Our civilization is eroding through many post-modern social diseases. Institutional failure is a prominent symptom of our new lower expectations – witness CDC in 2020.
Since 1946, our world has been a safer place because of CDC. Originated as the Communicable Disease Center, CDC’s first fight was stopping malaria in the United States. Over time, its vision, scope and scale grew. CDC was renamed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1992. But the CDC brand was retained, because it was one hell of a brand.
Most of you know that over nearly 75 years, CDC has fought infectious disease – and usually led the fight – globally. You probably know that these battles usually succeeded in stopping or reducing the enemy in its tracks. You will remember the names of these infectious diseases: malaria, smallpox, cholera, Asian flu, rubella, swine flu”, hemorrhagic fever / Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease, Lassa fever, AIDS/HIV, measles, polio, SARS, BSE, H1N1, Zika….
Check, check, check….. And then Donald Trump stopped CDC in its tracks.
Am I saying that Trump is an infectious disease? Not really, but perhaps… We will talk about that and his mental illness another day.
For now, I find it staggering how CDC has been reduced to a bit player. Some journalists use the term “kneecapped”. You can read many articles about CDC during COVID-19. This article in Slate is particularly useful as it places the CDC disaster firmly in the context of broader institutional failure.
Institutional Failure – Digging Deeper
We live in a world of institutions. Institutions are stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior that we have adopted over millennia. Social institutions like family, marriage and democracy run deep. Typically, we create some formality and durability around institutions, like a marriage license, a church, or a government. Many public institutions are created and maintaine to serve the public good. You will recognize these as organizations like central banks, universities and hospitals, armies, and of course infectious disease fighters.
Disruptors often speak in terms of “bring down the tower” or “drain the swamp”. Theory is that you need to destroy the old before you can create the new. But what happens when we just focus on the destruction part is institutional failure. Here are the key elements of institutional failure witnessed on the United States over the past generation.
- Congress and its main political parties have become dysfunctional. It’s gotten far worse since the financial crisis in 2008. So, this is an institutional failure in government, that has broadly spread and infected all state and local levels to some degree.
- Executive and global leadership has disappeared. Institutions such as the Presidency and key departments such as State, and Health and Human Services are far less functional, if at all. After COVID-19 ends, will anyone around the world actually turn to the United States for leadership in anything. Trump appointees, whether confirmed or not, are neither durable nor inspiring.
- Finally, the kneecapping of agencies through appointment of weak or obsequious leadership. Typically, we rely on professional institutions to just “get the job done” in intelligence, health, defense and so on. Do you have the same confidence in CDC, FDA or FAA that you had ten years ago? I think not.
You may find similarities in your country. I find institutional erosion clear in Canada and elsewhere.