In my first piece for The Week, I’m discussing why the lack of high-quality masks is our pandemic failures in miniature.
Throughout the pandemic, Americans have made extraordinary sacrifices to slow the spread of the virus. We haven’t been unequal to the disaster, but our leaders’ lapses have left people filling in the gaps of the lackluster federal and state responses. Yet with each surge comes scolding about individual choices, while first former President Donald Trump and then President Biden have minimized the centralized work only the government can do.
This sleight of hand is part of a pattern. Our leaders love to valorize individual effort, especially when it suggests policy reform is unnecessary. When a child saves up his allowance to pay back his classmates’ lunch debt, it’s not a feel good story, much less a universal way to ensure every student has enough to eat. After graduating into a recession, millennials can’t catch up by avoiding avocado toast and lattes. The environment won’t be saved by banning plastic straws, rather than seriously considering nuclear power.
In each case, these stories shift the blame to individuals — if they really cared about getting out of debt or cleaning up the environment, shouldn’t they be visibly suffering in pursuit of the goal? If not, what right do they have to demand that anyone else take action?