”

This is why the 2020 pandemic is, at its root, the story of two deeply flawed leaders, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, who for too long minimized the coronavirus threat—and who, because of the enormous, largely unaccountable power they wield, must share responsibility for its global scale. At key moments when their mutual transparency and collaboration might have spared the world a catastrophic pandemic, the world’s two most powerful men fought a war of words over trade policies, and charged each other with responsibility for the spread of the disease. When scientists worldwide could have benefited from details of China’s new disease, perhaps thereby preventing thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, the Chinese Communist Party’s instincts were to arrest conveyors of information, shut down social media, and prohibit visiting teams of World Health Organization and foreign disease-control experts.

Laurie Garrett

An excellent article by Laurie Garrett, who has been an excellent source of information since the beginning of the pandemic through her Twitter account. I think the paragraph above gets to the heart of the issue: in this global crisis, the world’s two most powerful leaders have failed to take responsibility and to show leadership, instead resorting to shifting the blame, covering up facts and lying to the public, delaying proper measures, and, worst of all, sabotaging the efforts of others.

Sadly, the reckless and irresponsible behavior has not improved in the slightest since the article was published at the beginning of April. On the Chinese side, their reported numbers are still under question, as authorities in Wuhan deemed appropriate to revise the number of deaths upwards. There are reports of fresh outbreaks – even as Chinese authorities now blame them on neighboring countries – and of failures to reopen cities, as previously promised. Retaliations against the protests in Hong Kong continue. Even more concerning is the aggressive attitude towards countries demanding investigations into the origins of the pandemic, as well internally towards Chinese citizens and coronavirus researchers, and the escalating tensions with the United States. It certainly makes me wonder what more they want to hide – beside the facts that have already been uncovered, like a crucial 6-day delay before alerting the public of the dangers back in January.

Two days previously, well-known Chinese author Fang Fang wrote a tough essay, labeling the epidemic (not the virus) “man-made” and insisting, Now is the best time for reflecting on what happened and investigating who is responsible. Pointedly, she rejected CCP claims that the people should thank the party for stopping Covid-19. A word that crops up frequently in conversation these days is ‘gratitude’. High-level officials in Wuhan demand that the people show they’re grateful to the Communist Party and the country. I find this way of thinking very strange. Our government is supposed to be a people’s government; it exists solely to serve the people. Government officials work for us, not the other way around. I don’t understand why our leaders seem to draw exactly the opposite conclusion.

On the other side of the Pacific, the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump seem to have completely lost its way. A certain reluctance to get involved in international affairs and take leadership in issues around the world was already present during the Obama mandate. Now though it has turned into full-blown isolationism, to the point of blaming the World Health Organization for the outbreak and cutting US support, refusing to participate in an international funding effort for vaccine research (China has declined to contribute as well), even preventing a vote in the UN Security Council on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in various countries around the world.

Inside the country, tensions are rising between the federal government, reported to have erected a blockade to prevent delivery of critical medical equipment to states, and state governors, who for the most part are actually taking responsibility and trying to manage the crisis. In an interesting twist, some of them have joined in ad hoc regional pacts to coordinate reopening measures – a clear sign of Trump’s lacking leadership. Conflicts broke out over budgetary allocations as well, where Democratic states regularly contribute more to the federal budget, but have received little aid during the pandemic. It’s not inconceivable, if this chaotic situation persists, that some states will demand more autonomy from Washington, or even take steps to break out from the United States completely.

To keep up with the crisis, leaders should be open and honest about the issues, able to admit when they’re wrong and correct course quickly. China and the US are far from this ideal, and unfortunately other leaders struggle with the same shortcomings, while their citizens pay the price.

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