Does the United States Have the Moral Fortitude to Respond to the Coronavirus?

Coronavirus cell

I hope so.  But I am not very optimistic.

As Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate, social capital is at all-time low. We don’t trust each other or the government. Science and truth are under siege. The free press is under attack. We have a president with an approval rating under 50%.  Can we step-up?  Here is Lathwick:

Virtually every thoughtful epidemiologist I have read on this says that the absolute worst thing to be done right now is hoarding surgical masks and putting yourself first. Conversely, the decision to put altruism before panic would redound not just to our own benefit, but to the actual benefit of the entire herd. The choice to stay home, to care for the elderly and the sick (and help them stay home), to figure out systems to look after children whose parents cannot take time off—all of that would be good for everyone. Yet it comes after years, if not decades, of being told constantly that vaccines cause autism, poverty should be punished and criminalized, and every government system is “rigged” to harm you and help others. Tell people that everyone’s a criminal and grifter long enough and it’s awfully hard to get them to look out for each other.

David Roberts at Vox has been writing thoughtfully about the political science literature around “social trust”; the phenomenon, as described by Kevin Vallier, wherein one has a “generalized trust” that extends to “strangers, persons within one’s society with whom one has little personal familiarity. Social trust can thus be understood broadly as trust in society. But trust to do what? Social trust is trust that persons will abide by social norms.” Social trust, writes Roberts, is a sense that “we are all in this together,” whoever “we all” may be, and without it, no law or policy or institution can be effective. With social trust and political trust working to undermine one another, societies can enter a “doom loop” that allows us to increasingly distrust both systems and each other.

It is that infection that makes us far more susceptible to the coronavirus; a preexisting social and psychological condition that allows critical medical truth to be suppressed in the name of politics, which in turn allows an entire society to doubt the veracity of both government institutions and the press. And as we grow mistrustful of two central pillars of liberal democracy, we become inclined to mistrust the very people around us, whether they’re grabbing the last rolls of toilet paper at the supermarket or walking around among us despite exposure to the virus. We’ve spent the past three years fine-tuning the notion that the other half of the country hates us. It’s hard to imagine turning on a dime now to be mindful of the needs of strangers.

Read the entire piece here.