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AHMED: WHY WASN’T AMERICA PREPARED?

COVID 19 pandemic will change world order as we know it

By By Dr. Nasir U. Ahmed, Professor of Public Administration. Louisiana, USA
On March 25, 2020

We did not expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have an impact around the world in such a traumatic manner, even a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, when such events happen, we need to be able to explain it with facts and data. 

Since WWII, we have seen America in the forefront of every crisis — because we were prepared. This time, we see clearly that America is not as prepared as she should be.  

I have seen America’s evolution with my own eyes and intellect since 1981, first as a graduate student and then as a university professor for the past 30 years. Educational institutions are a good platform to predict the future of a country. 

From the very beginning, I was very puzzled about the great emphasis placed on athletics, Greek life and many non-academic activities in American universities. Sometimes, I felt like universities exist more to support the hefty salaries of the administrators than the welfare of the students or the professors. Of course, people may disagree with me. 

When a nation is prepared for a crisis – it means multifaceted preparation. When America defeated Hitler, they had a multilayered approach: 

People were happily united under the political leadership. 

We had international collaboration; 

The economy was humming in a balanced manner. 

People’s needs were taken care of – particularly health care.

Society was not geared toward the benefit of the few in exchange of many (there was more economic equity). 

The educational institution’s primary focus was education.

On all of the above the accounts, the United States now receives poor grades. Let me remind you: this did not start with Trump. It began with Ronald Reagan, when the Republican Party started its relentless attack on public policies – particularly those helping the average person. His policy that “less government involvement is better in everything except defense” has been religiously followed by consecutive Republican administrations. 

Over the next 30+ years, Republicans were successful in keeping the White House even without receiving the majority of the popular vote and appointing conservative Supreme Court judges, who have stalled American social advancement in comparison to the rest of the world – particularly in the areas of health care and the overall protection and welfare of citizens.

This is why COVID-19 is a game-changing event. 

When you deal with a crisis, it shows your real strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, it has only shown our weaknesses. I am so surprised to see that the most powerful country in the world cannot test her citizens to see if they have a disease or not – it is beyond anything imaginable. I simply do not have the right words. 

I am trying to buy a mask to protect myself, and I cannot get a mask. I have travelled more than 12,000 miles all across the United States by air and car in the last four weeks, and I could not buy a mask. I really felt bad. I come from a third world country, and for the first time, I felt like I am in a third world country while in America. I could not find toilet paper for a long time. (I was able to eventually find some toilet paper, but not any mask yet.)

Let me not personalize my writing too much. Let us talk about what has happened in the last few weeks. China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have all controlled COVID-19 to a great extent. I do not think the game is over for them. China is sending masks, testing kits and experts to Europe and other parts of the world. 

These are very humbling acts. In the United States, things are very messy. It is not on par with any reasonable standard. Again, this did not happen overnight. 

Every decent country in the world has some form of universal health coverage. We do not have that. 

Our public policies are not public-centric; they are mostly corporate-centric, top-to-bottom. We prioritize profit over people. 

We have not rearranged our public policies for the benefit of the average citizens for a long time. We should have had massive government investments for our roads and bridges a long time ago. I travel by road a lot; the roads are quite bad on the East Coast. The American Society of Civil Engineer Association graded the U.S. a D+ for infrastructure in 2017. It got the same grade in 2013.

I have seen over the years, when we have a major crisis, support packages from Congress and the president tend to help the big boys first before the rest. While Republicans are ahead in this game, Democrats are not far behind in favoring corporate-centric public policies. 

No wonder that we have 10 percent of our fellow citizens without health insurance. Even 50-60 percent of citizens with insurance do not go to the doctor for fear of the costs of copays and yearly deductions payments. 

The irony is that we spend almost 18 percent (compared to 9 percent in other advanced countries) of our budget on health care. “Profit-over-people” policies are the main reason. There is a law in the United States that prohibits government administrators from negotiating lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. In short, whatever price these companies demand, the U.S. government has to accept it – by law! We are supposed to live in a society where negotiation is a fundamental right. 

Of course, whenever Republicans find the opportunity, they cut benefits from entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP, Medicaid expansion, etc).  But the Republican Party — particularly Donald Trump and his administration — have successfully used tribal politics to get elected by scaring his constituents that “other people” are responsible for your pain. 

History has shown that shifting blame to others does not work. Politicians all over the globe have tried these strategies. Only when they have taken responsibility for their own actions and put their people first have they succeeded in prospering. 

America has taught many things to the rest of the world since after World War II. Now, I am sorry to say, the tables have turned. The post-COVID-19 pandemic world order will be different whether we like it or not. 

The time has come for America to learn from others – particularly in the fields of health care and social responsibility.  Learning from each other is the way to move forward and keep our civilization intact.

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