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It’s a real conundrum: the United States of America, one of the world’s most prosperous countries, with arguably the most advanced health care system anywhere, seems to be losing the war against a virus.
The numbers tell the story. The U.S. has more Covid-19 cases and a higher death toll from the pandemic than any other nation. With only 4% of the world’s population, it has more than 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and deaths. According to public health experts, the wide spread of the disease in the United States has now become one of the main drivers of rising Covid-19 case numbers around the world.
Also, the pandemic’s severe economic and societal effects in the United States are still mounting, when they’ve substantially diminished in comparable places like the European Union.
While many other countries have successfully navigated their respective quarantines and shutdowns and have now opened their societies back up after dealing with the disease and largely defeating it, the U.S., lacking a coherent national strategy and a unified response to the pandemic, continues to rely on a cobbled-together patchwork of state and regional approaches that have not worked well at all. Insufficient or incorrect public information; a fractious landscape of too-early business and community re-openings in many places; no overall national strategy for producing needed supplies, testing or contact tracing; and partisan political wrangling over the solutions and even the existence of the disease have all combined to make the United States of America a pariah nation, its own people dying at an unprecedented rate and now cut off from the rest of the world by severe restrictions on trade and travel.
No one expected this. In fact, before anyone had ever heard of the virus, 2019’s expansive Global Health Security Index report evaluated the pandemic readiness of every nation on Earth and ranked the United States #1, declaring it the most prepared of all the world’s 195 countries.
So what happened? With all of its resources, why has the U.S. failed so miserably?
One of the authors of the Global Health Security Index report, Lawrence Gostin, Georgetown University’s Professor of Global Health Law, identified the reason when he told the New York Times recently that “health system capacity alone is almost useless unless you have a government that can unleash that capacity promptly and consistently.”
Or, saying it another way, the United States has failed to protect its citizens from the coronavirus because it’s not truly united.
Pretty ironic, right? Perhaps we should change the country’s name, The United States, to just “The States.” All kidding aside, America’s polarized political system, with its constant conflict and unending partisan accusations and bickering, has severely hampered our ability to solve real problems when they arise.
Because Americans have become so dis-unified and divided by that exhausting partisan fight, we’ve likely forgotten what it’s like to actually trust governmental leaders and abide by their recommendations. In lots of other countries – feel free to pick from the many different nations that have actually respected the science and faithfully followed the advice of their public health experts – coronavirus shutdowns were relatively short and highly effective. In New Zealand, in multiple European Union nations, in several South American countries and in Asia, as well, people trusted their governments, followed their recommendations and unitedly complied with the various plans their scientific and political leaders put forth. All in all, their relatively low death tolls and more rapid re-opening make a compelling case for unity.
The Baha’i teachings offer a prescription designed to address this deadly issue of polarization:
The oneness of the kingdom of humanity will supplant the banner of conquest, and all communities of the earth will gather under its protection. No nation with separate and restricted boundaries – such as Persia, for instance – will exist. The United States of America will be known only as a name. Germany, France, England, Turkey, Arabia – all these various nations will be welded together in unity.
How does this Baha’i vision of a future unified world strike you? Generally, it tends to provoke one of two disparate reactions – either people see global governance as the inevitable positive next step in the evolution of human society and the development of a peaceful planet; or the idea of a unified world causes them some trepidation.
Usually, this sort of trepidation comes from the fear of tyranny – but the Baha’i teachings advocate representative democracy, an end to despotism, the extension of human rights to everyone, freedom of conscience, and decentralization in government:
It is very evident that in the future there shall be no centralization in the countries of the world, be they constitutional in government, republican or democratic in form. The United States may be held up as the example of future government – that is to say, each province will be independent in itself, but there will be federal union protecting the interests of the various independent states. It may not be a republican or a democratic form. To cast aside centralization which promotes despotism is the exigency of the time. This will be productive of international peace.
Just imagine, then, how a global government could optimally respond to the next worldwide pandemic. Rather than trying to implement hundreds of disparate approaches with wildly-varying rates of success across states and nations, the world’s countries and their scientists, by cooperating rather than competing, would work together to quickly develop treatments and cures. Meanwhile, a unified global public health strategy would minimize deaths and downtime. A unified global economic agency could direct aid to the places that needed it most. A unified global parliament could implement one universal, scientifically valid response among all of the world’s peoples.
It may be too late to implement this global solution now, but we will inevitably face another deadly pandemic at some point. Virologists estimate that more than a million potential viral candidates for such diseases already exist in animals, and that “zoonotic spillover” – the passage of new viruses from other vertebrates to humans – will happen, just as it did with SARS, Ebola, MERS, Marburg, HIV and many, many more.
Will we be ready? We certainly could be, if we began implementing the Baha’i prescription for a healing, unified world order.
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