Four articles

The best article on how we got here:

We Are Living in a Failed State by George Packer, The Atlantic, June 2020

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. …

Both parties were slow to grasp how much credibility they’d lost [in the 2008 financial meltdown]. The coming politics was populist. Its harbinger wasn’t Barack Obama but Sarah Palin, the absurdly unready vice-presidential candidate who scorned expertise and reveled in celebrity. She was Donald Trump’s John the Baptist [what a phrase! —AJL].

We Are Living in a Failed State by George Packer, The Atlantic, June 2020

In somewhat the same vein, Ezra Klein at Vox argues why our governments have become incompetent, well-manifested by our inability to ramp up production of medical equipment. The provocative part of the story is blaming not only the Right wanting government to do nothing, but also the Left worried the government will work to injure the relatively powerless.

The institutions through which Americans build have become biased against action rather than toward it. They’ve become, in political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s term, “vetocracies,” in which too many actors have veto rights over what gets built. That’s true in the federal government. It’s true in state and local governments. It’s even true in the private sector.

Why we can’t build by Ezra Klein

California’s meandering High Speed Rail plan that purports to link San Francisco and Los Angeles gets its due mention.

The empty shelves and government lies remind Emily Gioielli and Leslie Waters at Slate of Eastern Europe 1980, and the danger, especially to our Ruling Party, is that like the faltering dinosaurs of the Warsaw Pact, they broke the social contract made by the paternalist autocrats and the passive citizensof adequate material goods. This seems a little far-fetched to me, but we can never have too much citation of Vaclav Havel.

“Human beings are compelled to live within a lie,” he explained in his treatise, “The Power of the Powerless,” and mimic the meaningless platitudes of state leaders. He explained that the average person went along with this system because they “surrender[ed] higher values when faced with the trivializing temptations of modern civilization.” He further suggested that Eastern Europe should serve as a “warning to the West, revealing its own latent tendencies.”

Is America Becoming Eastern Europe by Emily Gioielli and Leslie Waters

And for a day-by-day analysis of how Xi Jinping and Donald Trump imitated each other in using denial and muzzling the press to squander valuable time to prevent disease, The New Republic has them on the cover, with an article by Laurie Garrett, a journalist of epidemics.

Both Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping instinctively sought to repress news of the true danger of their countries’ outbreaks, and the reach of their infection zones, so as to minimize potential political damage to their regimes. Both leaders, displaying parallel if historically distinct brands of authoritarian rule in a crisis, sought to dismiss the counsel of suspect health professionals and other experts. … The larger political story of the 2020 coronavirus crisis, in other words, may well prove to be a powerful case study in the way that governments controlled by leaders prone to unilateral decision-making, and the top-down information regimes they rely on to perpetuate their rule, are all but guaranteed to create maximum conditions of public health breakdown.

Grim Reapers by Laurie Garrett, The New Republic May 2020 [possible paywalled; audioversion also available]

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