If anything, the opposite is likely to be true. When the after-action reports for this pandemic are written, the elites are not going to come out looking very good. Why is America in lockdown today? Because despite more than 15 years of warnings that a pandemic was coming, the political establishment in Washington failed to prepare for its arrival — leaving us with inexcusable shortages of masks, gowns, protective equipment and ventilators. And the same politicians who led the drive for globalization — sending millions of manufacturing jobs overseas — also let our supply chains for critical drugs and medical supplies move abroad, leaving us scrambling to ramp up domestic production while the virus raged. The experts who for decades said we could manage China’s rise by integrating Beijing into the global economy left us dangerously dependent on a brutal totalitarian regime whose lies fueled the spread of the virus.
That’s not all. To contain the virus early and prevent the need for broad population-based mitigation measures, we needed to get testing in place quickly. But the experts blew it. Instead of clearing bureaucratic obstacles, the Food and Drug Administration refused to allow private labs to develop tests for six weeks. And scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contaminated the only approved test kits with sloppy lab practices, rendering them ineffective. The delays cost us our only chance to prevent a nationwide lockdown.
As a result, we are now experiencing the worst economic devastation since the Great Depression, with more than 33 million Americans losing their jobs in just six weeks. The brunt of the damage is not being borne by the elites who work in the information economy but by those at the middle and the bottom of the economic ladder — the forgotten Americans who were finally doing better under President Trump until this crisis arrived. Before the pandemic, the U.S. economy had added a half-million manufacturing jobs and low-wage workers were experiencing the fastest pay increases. Most of that progress has been wiped out.
For these Americans, today’s lockdown seems like a return to the nightmare they experienced following the 2008 financial crisis, when they saw persistent job losses coupled with a dramatic rise in deaths of despair — suicides, alcohol and opioid abuse, drug overdoses and chronic diseases concentrated in economically distressed regions of the country. Nobody in Washington seemed to care about their struggles, until Trump came along and promised to fight for them.
Now, these Americans see the same elites dismissing their suffering once again — insisting we must continue draconian lockdown measures that are putting them on the brink of financial ruin. They see the contempt of the media elites who mock the anti-lockdown protests taking place across the country (look at those rubes, they’re not even social distancing while they march!) and who heap scorn on Trump for his focus on reopening the economy. The message they get is: The elites don’t understand the utter devastation I am experiencing, but Trump does.
They also see increasing evidence that the politicians and experts got a lot wrong about how the virus is spreading. In New York, for example, 96 percent of those hospitalized for covid-19 had an underlying medical condition, while only 17 percent were employed and only 3 percent had been taking public transportation. “We were thinking that maybe we were going to find a higher percentage of essential employees who were getting sick because they were going to work,” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said, but “that’s not the case.” If those who continued going to work are not getting sick, then many unemployed Americans can rightly ask: Why can’t more of us be working with increased safeguards?
The idea that Americans are going to reward the elites who failed so miserably to prepare for and manage this pandemic is a fantasy. To the contrary, the longer this lockdown continues, the more likely it is we will experience a growing populist rebellion against the elites who insist we must continue to impose wreckage on the economy indefinitely. Indeed, the forgotten Americans whose lives and livelihoods are being annihilated may well decide that there has never been more need for disruption in Washington than there is today.