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A Post-Coronavirus Crisis of Institutional Legitimacy

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on May 13, 2020 20:48

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Unless American institutions are able to regain lost public confidence, it may become increasingly difficult to control the coronavirus pandemic.

America's response to the coronavirus pandemic may have been affected by a crisis of institutional legitimacy, which is undermining trust in government to an extent not seen since the late 1960s.

Instead of cooperation on bipartisan solutions, or abandoning the "resistance" efforts that culminated in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi contemptuously tearing up President Trump's State of the Union speech on live television in February, Democrats instead sought to exploit the worldwide epidemic to polarize and divide the American electorate for political advantage in the 2020 Election.

Sadly, this attempt to sabotage President Trump added to panicked suspicions of coronavirus public health policy on both the left and right.

Currently, the Trump Administration finds itself in a middle ground somewhere between a "Keep America Closed Forever!" Left that apparently wishes to crash the economy in order to deny President Trump re-election and an "Open Up America Now!" Right that seems to advocate exposure of vulnerable populations to asymptomatic transmission in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, schools, churches, offices, gyms and even tattoo parlors to reach "herd immunity."

These two poles represent incompatible extremes apparently rejecting official phased White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again announced April 16th. One reason may lie in an institutional crisis of legitimacy, resulting from initial confusion and misdirection — if not outright lying — in early days of Coronavirus response regarding masks, PPE and transmissibility, followed by acrimonious political bickering, horse-trading, and savage recrimination instead of bipartisan agreement.

The President could tragically not rely upon federal agencies by law responsible for fighting epidemics, such as the Centers for Disease Control or US Public Health Service, which botched every stage of the pandemic response — prevention, containment, mitigation, contact tracing, and testing. 

Instead, VP Mike Pence established a White House Coronavirus Task Force through the US State Department, putting Dr. Deborah Birx in charge of government policy with NIH immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci as its most prominent technical expert, in a crash emergency work-around.

Nevertheless, institutional problems continue. Recently, Dr. Birx was quoted saying "there is nothing from the CDC that I can trust."

Her comments echo polls revealing widespread public distrust of national institutions due to the pandemic.

SurveyUSA's March 12th, 2020 study found only 32% believed the World Health Organization was telling the whole truth, 38% CDC, 33% NIH, 30% FDA, 15% political appointees, 24% VP Pence, 26% President Trump, 32% state health officials, 22% national media, and 28% local media. 56% said President Trump was more concerned with being re-elected than keeping you safe (34%).

An April 8th Quinnipac survey showed only 46% approved of President Trump's handling of Coronavirus, 44% of Congress. Curiously, 78% approved of Dr. Fauci and 74% state governors.

On May 11th, Gallup reported Americans felt worried about misinformation about Coronavirus, with 47% blaming President Trump, 33% national news, and 15% social media.

Such high levels of institutional distrust may spell serious trouble for reaching lower case-fatality rates found in Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, or elsewhere.

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on May 13, 2020 20:48

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Source: CBS New York
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The administration's work on testing and bolstering the national stockpile will continue, Vice President Mike Pence said,...

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