September 7, 2021

YANG | The Unruly Americans

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I’ve been stuck in this country for a while now. 

Since my F-1 visa expires —it’s okay, I maintain my student status, so my non-immigrant status remains valid— this June, it’s safe to say that I won’t be leaving this country until my expected graduation date from Cornell next May. Why don’t I renew my visa back home in China over the summer/winter breaks so I can re-enter on a new visa, you ask? 

Well, mainly the Pandemic. Although, unlike the situation in Jan.  2020, being in China right now means being in a place with one of the lowest number of cases on Earth.  I even wrote a column then, hoping that this would not turn into a global pandemic. Trust me; as some of the few Chinese students who chose to spend this last year in the U.S. rather than return home, the differences couldn’t be less drastic. While I’m trying to gauge how bad a semester (turned out to be two) of zoom university was going to be back in Sept. 2020, my friends back home in China were already going to nightclubs with no fear. 

The conclusion from this comparison is undeniable; American pandemic policies have failed spectacularly in the immediate term, especially when compared with the Chinese counterpart. 

Now, I anticipate all the points of contention here and there:

But, the Chinese Government deflates their numbers!

That is undoubtedly true, but no amount of fixing the numbers can deny that community spreading had been primarily contained since April 2020 in China.

But what about the early hiding of cases in January-February that misdirected the rest of the world?

This is undoubtedly blameworthy (reminder: I’m still pretty much not in agreement with my dear Government back home; read my very first column for reference, please), but that does not justify the scale of the second wave around Thanksgiving next year and the level of vaccine hesitancy remaining across this country.

But the American Government and society are fundamentally more democratic and freer than the Chinese counterpart, leaving so many draconian measures out of the question!

Now, that is a worthy question.

Granted, America (or any other democracy for that matter) does not have the political power to impose the level of media control against domestic vaccine hesitancy, travel restriction, and mass inoculation campaign that China had done, at least without fundamentally changing this country’s government structure. America, a country that is also a lot more globalized and immigrant/foreigner-friendly than China in general, will also not be able to impose the draconian travel ban that is currently in place in China. 

But, even despite all of these facts, there is simply no excuse other than some inherent weakness present in this country’s institution (both political, social, and cultural) that can explain the sheer amount of politicization of vaccine and anti-epidemic measures, especially those that are contingent upon mandating every individual to partake in the solution of this public health crisis. Simply put, American culture’s focus on the individual, almost always at the great expense of the collective public, undermines itself precisely at moments like these. The freedom-loving (or, as I like to put it, “unruly”) Americans cannot wrap their minds around the fact that this health crisis is a public one.

Day after day, liberal and conservative friends alike will repeatedly explain how the Federal Government does not have this power or that power to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate; how it is not the Government’s responsibility to impose health measures. However, a recent New York Times Video Opinion lingers in my mind. Among the Covid patients of Ozarks (almost all unvaccinated), vaccine hesitancy somehow remains robust. “I mean, I think there’s everybody’s individual right of choice to do what they want to,” One man in intensive care said. It is indeed curious to see that vaccination rates around the country finally catch up when intense media focus reveals recent covid deaths are almost entirely from the unvaccinated. Only through individual benefit can you convince the “Unruly Americans.” I guess it only takes an American to understand Americans. 

This is in no way an affirmation of authoritarianism; this very column’s history had almost been entirely devoted to exposing the vices coming out of that wretched system of dictatorship that had plagued my motherland since the dawn of civilization, from the troubles in Hong Kong to the genocide going on in Xinjiang. Other democracies worldwide, from Taiwan to France, have maintained their democracy while successfully combating Covid (including the delta variant wave) because these governments were bold in imposing vaccine mandates and corresponding restrictions. It is as if we forget that democracy, a government of, by, and for the people, is supposed to be reliant upon the collective power, rather than pandering to the privileges of the individual. 

Weifeng Yang is a 2nd year MPA student at Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. He can be reached at [email protected] Poplar (杨)Sovereignty runs every other Friday this semester