We must learn from pandemic, prepare for future
To the Editor:
My generation will never know the truth about America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, identifying those responsible for preventing COVID-x, or the next global pandemic, is easy. They are us.
Our bold experiment in self-governance sprang from the radical notion that people get the government they deserve. Our political institutions derive from the consent of the governed. Those are us.
Our children and grandchildren may give us a pass for not learning from previous pandemics, including the 1918 influenza. However, how well we assess the credibility of the information overload during the current plague, and vote accordingly, assures that the U.S. electorate will be culpable for the world’s next.
The (unknowable) truths about COVID-19 will include determining how well federal, state and local governments: a) prepared for this epidemic, b) monitored the eruption, contained the outbreak, or mitigated the transmission of the virus and c) supported our health and elder care-givers’ work. And however malevolently the media strains to color that work as red or blue finger-wagging, the (knowable) truth is that in our exceptional society of enfranchised free men and women, citizens are ultimately responsible.
So what do we do? I suggest we look to the example of Albert Shanker, longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers. He habitually challenged public education reformers to keep their eyes on the prize. He’d begin meetings by reminding participants that if they could not explain how what they were doing would improve student learning, then they were wasting time and squandering resources.
When the COVID-19 fog clears, we need to similarly challenge Congress. Not only at public meetings, but also in letters, phone calls, and emails, we should demand to know how Congress will investigate our preparation for and performance during the current plague. Going forward, we need to ask how well will they legislate, regulate and fund public health initiatives? How well will they do the hard work of oversight, which is how Congress compels executive competence, including collaboration with global partners?
We can’t change the past. We can, however, learn from the two-month blitzkrieg of 90,000 deaths and 30 million lost jobs — both still being counted, and entirely preventable by a more vigilant, less appeasing self-government. And in the future, we ordinary citizens must do our own civic duty.
We must hold our congressional representatives accountable for protecting us from the next epidemic. If we don’t, we risk denying our children and grandchildren their unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which we will have squandered.