Andy Slavitt’s Preventable is a 336-page indictment against Donald Trump, Trumpworld, America’s lack of social cohesion, greed, and the big drug companies. He deplores unnecessary deaths, hyper-partisanship and populist contempt for pundits and expertise. The word “evil” appears. The “privilege” too.
Slavitt, who recently stepped down as Joe Biden’s senior advisor on the Covid response, is himself a product of the Ivy League: the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard School of Business. He has also worked in the Obama administration and at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey and United Healthcare.
Her book reads like Covid-porn for blue America. Sadly, he doesn’t reflect on how the United States reached this place.
The saga of Albion’s Seed – of English Protestants who killed each other in the old country, overthrew the crown in a new country and then waged a second civil war – does not figure in Slavitt’s calculation. In other words, if a parent can repeatedly raise their arms against a parent, the social fabric can never be taken for granted – especially not when the demographic is in crisis. E pluribus unum a des limites.
Slavitt sees Trump’s cruelty on the southern border but does not acknowledge the grievances of those in the country of flyby. Brexit and Trump were not unique. They were inextricably linked. Travel comes at a price.
Slavitt’s book is captioned “The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the US Coronavirus Response”. He praises the responses to the pandemic in Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand and criticizes Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, governors of Texas and Florida.
But he ignores the fact that cases and death rates in those two states were lower than in New York and New Jersey – states called home by coastal elites.
To his credit, Slavitt blames the hapless, tin-eared mayor Bill de Blasio for urging New Yorkers to “go out and have fun in restaurants” as the pandemic took hold.
“The impact of the New York delay has been significant,” Slavitt writes.
Likewise, Kristi Noem, the performative Republican governor of South Dakota, is derided for her “freedom first” strategy. But unlike De Blasio, she remains popular in her state and in her party. A Republican DeSantis-Noem ticket in 2024 is not out of the question. In the eyes of voters, Noem has done something right – much like Andrew Cuomo in New York City, now beset by allegations of sexual misconduct but apparently on the verge of dodging a political bullet.
In contrast, the New York Times reports that even in East Asia and the South Pacific, believed to be world leaders in containing the coronavirus, the fight is not yet won. Variants and their dangers are emerging. Vaccinations are late.
To quote the Times, “people are fed up” and ask, “Why are we late and when, for the love of all things good and great, will the pandemic routine finally end?”
Patience is never in unlimited supply. Neither in the United States nor elsewhere. Slavitt doesn’t take this very human quirk enough into account.
Trump was callous and deceptive, but he understood what made people tick. Despite Slavitt’s vilification of big pharmaceutical companies, in countries with enough capital and foresight, vaccine makers have succeeded. Markets can work, even if they lead to asymmetries.
As expected, Preventable lists Trump’s failures in great detail: his rapidly fading false promises of Covid, his embrace of medical quackery, his rejection of testing as a crucial weapon. Slavitt also reminds readers that Trump threw away his predecessor’s pandemic response playbook and dumped the supply of personal protective equipment, just to erase the past.
Politicians are egotistical. Trump more than others. According to Slavitt, he considered himself the smartest person in the room and expected to be flattered as a result. One way to gain her attention was to compliment her parenting skills. But being a business owner in debt and having to pay for golf course maintenance with no one on the greens may have created additional anxiety. The public must have felt Trump’s pain.
Slavitt also describes Trump’s difficulty in dealing with the possibility of the pandemic costing him elections, and his decision to offload states from the mission of fighting Covid. The White House became the backdrop for a reality show as the Confederate flag became a symbol of pro-Trump, “liberate the state” sentiment.
Jared Kushner told Slavitt, “We’re going to hand the testing over to the United States. The White House “cannot be responsible,” said Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. “Some [governors] don’t want to succeed. Bad incentives to keep blaming us.
As an administration insider told the Guardian in April 2020, Trump was “killing his own supporters.”
And yet, unsurprisingly, Slavitt struggles with the reality that the unspoken Democrat has almost lost Biden to the White House and Nancy Pelosi the speaker’s hammer. Voters aspired to hope and wanted to know that their sacrifice mattered.
Being told “we’re in the same boat” when “we” clearly aren’t is more than a messaging problem. For example, Slavitt fails to mention Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, and his infamous dinner at a Napa Valley restaurant in November as Covid cases mounted. Upon discovery, Newsom admitted, “We are all human. We all run out sometimes. It doesn’t matter.
Slavitt blames Fox News host Tucker Carlson for downplaying the dangers of Covid and recounts the inane statements of Richard Epstein, a libertarian-minded law professor at New York University, to a similar end. Slavitt calls Epstein “out of touch and remarkably confident.”
This week, the death toll in the United States topped 600,000. The vaccine only works on living people. The world has seen more deaths midway through 2021 than in 2020.
Slavitt ends his book by wondering if “the lessons of the past year could be forgotten.” Don’t rule it out.