Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


MARCH 2021

Half a million Americans died! Why did it happen?

The White House and much of the public grossly underestimated the virulence of the coronavirus that struck our country a year ago. It resulted in the closure of schools, churches, restaurants, gyms, sports events, and many businesses and government offices.

President Trump assured the country in March that the virus was under control. He ordered a crash program to develop a vaccine to stop the fast-spreading virus. The president sought help from Dr. Anthony Fauci, a widely respected scientist on infectious diseases. But he insisted that science, not politics, should guide decisions. He urged Americans to wear face masks and stay six feet from others. Trump ignored the advice, and many supporters followed his lead.

Meanwhile, the economy went into tailspin. Businesses shut down, unemployment climbed rapidly, and applications for unemployment insurance soared. Congress with white House support appropriated nearly $4 trillion during 2020 to help families impacted by the loss of jobs. What appeared at first as a short term disruption to the economy turned into a threat to financial stability.

Despite White House assurances that things were improving, the country remained in semi-shut down. As autumn approached, public schools stayed closed, restaurants and many other businesses shut down, take-out food saved some grocery stores and drug stores stayed open but universities and colleges were obliged to teach classes on-line instead of in classrooms. Football and other sports were cancelled or played to empty stands.

Covid 19 increased rapidly at the end of 2020, and Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings were cancelled or curtailed after urging from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And while enduring severe effects of Covid 19, the country experienced a bruising presidential election campaign.

What have we learned from this year of major disruption in our lives?

The political system worked

Despite the huge disruptions created by the rapid spread of Covid-19, the federal government was successful in getting funds into the hands of people impacted financially. It also produced in record time two vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, whose products were injected in health care workers and the elderly in December. In 2021 they were available to those over 65. Although the death toll rose rapidly at year's end, hospitals were able to cope, barely in some cases, with patients who required intensives care. Most of those who died were elderly.

Our constitutional system also worked during the transition between the November election and the new president's inauguration in January. This occurred despite President Trump's refusal to concede the election's outcome. The unprecedented political turmoil, including a mob attack on the Capitol January 6, didn't prevent the government from functioning, and President Biden was sworn in at the Capitol by Chief Justice John Roberts on January 20.

Impact on how we work

Millions of workers who traveled daily to offices in cities were forced to stay home after the virus spread last spring. This created a new way of viewing work, if one had broadband connection to the internet. People started working from home, and the invention of Zoom facilitated the trend as workers could see and speak with colleagues from their homes. Suddenly, one need not be dressed up or be concerned about commuting to work.

After a year working from home, many preferred operating remotely. The impact on rent for office space and travel to work is large. Will the prevalence of vaccines cause businesses and the professions to change the way work is performed? We may not know for years how the changes will affect the way many Americans view the way we work.

Long term effect on children

It's difficult to measure today the impact on young children who've been deprived of grade school learning by a year away from classrooms and teachers. In Europe, priority was given to keeping children in classrooms even when the pandemic spread.

In this country, we find many teachers and their unions resisting pressure from parents and school officials who want to open grade schools. The CDC says there's little danger to youngsters who wear masks and stay safe distance from others. For high school students, attending classes remotely has worked because most of them are capable of focusing on instruction by TV in a way that grade school children are not. We won't realize for many years how much damage has been done to our children's learning abilities. But it is likely to be huge.

File last modified on Sunday, 07-MAR-2021 07:25 PM EST

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