Corona, America and Murphy’s Law

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‘What Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong at the Worst Possible Time!’
That is the sarcastic and perhaps pessimistic phrase the skeptics love to throw at any overtly optimistic scenario, estimate or idea. It is, for most part, just a reminder to be cautious or realistic and check the projections against the ‘worst case scenario’. Such sudden, extreme and very unexpected scenarios are called Black Swan events, the term popularized by the famous author Matt Taibi. 

Americans, being eternally optimistic and overconfident, seldom pay heed to such spoilsport advice and in fact, love to ignore such people as gloom & doom naysayers and sissies. They are generally proven right and such extreme scenarios never come to a pass and the Americans go on their own merry way. 

Well, as Murphy’s Law would have it, such Black Swan event just happened in America and the people, including the Government itself, are stunned like the ‘deer in the headlights’, frozen in inaction, despite the speeding danger coming at them head on. You guessed it—that is the Coronavirus. 

The stock market collapse and impending shutdown of the entire economy in just two weeks is nothing short of the classic definition of Black Swan and we are right in the middle of it. The Americans have just begun to realize the full implications of this—financial, social, cultural and economic. Panic has set in and people seem directionless, helpless and simply, petrified.

This is where the latter part of Murphy’s Law –things will go wrong at the worst possible time—comes in play. America was least prepared for Coronavirus, even with some trailer or advance glimpse from China, Iran and Italy. Facing such once in a century events requires the right leadership, systems in place and a social structure that can face such unexpected and severe dangers with rational and timely response to counter and ultimately defeat it. 

Here, America just batted zero! How so? Isn’t that a strong statement about a country that has faced and defeated even things like the 9/11, Natural Disasters and more? In fact, people look to America for leadership in trying times and for the most part, America actually came through, right from the WW2 to ISIS.

Well, that was in the past. Here, America is caught flat footed and ill prepared to face Coronavirus threat for the very reasons that matter the most in such times. The three pillars of good defense against such calamities are: experienced leadership, established governmental institutions with mission critical machinery and the societal attitude of 'we are all in this together' to help each other. At the very moment we needed these the most, America has none! Puzzled? Let’s analyze—

Leadership

This is the most crucial element in trying times. Steady, experienced hand at the helm can save the ship from sinking. Indeed, America had many such able leaders who steered the nation in trying times—Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis to Obama in the 2008 Financial Crisis. Unfortunately, this time we have Trump, an astute marketer and salesman with no prior governing experience involving bringing people and resources together. 

Hyper marketing, showmanship and super embellishment for selling his condo buildings is Mr. Trump’s hallmark. A Promoter and divisive figure, he rose by putting others down, not bringing them together for a common cause or vision. An eternal Promoter, he is more transactional, using people for own short term gain, rather than doing something visionary, magnanimous for the common good.

Just when you need a seasoned leader, we have a slick marketer at the helm and he is certainly over his head in handling this Coronavirus crisis. He tried to play it down, belittle it as a 'Chinese Kung Flu' virus and kept saying that it will go away in a few days and that people should just merrily go about their business.

Now, waking up too late, the Trump administration is scrambling, making up stuff as they go along, reacting day to day, rather than in a planned, methodical way. That is very bad for the American people and they are paying a heavy price for electing this Pied Piper to Presidency. They will pay a very heavy price for their falling for such showman’s hyperbole and not thinking whether he could govern in difficult times!

Established Government Systems

Free Market System is the sacred cow and a matter of pride for most Americans. In fact, its fashionable to belittle the Government. Even the politicians who strive to run the government deride it by saying things like ‘I am from the Government and I am here to help you’, just poking fun of the government, insinuating that it is inefficient, bloated and insensitive. 

Conservatives actually made it their mission to undermine the established governmental institutions. ‘Minimum Government’ is their proud slogan and they bent over backward to cut the government budget etc. Private Sector is their pride and joy, singing its praises at every turn. Well, guess where the Private Sector goes when it’s in trouble for their own misdeeds and malperformance? You guessed it—the Government. 

They needed the bailouts, tax cuts and all sort of subsidies when in trouble,  in 2008 or 2000 or 1987! People’s memories are short and they forget that the roads, schools, transportation system and health care for the poor, emergency and crisis management etc., are all managed by the government that has the systems in place and experienced people on staff to take care of such calamities. Needless to say, that it is the only institution that has the capacity, skills and mission to help in such crises. 

Trump had gutted the functioning government systems to please his conservative backers including even the disbanding of the Pandemic Task Force! He filled all the top government posts with his cronies where loyalty and praise trumped competence and experience. Americans will pay a steep price now for their disregard for the governmental institutions and their misplaced love for the private sector that is standing in line ahead of the citizens for a big bailout—once again!

Social Network

Free spirit and rugged individualism are the hallmarks of American society and there is so much that is good about it. Nobody meddles in other’s affairs and private space is sacred. Even in workplaces and neighborhoods, individual distance is maintained despite the pleasantries and casual conversations. 

Contrast that with India where everyone makes it their mission to know the neighbor’s or colleagues’ business—not always in a bad way, but certainly, there is no private space. America has plenty of space and distances are huge. Space, premium on privacy and highly legalistic nature of society have created casual relations but no deep connections. 

That is fine most of the time, but when the calamity strikes, it could be every man for himself and the community spirit that other societies have, may not be that strong in America. Many people live alone, rather than with their children or extended families and the bond or sense of belonging may not be as strong as that in the older Asian societies, for example.

If this pandemic really does what is predicted, people will need to help each other and look after their neighbours and friends, even risking their own wellbeing. ‘Rugged American Individualism’ may not be the best attribute at that time. Americans do come together for shared sacrifices, but given the extreme circumstances, it may still be each man for himself. 

The culturally inculcated family or community spirit in the older societies is better suited for such calamities. Let’s see how Americans will overcome the individualism for greater good of the community.

With these three important pillars of American society weakened at the very moment those are needed the most, the very future of America is at risk. Hope the American people rise to the occasion and take on this fight against Coronavirus in their own hands at the local level, where there are good many State Governors and community leaders who will do better than the Federal government under Trump.

- Sunil Deshmukh
 (Author is a U.S.A. based philanthropist and Corporate leader of Wall Street. He is the Originator of prestigious 'Maharashtra Foundation Awards for Literature and Social work.' His E-mail id is sunild@aol.com)

Also read: 
King Corona tests the American Spirit

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