Mar 26: Wall Street rallies for another day as unemployment claims skyrocket to 3.3 million. U.S. Coronavirus cases surpass China. The New York Times reports that there are still not enough tests to test everyone who needs it due to a lack of tests as well as PPE for medical care workers. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is diagnosed with coronavirus.*
America is #1! But the bad version. We’ve registered more COVID-19 cases than China, over 82,000, making us the center of the pandemic. New York City is the epicenter of our world’s-highest-caseload. Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens currently has a line outside full of people with symptoms waiting for tests. Even after being admitted, there’s no guarantee patients will get a bed. Some have died while waiting. Nurses, lacking PPE, wear trash bags. A refrigerated truck holds bodies that won’t fit in the full morgue. A federal hospital ship is on the way but won’t be useable for weeks.
I can’t believe I am writing these words. We are supposed to be the most advanced nation in the world. We are not supposed to be a place where nurses wear trash bags and people die in hallways. I have known for a long time that America is not the great nation on the hill that my elementary school textbooks said it was. I have spent a lifetime studying the Cold War and am aware of our hypocrisy and disregard for human life. I know that black and brown people can live here for generations, with their ancestors having been brought here against their will as chattel, and still be made to feel like strangers, like something less than fully human. But somehow I never imagined that we would be so broken, so weak, so unprepared. It reminds me of how I felt when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and our entire nation could not effectively evacuate the city’s residents and really didn’t seem sufficiently disturbed about that fact. Maybe that’s the clue to how this pandemic is going to go, too.
Topping that news is the Department of Labor report out this morning that 2.9 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, more than quadruple the highest number ever seen. Hypothetically, that number will come down as the virus recedes and employers re-fill the same jobs, but it remains a staggering indicator of how unprepared SARS-CoV-2 found the United States. Even the American precious metals market, often a place to which scared investors flee during stock panics and bank runs, seems to be nearly at a freezing point.
It’s like this across the globe, right? No, it is not. Objectively, there are other parts of the world that are handling this virus much better than we are. South Korea and Japan, who learned they had infected citizens at the same time as the United States, managed to ‘flatten the curve’ by aggressive contact tracing, bombardments of public service announcements, and very broad testing.
Singapore worked so hard at tracing and quarantining that they were able to reopen schools quickly. By contrast, our contact tracing has been negligible and we are seeing mysterious outbreaks popping up in places like Albany, Georgia, far away from major outbreak cities and with no known connection to travelers from Asia or Europe. Our economic response to the chaos has also been substandard. The EU, for instance, is paying companies to keep employees even while quarantining. They’ve mostly avoided the mass unemployment we are seeing and are able to incentivize people to stay home.
Why is the United States so unprepared in comparison? Why have we become an object lesson for the rest of the world? Scholars, epidemiologists, and politicians are going to study this question for decades to come. I am convinced, here on March 26, that this has happened because of systemic failures across our society. Our president and his supporters have shown themselves willing to put their personal political agendas before the uncomfortable truths that would save the lives of their constituents. There has been a failure by our leadership to create a unified, effective message that would mobilize the American public, a failure by the hobbled political left to lambast those incompetent leaders and demand effective messaging, a failure of experts to very clear on basic issues like the merits of wearing masks and social distancing, a collapse in the process of peer-review that has led bad science to get pre-printed and then quoted as fact, an inability or unwillingness by Americans to recognize the importance of good, hard science, combined with a desire to believe non-experts who have no actual knowledge on the issue—all because it confirms their own pre-established beliefs and is repeated ad nauseum by Fox News, a profound lack of care and concern for the Black and brown citizens of this nation, and for the poor, who will bear the brunt of this disease, a generations-long tendency in business and in governance to prioritize quick profits over long-term planning, an utter disregard by our leaders for public health, and a toxic legacy of American “victory culture,” that makes so many people in this nation incapable of humility or sacrifice. The parallels with the collapse of Rome are unmistakable, except Rome lasted for a thousand years.
Then again, as Paul Simon reminds us, “we can’t be forever blessed.”
 Jeremy Berke and Morgan McFall-Johnsen, “USA Now Has More COVID-19 Cases Than Any Other Country in The World,” ScienceAlert, March 26, 2020, https://www.sciencealert.com/usa-is-now-the-centre-of-the-covid-19-outbreak-as-their-case-numbers-top-italy-s.
 Michael Rothfeld et al., “13 Deaths in a Day: An ‘Apocalyptic’ Coronavirus Surge at an N.Y.C. Hospital,” The New York Times, March 25, 2020, sec. New York, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/nyregion/nyc-coronavirus-hospitals.html.
 Department of Labor, “Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims, Week Ending March 21, 2020,” March 26, 2020, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OPA/newsreleases/ui-claims/20200510.pdf.
 Hanna Ziady, “Want to Buy Gold Coins or Bars? Good Luck Finding Any,” CNN, March 26, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/26/investing/gold-demand-supply-coronavirus/index.html.
 Jason Beaubien, “How South Korea Reined In The Outbreak Without Shutting Everything Down,” NPR, March 26, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/26/821688981/how-south-korea-reigned-in-the-outbreak-without-shutting-everything-down.
 Alan Mauldin, “COVID-19 Suspected in Three Weekend Deaths in Dougherty County,” Albany Herald, March 17, 2020, https://www.albanyherald.com/news/covid-19-suspected-in-three-weekend-deaths-in-dougherty-county/article_8b759eb6-6878-11ea-8de5-07fa83d6e0e6.html; Darran Todd, “UPDATE: Dougherty Co. Coronavirus Cases Linked to 2 Funerals,” WALB News 10, March 17, 2020, https://www.walb.com/2020/03/17/watch-live-dougherty-co-address-latest-coronavirus/.
 Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation, 2nd edition (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 9.
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Nurses at Mount Sinai West have resorted to wearing trash bags as protective gear. A nurse manager just died there of COVID-19. This should not be happening in America. #WheresMyPPE https://t.co/f1czt525rn pic.twitter.com/FTYKkLVrgi— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 26, 2020
Christian pastor who thought COVID-19 is just ‘mass hysteria’ is among the first in Virginia to die from virus https://t.co/ebyuWfU5RR— Raw Story (@RawStory) March 26, 2020
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, refuses to issue stay-at-home order for the state because some counties haven’t reported COVID-19 cases. This may be because in some counties, 5 people or less have been tested.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 26, 2020
Has he heard of Louisiana? Cos we’re (unfortunately) Red as F and No.1 in rising infections per capita in the World.— A Dave Swarbrick Ditty (@adaveditty) March 26, 2020
Thank you to everyone who tuned in earlier today on Instagram Live! I wanted to make sure everyone had access to the conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Fauci. Please share as much as possible. Thank you! #SCASKSFAUCI https://t.co/CtLGPy6Neg— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) March 26, 2020
BREAKING:— Michael Nöthem (@mikandynothem) March 26, 2020
Congratulations America for identifying a far more dangerous pathogen that is attacking the American people! Scientists have traced it back to the hideous virus cluster pictured.#MAGA #FoxNews #KAG#thursdaymorning#ThursdayMotivation pic.twitter.com/3feAWhLKSv
The Democrats are pushing the socialist/communist agenda through the front door & The Wuhan virus is pushing the socialist/communist agenda through the back door of America.— Darrel Trump (@DarrelTrump) March 26, 2020
* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020), the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (https://www.justsecurity.org/69650/timeline-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-and-u-s-response/), the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (theweek.com), as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.