Reckoning with National Failure: The Case of Covid

Epidemics are not part of America’s collective memory. The colonial era’s smallpox and yellow fever epidemics, the three cholera epidemics of 1832, 1849, and 1866, the great flu pandemic of 1918 — none of these left a deep imprint on the national consciousness. None fit into a larger national story, at least none that Americans cared to tell. If the polio epidemic of the early twentieth century is remembered, it is mainly because it led to the polio vaccine and fits into a story about the triumph of medical science and American know-how. The AIDS epidemic is still a vivid memory in part because of its effect on the mobilization of the LBGT movement and an expanded vision of human rights. We Americans like our tragedies to have a happy ending.  A practical, inventive, yes-we-can people: that is the version of America many of us remember hearing about and believing

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