May 06, 2020
On the Inadequacy and Inconsistency of the United States’ Response to International Crises
When it comes to suspending citizens’ civil liberties in the face of a national or international emergency, United States officials have yet to find a balance between the danger of the situation and the freedom of the people they represent. In 1863, President Lincoln imposed Martial Law to suspend the right of Habeas Corpus in the lead-up to the Civil War. The Cold War years saw massive suspension of certain civil liberties, including freedom of speech and association, to root out communism during the Red Scare. In the years after 9/11, the Bush Administration passed the Homeland Security and the PATRIOT Acts, both suspending rights for the sake of fighting the War on Terror. And today, in 2020, the US is responding to the international COVID-19 pandemic with widespread business closings and stay-at-home orders. The problem with these cases is the inconsistency with which the United States deals with these situations. Inconsistency is a facet of democracy — different administrations enact different policies and deal with crises differently. But it is time to address the fact that this inconsistency prevents citizens from knowing what to expect, and it puts people’s lives at risk.
To examine an instance in which the US response to danger was too extreme, consider life in the McCarthy-era 1950’s America. People were deprived of their rights to free speech and assembly just for associating with communist ideals. The fear at the national level of the spread of USSR communism devolved into ripping American citizens from their homes and lives for speaking out for what they believe. Is this not the type of injustice that the American founders fled in Europe, and penned our Constitution exactly to prevent? Did the danger posed by the imperialism of the USSR truly justify the fearmongering and denial of civil liberties that occurred domestically in the United States?
From the opposite end of the spectrum, observe the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2019 the first person contracted COVID-19 and by January 30 the WHO declared a global health emergency and three cities in the east Asian region were on lockdown. Despite this rapid escalation abroad, the US dragged its feet and did not begin responding to the crisis until the last week of February. This led to the US healthcare system being unequipped for the inevitable outbreak, and because of this people died without receiving care when the situation exploded in New York City. Through mid-April, there has been very little national response to the situation — the job of containing and responding to the virus is left in the hands of the governors, who are competing for resources and largely failing to respond adequately and consistently.
The United States needs a consistent plan for dealing with situations of international emergency. The country has not been isolated for a long time, and until a plan is in place and citizens know what to expect from their government in times of need, people will suffer because of unpreparedness.