But an assumption of futility hangs over these efforts — a mentality of “no, we can’t” that emphasizes all the ways that we aren’t like South Korea or Taiwan or Eastern Europe, all the impositions that Americans supposedly won’t stand for, all the ways that our exceptionalism and polarization and mutual suspicion will inevitably make our death toll rise.
Maybe some of this defeatism is justified as a judgment on Donald Trump’s inability to lead any kind of wartime effort. Maybe it’s justified as a judgment on our hollowed-out industrial capacities, our loss of what Bloomberg’s Dan Wang calls the “process knowledge” required to suddenly shift from making semiconductors to making swabs or masks. Leadership and industrial capacity can’t just be willed into existence; certain kinds of sclerosis can’t be easily escaped.
But the assumption that decadence is simply inescapable seems decadent itself. Especially when it leads to weird conclusions — like that Americans are too paranoid or cussedly libertarian to accept mandatory testing or temperature checks or mask-wearing or quarantines but that we will somehow just resign ourselves to closed schools and dead retail and empty restaurants and rolling lockdowns for months and months to come.