Michel Foucault, one of the most prominent of postmodernists, proclaimed that doctors should be blamed for all restrictions in the life of the modern West. For example, they arbitrarily define some people as insane and place them in hospitals, which Foucault implicitly compared to jails.
Now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Foucault is not quoted. Regardless of their political persuasion, the American public does not believe that the pandemic is an ideological construction. All agree that it is a global calamity. And like many calamities, it tests two major global powers and implicitly their socioeconomic and political systems, which are opposed to each other. While both the US and China have been seriously affected by the pandemic, China is faring better than its rival.
To understand this difference, consider their sociopolitical systems.
Federalism and the American way
Generally, US ideology asserts that the average American is naturally good and social, and he or she understands that individual rights go along with a sense of social responsibility. Thus, citizens unite for the common good in communities, states and finally in forming a central government, which cares for the entire national body. This principle has failed miserably during the pandemic. Washington has become absolutely unable to deal with the challenge.
There is, of course, a temptation to attribute all of this to President Donald Trump. His political rivals have presented him as the embodiment of evil, almost a tyrant, and proclaim that his removal from office would change everything for the better. This is hardly the case. Trump is a symptom of the disease, not the cause. A look at the recent past of the US shows the same inability or unwillingness, or both, of Washington to deal with deeper problems.
The case of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 shows this. The storm’s approach and its intensity were not a surprise. One could expect that the federal government would use all its available resources to save New Orleans. The fleets of helicopters would rescue the residents, tent camps with field kitchens and hospitals would emerge instantly, and later the government would help displaced people to find housing and employment. Nothing was done and thousands of people died. Not only is the federal government usually oblivious to the needs of people in case of calamity, but it has other issues.
The US government rarely listened to the views of experts if they contradicted the preconceived views of their bosses. Trump has implicitly threatened to dismiss Anthony Fauci, the respected 79-year-old scientist who has contradicted the president and his depiction of the pandemic in a bid to push states to end restrictions and closures and reopen economies. Fauci has resisted the pressure. He has been a rare exception. Most of the president’s advisors are valued by society because of their social position. There is no notion of the “noble loser,” i.e., a person who loses his position and lives in poverty because of his convictions. In the view of the majority of Americans, he becomes a plain loser, an individual who is not able to “sell” himself by adjusting his views to the needs of the “market”.
American states have also failed to behave according to the constructed image of states cooperating with other states. At the time of Katrina, none of its neighbors contributed significant aid to the beleaguered Louisiana. There has been little collective spirit during the Covid-19 pandemic. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo went so far as to remind the federal government that the official US official motto, E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”) should mean that all 50 states should constitute a single body, all for one and one for all. He bitterly complained that he saw the pluribus but not the “unum”: No one was helping New York, and each state was fighting for itself, trying to outbid one another and the federal government in purchasing masks, ventilators and other essentials.
Many Americans, supposedly citizens of conscience, behaved in a similar way, ignoring the obvious risks of spreading the disease. In Michigan, armed militias even demanded that the governor end of restrictions, regardless of the fact that doing so would lead to more deaths. Others have refused to wear face masks as a measure to prevent their infecting others should they have the virus, arguing that donning one would be a curtailment of their freedom
By late spring of 2020, major US cities became overwhelmed by unprecedented waves of violence. On the surface, this was caused by the death of an African-American man in Minneapolis when a policeman choked him with a knee on his neck. Most Western observers proclaimed that it was caused by police brutality and mistreatment of African-Americans. In the context of the pandemic, the cause of the unrest went much deeper and broader: Millions had lost their jobs and the government checks that could hardly meet even basic living costs for more than a few weeks were not reaching everyone in need. The protests were also the result of inadequate and costly medical services. Driving them too was the general polarization of the country. The discontent and divisions in society pushed many to express their anger by turning to vandalism, looting and arson.
Leninism and the Chinese system
The Chinese model is based on a different tradition and premise. The Chinese leadership today often asserts that China does not follow Western democratic traditions or thinking. Yet this has does not preclude them from accepting those foreign doctrines that suit China’s political needs and political culture. Leninism, for example, has provided principles underpinning Chinese communist ideology.