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The Coronavirus Exposed America’s Authoritarian Turn

Independent Expertise Always Dies First When Democracy Recedes

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious​ Diseases Anthony Fauci listen​s during a coronavirus press briefing at the Whi​te House, March 2020 Al Drago / The New York Times

The U.S. government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic has been confusing, inconsistent, and counterproductive. Since February, the data from China, South Korea, and Italy have clearly shown that the virus spreads rapidly in areas that do not practice social distancing—and that simple measures to keep people apart can significantly slow the rate of new infections. But the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump did not coordinate any social distancing. And even as acute cases overwhelmed Italy’s hospitals, the administration made few efforts to shore up the U.S. health-care system, increase the number of ventilators in hospitals, or make testing widely available. 

Many blame these failures on the president, who initially downplayed the severity of the crisis. As recently as March 4, Trump insisted that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was no worse than the flu. A week later, he claimed that

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