Why Are the U.S. and UK So Bad at Fighting the Pandemic?

It’s entirely attributable to seriously poor leadership.

While Russia played a role in convincing the United States to vote for Donald Trump and the United Kingdom to vote for Brexit, it only has so much influence. Ultimately, Putin needed very stupid populations to do very stupid and self-destructive things. So how did the US and the UK get so stupid?

It’s now an urgent question because stupidity has translated directly into death. The Financial Times reports that twice as many Brits have died as are listed in official reports:

The coronavirus pandemic has already caused as many as 41,000 deaths in the UK, according to a Financial Times analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. The estimate is more than double the official figure of 17,337 released by ministers on Tuesday, which is updated daily and only counts those who have died in hospitals after testing positive for the virus. The FT extrapolation, based on figures from the ONS that were also published on Tuesday, includes deaths that occurred outside hospitals updated to reflect recent mortality trends.

In fact, the pandemic almost took the life of Boris Johnson, the UK’s “Brexit” prime minister, who insisted on shaking hands as a sign of defiance against the seriousness of the outbreak. On this side of the pond, Donald Trump acted similarly, holding his trademark MAGA rallies through March 2 as the virus silently spread throughout the country.

Even using the official numbers, the US and UK rank 1st and 5th in total Covid-19 deaths, while ranking 42nd and 56th, respectively, in tests per million in population. The actual fatality numbers are surely far worse, but the UK rates 5th and the US 13th in deaths per million in population. Considering the strength of their health care systems, this is an abysmal result. This is only happening because of the stupidity of voters in each country, which enabled cripplingly stupid and inept leadership.

It’s hard to say how the leaders of the Atlantic Alliance become so idiotic, especially when they started out with such well-educated and industrious populations. Some people will blame video games, but every country has video games. Others will point to the influence of right-wing media, but few countries have freer and better-trained journalists. I’m more inclined to blame the end of the Cold War.

Ironically, old school conservative thinking predicts that organizations that don’t face stiff competition will grow bloated, corrupt, inefficient, and lose the ability to innovate. This is one of their biggest arguments against big government and government-run health systems. In the past, it formed their rationale for supporting tough anti-trust policies. Competition keeps people sharp, as does the threat of nuclear annihilation and the resulting focus on science that dominated in the West through the mid-to-late 20th Century. Competition keeps people sharp and prevents them from resting on their laurels.

Once the USSR came apart, however, the US and the UK lost their edge. Sitting on top of the global food chain seemed like a reward for virtue, but the work that went into it wasn’t understood or respected. While voluntary armies were sent around the world to invade and occupy peripheral powers, at home we started to lose our educational advantage and the national calling to be first in knowledge.

In the U.S., the Gingrich Revolution was the first sign that America was turning away from what had put it is such a commanding position. Pretty soon, the country would see leaders like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump emerge, none of whom would have been thinkable to a country that was aware of facing serious global competition.

The resulting destruction is almost unimaginable. The US and the UK are now doing almost the worst job in the world of protecting their citizens from the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, and this is in spite of still maintaining massive advantages over most other countries. It’s entirely attributable to stupid leadership that was enable by stupid voters.

It turns out that waving a flag and boasting that “We’re No. 1” is no substitute for being hungry for knowledge and determined to lead the world in education.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com