Peter Wehner: The president is trapped
What’s more, even with capable management of the crisis, the U.S. may not have been able to perform as South Korea has. Big differences between the U.S. and South Korea—beyond Trump—account for some of their performance variation on the coronavirus. Perhaps the most important is South Korea’s relatively recent experiences with SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2015, and the resulting legal regime the country has in place to deal with infectious disease. Brian Kim—writing in Lawfare—describes this regime as “a custom-made legal apparatus that has empowered authorities to collect and disseminate private information in aggressive ways.” No similar legal authority exists in the United States, which has not experienced comparable recent epidemics that would have prompted it to create a similar legal framework.
Moreover, the United States has a federal system, which divides the power to respond to an epidemic among federal and state authorities—meaning that even a perfect federal administration would have only some of the necessary powers. Idiot governors at the state level and lousy administrators at the local level might still encourage people to go to restaurants or might not comply with federal requests for an aggressive response.
To make matters still worse, the United States is a highly mobile country with an extraordinary number of ports of entry. Unlike smaller countries, which have only a few ways in and out, it’s actually a tricky business restricting American mobility, either internally or externally. And the patchwork nature of the American health-care system—which limits access to care for many people, and which is not set up to deal with a surge of patients—doesn’t help things, either.
Francis Fukuyama: The thing that determines a country’s resistance to the coronavirus
There’s one additional factor for which one cannot reasonably blame Trump: The United States is not run by the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government, which initially allowed the problem to fester and then tried to cover it up, is now getting plaudits for having apparently gotten the pandemic under control by implementing aggressive lockdowns and domestic surveillance. Even assuming one accepts the case numbers China has released—and there is reason to doubt their integrity and suspect that the coronavirus crisis in mainland China may have been far worse than the government has acknowledged—no American presidential administration has the authority to wield the unchecked coercive powers China used to beat the virus. Nor should any administration have that authority.
For all these reasons, there was no way the virus was going to fail to enter the country and spread. Even with perfect leadership, the situation was going to be bad.
And all that conceded up front, the Trump administration—and Trump himself—undoubtedly have made it far worse.