American Consequences - February 2020


That’s near a historic low since polls first started querying the public on the issue in 1958. Regardless of what you think of his politics, Donald Trump isn’t helping things in this regard... especially when he sometimes contradicts himself within the space of a single speech. So why should Americans trust the Chinese government to do the right thing when they don’t even trust their own government? All of this couldn’t be happening at a worse time... Here in Asia, we’re in the midst of the Lunar New Year Spring Festival holiday period. In a normal (non-virus) year, people in China will make a combined 3 billion trips to see friends and family in the weeks before and after the New Year. (By comparison, Americans took around 55 million trips over Thanksgiving, the heaviest travel period of the U.S. calendar.) Even if some of those Chinese trips are just over the hill and through the woods, that’s an awful lot of train, plane, and bicycle journeys... with lots of opportunities to mingle, share germs, and transmit 2019-nCoV. This means that a lot of the government officials who might otherwise have at least half an eye on what’s happening under their purview will be busy greeting the Year of the Rat. Efforts toward preventing the spread of the virus will be less pronounced than if the outbreak was happening at any other time of year. The latest news on the virus might not be true, but many folks will likely believe it anyway.

Some senior officials in China are – publicly, at least – trying to undercut this dynamic. As the BBC reported last month, China’s top leaders have warned lower- level officials not to cover up the spread of [the virus]. Anyone who concealed new cases would “be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity,” the political body responsible for law and order said. As we mentioned earlier, China has put nearly 60 million people on lockdown. There’s no question that officials are taking the virus seriously. And that raises the stakes for the junior bureaucrat who’s tallying up the number of people who have contracted the disease at the hospital down the street. How eager is he going to be to post a big number – the real figure – that will attract attention? So even if the Chinese government was to make known all information and insight it has about the spread of 2019-nCoV (unlikely), its own understanding is severely limited by what lower levels of government report. And these are motivated to cover their own behinds – and less concerned with some notional shame pillar. Remember: All governments and politicians lie. All the time. I’m not only talking about China or Russia... After all, American history is replete with examples of the government being less than truthful. In April 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that just 17% of polled Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time or almost always.


February 2020

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