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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus: Calling America to the Carpet

Some are almost rubbing their hands in glee at coronavirus: holding to the notion that this is an obvious sign of the Second Coming because Pestilence is loosed upon the land. Though adherent that I aspire to be, my eyes cannot but roll in disbelief. Pandemics are almost as reliable as Old Faithful and will remain so until the end of time. The average span between worldwide outbreaks is around a hundred years. And coronavirus is hot on the centennial of the Spanish Influenza.

No, it is not the time for overzealous fervor to grasp rational thought. But with respect to my fellow Christians, coronavirus is at last the “Come to Jesus” meeting that the United States is long overdue for.

Let’s consider what must certainly be the most serious issue about what coronavirus is now teaching us. We have a woeful, immoral and almost criminal over-reliance on China for our manufactured goods, and especially pharmaceuticals. The vast majority of medication consumed by Americans come from Chinese labs. Many of these facilities, incidentally, have been accused of utilizing manufacturing processes that defy safe and sanitary protocol. Even so, the drugs are being shipped into the U.S. and domestic drug companies care little. After all, it’s easier to charge nigh-unconscionable prices for vitally needed medication when it can be manufactured for pennies overseas. Even cheaply-manufactured medications such as acetaminophen and insulin are now supplied by China. Perhaps ninety percent of antibiotics like penicillin are sent to the U.S. from factories under the ultimate control of Beijing.

Profits are good. Profits drive innovation and research. But the drive for profit in defiance of ethical responsibility has inflicted a grievous wound upon the nation’s self-sufficiency and general integrity. It is a wound that politicians – on both sides of the aisle – have not looked past so much as pour harsh acid upon.

And now comes word that China is threatening to deny America access to drugs that could stem the coronavirus outbreak in our country. It is not an empty threat. Particularly not in the present environment of trade hostility that has already awoken the bear market. Right now the ChiComs are feeling pokey about the U.S.’ international response to the coronavirus pandemic. What happens in the event of a full-blown economic war between east and west? Should China choose to do so, it could cut the spigot off for all distribution of medications to the United States.

Pause and consider what this would mean to diabetics dependent upon their neighborhood drug stores being stocked with insulin, or medications commonly prescribed to address influenza: an illness that far more people each year perish from than will on account of coronavirus. People are now going full- blown paranoid about a shortage of toilet paper. But that can be rationed. With medication, not so much. I myself am now weighing the likelihood of medications running out that I use to manage having manic-depression. The number of Americans who have mental health conditions is enormous. Might a dire deficit of mood stabilizers lead to mass ideations of suicide or harm to others?

It is now clear that America has an over-reliance upon Chinese manufacturing of pharmaceuticals for too long. But our lack of autarky is betrayed again by a spectacle beheld by even the healthiest of citizens: the vast shelves of cheaply-produced goods at Walmart stores dotting across the fruited plain. And also readily available from online retailers. For decades American companies have parceled their industrial capacity to Chinese workers who are underpaid and overworked. We have enjoyed cheap clothing and kitchenware and collectible action figures and Blu-ray players. We have also compromised our economic independence. And though the policies set in motion during President Trump’s administration have yielded enormous rebirth of long-shuttered factories, America is still hurting from decades of job losses. Once the textiles industry in America was one of the mightiest of employers. It allowed families to grow and thrive and allowed countless young people to better their lives with college education. Today textile production in the United States has almost completely evaporated, particularly in the Southeast where it was once towered over all other industry.

If China can cut off medication for one key sector, it can cut off every medication. As well as every other product that comes from there to American ports. And what is America going to deny China in turn? Blockbuster action movies whose studio executives kowtow to mainland Chinese “sensibilities”? Clothing and medication are vital assets. Extravaganza entertainment is not.

The coronavirus outbreak, depending on who one chooses to listen to, is either the dread harbinger of the end times or a momentary blip upon medical history. Six to eight months from now we will likely be laughing about the coronavirus “plague” just as we did about Y2K. But the vulnerabilities it has exposed should be – as some activist leaders have coined the term – a teachable moment for America.

It is time to rediscover anew the virtue that American protectionism is a virtue and not a vice. We are obligated to look after the interests of our own people, and that is absolutely not to be taken to mean that we are a selfish or uncharitable nation. American greatness however has from its colonial beginnings meant looking to ourselves for production of food, goods, and medicine. We have been abundantly blessed with these and many more fruits of our labors. And when the fruits have been so bountiful, we have gladly allowed the people of other nations to enjoy much of our surplus. It is conceivable that World War III was staved off because the Soviet Union came to be dependent so greatly upon American grain production. Had domestic farming capacity during the Cold War been at depleted levels, the possibility would exist that Moscow would have been much more desperate and belligerent toward its western rival. The Politburo was wise enough to recognize its own weaknesses. Why then should the United States be any different?

America has been betrayed by politicians and lobbyists acting in the interest of foreign powers if not being outright paid for services rendered. We have been living on borrowed time and now the coronavirus threat has pulled back the curtain on our would-be industrial masters. Were our international situation a private business, the ones responsible would have long been chewed-out by the company honchoes. And most likely given a cardboard box and fifteen minutes to clean out their desks. Their incompetence would not be lauded and certainly not rewarded.

The attitude toward this land by too many entrenched politicians, corporate opportunists, and foreign sympathizers has gone far beyond incompetence and into the territory of treason. Perhaps the coronavirus will cast long-awaited light upon such treacheries. And perhaps the American people will have eyes opened at last to demand an end to over-reliance on international industry.

If so, in the greater scheme of things the coronavirus may prove to be less a blight and more a blessing.