The U.S. has the world’s highest tallies of both Covid-19 cases and deaths, which according to a new study can be blamed in large part on the chaotic response to the pandemic by the Trump administration.
That conclusion comes from a panel of more than two dozen experts convened by the independent medical journal The Lancet, which just published its analysis of public policy and health in the Trump era. The authors say that the U.S. would have avoided about 40% of its 470,000 deaths so far if it had simply achieved results similar to other wealthy, industrialized nations.
“Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic—compounded by his efforts to dismantle the USA’s already weakened public health infrastructure and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage expansions—has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths,” the authors write.
The report cites Trump’s “disdain for science and cuts to global health programmes and public health agencies,” the “elimination of the National Security Council’s global health security team,” and “a 2017 hiring freeze that left almost 700 positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unfilled” as contributing factors to the poor U.S. response.
The bigger picture: While the Trump administration may have performed poorly, the U.S. has experienced worsening health conditions for decades, the authors say, with life expectancy actually falling starting in 2014. “The US has fared so badly with this pandemic, but the bungling can’t be attributed only to Mr Trump, it also has to do with these societal failures,” Dr. Mary Bassett of Harvard University, who served on the panel, told the Guardian. “That’s not going to be solved by a vaccine.”
The authors charge that 40 years of neoliberal policies have created a two-tier society that fails to deliver social goods to large swaths of the population, making it harder to respond to a global pandemic. “Despite a booming stock market and low unemployment, many people living in the USA were forced into precarious jobs that offered low pay and insufficient benefits. This widening income inequality has widened inequalities in health,” they say.
The authors argue that undoing the four-decade assault on the welfare state, which culminated in the election of Donald Trump, is the key to rebuilding the institutions and capabilities that could help the country respond effectively to a pandemic while improving public health more broadly. “The overriding thing that we need to do in our country is to decrease the huge and widening inequalities that have emerged in our nation,” Dr. David Himmelstein of the City University of New York's Hunter College told USA Today.