A nation-state’ s power has traditionally been measured by the size of its military and economy. As the attached article points out, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights a new and crucial source of national power – a nation’s resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to sustain and adapt to a systemic shock, or, as the old Timex watch commercial put it, the ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. It is based on adequate infrastructure and governmental legitimacy more than material resources.
Resiliency, however, comes in many forms. China’s centralized communitarian culture allowed it to bounce back faster from the pandemic, but only by using the same totalitarian governmental repression that caused the crisis in the first place. In contrast, the individualistic culture of America hobbled our ability to control the spread after it arrived, but our decentralized federalist system gave state and local leaders the flexibility to create the necessary controls when the federal government failed to provide leadership. Our freedom to innovate also helped foster development of reliable treatments and vaccines faster than China.
At the same time, the weaknesses exposed by the pandemic must be addressed, especially those in our manufacturing capacity and health infrastructure. By prioritizing efficiency over resiliency in our economy, we ended up dangerously dependent on China and other governments for vital materials, and not just in the medical field. The article touts strong alliances as a solution, but they cannot replace onshore local capacity in a crisis. Building national vigor means identifying and protecting resources we need to survive a future shock, whether it be from a disease, cyberattack, or climate change.
Theodore Roosevelt advocated “the strenuous life” of exercise and outdoor activity as a way of achieving personal resilience. Both require short- term sacrifice and effort to build the stamina necessary to meet future challenges. Similarly, we Americans will need to be willing to pay higher prices for domestically-produced goods or higher taxes in order to create the national resilience to remain a great power and a shining example of freedom. The immediate pain will be well worth it in the long run.
As this helpful article from the Smithsonian Magazine illustrates, the debate over the use of presidential executive orders to end-run Congress originated with Theodore Roosevelt. In his conservationist zeal to protect unique land and monuments, TR pushed the limits of the Antiquities and Reclamation Acts. While we are all blessed by the resulting preservation of sights like the Grand Canyon, his expansive view of presidential power also resulted in abuses like FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans and President Truman’s attempt to seize the steel mills to prevent a strike. President Trump’s recent orders to provide partial relief for workers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic shows the limitations of the practice and its danger to our constitutional democracy.
This story from CNN sets forth the problems with these orders and why congressional action was required. The new $400 per month unemployment benefit may never materialize since it was not authorized to be distributed through the current unemployment insurance system. The payroll tax cut is really a deferral and so worker could be on the hook for a huge catch-up payment next year. Finally, the eviction protections simply consist of a study by the Secretary of Health and Human Services of ways to provide such protection.
When the last coronavirus relief effort stalled in March, I criticized both the President and Congress over their failure to reach agreement under the headline “Leaders Don’t Dither. They Decide”. This relief bill should be more targeted toward the unemployed and essential workers on the front lines of combating the disease and supporting American society in dealing with it. However. dangling partial relief for them by a questionable legal method is not real leadership. Leadership in our system of separation of powers often involves compromise. TR’s sympathy for those workers would probably drive him to swallow his pride to provide a “square deal” for them in time for destitute and heroic workers to receive the meaningful help they need.
We are all praying that Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top officials successfully complete their current quarantine after potential exposure to the coronavirus. In the meantime, information and statistics remain crucial weapons in the fight against further outbreaks of COVID-19. As America and other countries reopen after two months of lockdown, we still have much to learn about the disease. Epidemiologists will still need to crunch data about rates and methods of infection to determine how the disease is transmitted until we develop and distribute a safe and effective vaccine. Experts say this could take as long as two years.
In the meantime, there is an easy way you can help. The Stanford University Medical School is conducting a survey by Internet of Americans to improve the tracking of the disease. They are attempting to determine if potential hotspots can be identified simply by asking how people are feeling and whether they are experiencing any of coronavirus symptoms. After completing a short initial survey on relevant demographic information and the symptoms, you will receive a daily e-mail asking simply if you are feeling better, the same or worse and whether you have any symptoms of COVID-19. It takes less than a minute to complete and the link is at the top of this post. I have been participating for the last two weeks. The more people who participate, the more reliable the study will be and the more we can target our efforts on the truly vulnerable.
Please consider taking the short period of time to complete the survey and participate daily. Working together, we can keep America healthy and open while we look for treatments and the holy grail of a vaccine.