How COVID Broke Up The United States

It’s every state for themselves

“Four months ago this map could reasonably have been interpreted as a near-future dystopian world-building schema for a series of young adult books.” (Ankit Panda)

The United States Of America does not have a national government. States are on their own to decide closures, to find their own PPE, to bid against each other for ventilators. Governors have become the government, but with porous borders, the virus doesn’t care.

In stark contrast to almost every country on Earth, there is no national leadership or top-down control. The result is a hodge-podge of policies, shutdowns, and responses which differ from state to state, or even county to county. Resources are not allocated or coordinated in any way. For a virus that doesn’t see borders at all, this is a completely ineffective defense. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and America is barely linked at all.

Beaches in one county are open, the others closed. You can see the line.

How Trump Broke Up The Epidemic Command

What many countries, including the US, learned from prior epidemics was that a clear chain of command was necessary for fighting epidemics. Diseases are actually international (ie, human), and the only meaningful level of control is at the nation-state level. Only nation-states can shut borders, print/raise money, deploy military, etc.

The trouble is that federal governments are slow, sclerotic beasts. During the SARS, MERS and Ebola epidemics valuable time was wasted on politics, and those countries tried to learn from their mistakes.

In countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore they set up (and physically) built central command centers, funded them and kept them ready for the next one. The US actually did the same after Ebola.

The Obama administration set up a permanent epidemic command within the National Security Council and an Ebola Czar — one person responsible, one neck to squeeze. They built and funded infrastructure for the next epidemic.

Out of ignorant spite for all things Obama, Trump ordered the entire global health security unit shut down. John Bolton pressured the entire epidemic team at the Department of Homeland Security to resign. Neither was replaced, and the global health section of the CDC was cut as well. They saved millions of dollars, and exposed the United States to trillions worth of risk.

The Results

The US isn’t putting up a united front

Indeed, if you look now, the question is what United States? At the top level, it’s not clear who’s in command, just a constantly shuffling court drama behind the President.

First, it was the CDC, until Nancy Messonier told the truth and disappeared. Indeed, the whole CDC no longer communicates with the public.

Then it was Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, until he was replaced with Vice President Mike Pence, seemingly mid press conference, Debbie Birx is also possibly in charge. Anthony Fauci also has power because he does well on TV. Who knows.

At the same time, the President’s son-in-law is running a shadow task force to create another conflict.

It’s a mess. A king gone made and a court devoted to flattery and intrigue while a plague rages outside. It’s a lot like what the founding fathers rebelled against.

The Madness Of King Donald

A failed businessman and reality TV star, Donald Trump shuns institutions and sees everything in terms of money and ratings. He only took action when the stock market went down (not when people died) and judges his horrorshow press conferences based on how many people watch (increasingly, in horror).

This is madness that his courtiers and even the media try to paper over, but the kingdom has effectively been gutted and cannot command a battle against coronavirus at all. So, in practical terms, the states are alone.

As Ronald Klain, the former Ebola Czar said, this is an Articles of Confederation response. He is referring to the interregnum between overthrowing the King and forming the United States. At that time the country was a loose confederation of states, but that didn’t work. So they united.

Now it’s all coming undone.

The Map Of Madness

It’s every state and even county for themselves. NYTimes

You can see the confusion clearly on the map above. This shows how lockdowns differ across state and even county lines. This, of course, makes them almost useless. No virus is going to stop at the county line, and since America has free movement within its borders, the virus will keep moving as well. Even in desperate straits, when the need is so obvious, the United States cannot come up with a coherent response, because the United States does not exist.

If it did, they wouldn’t have need a lockdown in the first place.

Real states like South Korea did not have lockdowns because they built epidemic infrastructure and immediate local task forces that could suppress outbreaks before things got out of control. Infrastructure that America had before Trump dismantled it. If epidemic command had been at the National Security Council, and if the President had listened, a lockdown and economic collapse may not have been necessary. They could have tested incoming people and monitored for community spread like Korea did.

Instead, the US didn’t even have a working test. That was the first thing that failed on the national level — the CDC test didn’t even work, and their regulations prevented anyone else from trying something else. By the time they gave up and passed that responsibility to the states and private companies it was too late. The virus was already out of control.

Hence lockdowns, the last refuge of the unprepared.

As you can see on the map above, there is no national standard for lockdowns. There are suggestions, but even those are unclear and contradicted by a President who wavers back and forth. There are some state lockdowns, but even those are unevenly enforced, and American states cannot control their borders or ports. So every lockdown has the front door wide open. The disease inevitably spreads.

It’s a mess. And it’s a failure at the national level. It’s a failure for the federal government to even exist.

How The USA Ceased To Exist

The President actually tweeted this himself

In that sense, it’s deeper even than Trump. The Republican Party has been trying to drown federal government in a bathtub since Reagan, and now it seems to have succeeded. The money printer still go brrrr, but besides that, the thing is small, wet, and seemingly dead.

The language from Trump, his family, and Fox News is that individual states are on their own. Any resource shortages, outbreaks and responsibility is theirs, but he is doing a great job. Even resources like PPE are doled out based on which governors praise him, and Pence was instructed to not call governors that don’t.

The US again has a mad king who demands only tribute, and contributes very little. Because he neglected and disdained the value of governance at all, because the Republicans perpetuated this dogma for decades, they now don’t have a functioning government. The United States is a failed state, an empire mid-crumble.

And this is how they fall. A series of banalities. A task force cut here, a competent bureaucrat forced out there, a disdain for science and expertise all around. Then WHO alerts don’t get tracked, tests don’t get developed, and an outbreak spins out of control.

Of course, in time those minor failures add up. The defunding of the CDC, the removal of epidemic commands, the insertion of incompetent family into government.

That’s why the banalities matter. When the real issues come up, healthy states, the ones capable of handling and minimizing everyday dysfunction, have a great deal more capacity to respond than those happily waltzing toward their end. But by the time the obvious, glaring crisis arrives and the true scale of the problem becomes clear, it’s far too late. The disaster — a major crisis of political legitimacy, a coronavirus pandemic, a climate catastrophe — doesn’t so much break the system as show just how broken the system already was. (ibid)

So this is how the USA ceased to exist. It died in a hospital hallway, waiting for a ventilator that the state couldn’t build, maintain, or distribute. It died not of war, or revolution but of an uncommon cold.

For all intents and purposes — that is the purpose of life and death — the United States no longer exists. It’s just a reality TV show on top of a bunch of completely unprepared governors. They’re not united. It’s just a bunch of states, a bunch of counties and cities and towns. All drowning while a mad king, literally, fiddles.