The Corner


Judging America’s COVID Response, Ctd.

A medical professional conducts tests for the coronavirus in Bolinas, Calif., where all residents are being tested for the coronavirus and its antibodies, one of the first such efforts since the pandemic hit the U.S. three months ago, April 20, 2020. (Kate Munsch/Reuters)

A few days ago, I argued in Bloomberg Opinion that while the U.S. has made serious mistakes in handling coronavirus, claims that we have shown ourselves to be a failed state are overwrought. I noted, for example, that several other advanced countries have suffered a higher death rate than we have.

The column generated a lot of email and tweets in response. Many of them were complimentary, but there were also some criticisms. I paraphrase those and respond below.

Didn’t you conservatives used to believe in American exceptionalism? Now you’re crowing because the U.S. is doing a little better than some European countries.

I continue to believe that America is an exception among developed countries in several respects — notably its religiosity and its hostility to centralized power — that are worth defending. I do not believe that our country will always do better than all other countries in all respects. Nobody does.

How can you be satisfied after thousands of avoidable American deaths?

I’m not satisfied, and I don’t think anyone should be. That’s why I wrote, “Americans have a lot of legitimate complaints about the response to the coronavirus. The complaints are worth voicing. Criticism of mistakes can lead to fixing them, or at least preventing their recurrence.” There ought to be some space between “we have made very serious mistakes” and “we’ve shown ourselves to be a failed state.”

Shouldn’t we be trying to learn from the countries that have done better than us?

Absolutely — so long as we keep in mind the possibility that the lessons include “smallish island societies have certain advantages” and “recent pandemic experience makes people more willing to take prophylactic measures.”

You wrote that column just to give cover to President Trump.

. . .

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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