OPINIONS Observer: Failure to control COVID-19 unavoidable for 'Divided States of America'


Observer: Failure to control COVID-19 unavoidable for 'Divided States of America'

By Zhong Sheng | People's Daily app

15:32, August 17, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic situation is deteriorating in the US again, leading to a sharp rise in infection numbers in the country. Even so, the Republicans and Democrats are still debating over whether mask mandates are necessary, and recriminations between the federal and local governments over pandemic control has become a controversial issue.

Such chaos mirrors the institutional ineffectiveness of the US. Given fierce party rivalry, extreme political polarization and a huge social divide, the institutional design which the US has long been proud of has turned into a “vetocracy" — or rule by veto. As the United States of America gradually becomes the "Divided States of America," the failure in pandemic control is inevitable.

The rampant pandemic has forced the US to declare a major disaster in all 50 states, a severe situation that requires the US to pool all public health resources and mobilize all social sectors. However, the two political parties and authorities at different levels are not working together to fight the virus, making no effort to advance nucleic acid tests, implement mask mandates, advocate social distancing, execute home quarantine orders, promote vaccination drives, enhance distribution of medical strategic reserves, or implement an emergency relief plan. On the contrary, they using the so-called checks and balances to gain personal advantage, and placing political interests over the fight against the pandemic. As a result, over 620,000 citizens have died because of the pandemic so far. The US media has called this an "American failure.” The US system of government is responsible for the crisis, said Time magazine in an article.

US politicians have always taken pride in the separation of powers, as they believe it is a model mechanism for checks and balances and self-correction. However, the anti-science and unwise practices of Washington with regard to domestic affairs, diplomacy and international anti-pandemic cooperation have proved that the mechanism is not correcting mistakes, but serving as a stage for power struggles amid increasingly fiercer partisan fighting.

Last year, the Democrats and Republicans, following their political instincts, both tied pandemic control measures with the presidential election that was about to happen. What came first to their minds was not how to control the virus or how to save more lives, but how to win the election and shift blame.

Since the pandemic broke out, the two parties have argued and missed the window to take effective action. Even the judicial system, which is claimed to be "independent" in the separation of powers mechanism, is involved in the partisan fighting. The system failed to set a good example for handling public health crises, said an American scholar.

It is not strange for US federal, state and local governments, controlled by different parties, to point out each other's faults and shift blame. Under the previous administration, conflicts broke out frequently between the federal government controlled by the Republicans and the blue states. They not only fought over anti-pandemic supplies, but also implemented pandemic control measures that were poles apart.

This fully revealed the nature of American politicians - maximizing private political gains. Under the current administration, the federal government controlled by the Democrats is feuding with the red states.

Fierce political wrangling is continuing in each US state, too. In July last year, the Georgia governor, who is a Republican, filed a lawsuit against the Democrat mayor of the state's largest city Atlanta, trying to stop mask mandates. In Texas today, mask orders are facing a legal challenge from Dallas. The American system is very decentralized, and it is very difficult to get the state to function well, according to Fareed Zakaria, a US journalist.

Pandemic control calls for joint efforts. If the “States of America” are “divided” and not “united,” the result is chaos in its fight against the virus. There's one thing that is certain about pandemic control in the US. US politicians care more about their own political interests than people's lives and health. This is in stark contrast to the so-called "democracy" and "human rights" Americans have always advocated.

American political scholar Francis Fukuyama said the pandemic has exacerbated political polarization in the US, and the polarization might worsen as time goes by. At present, US politicians are still turning a blind eye to the divide in the country. The blame game will only make US politics more polarized, and society more divided. Because of it, US citizens have to pay a larger price, and the world has to face bigger threats from the pandemic.

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