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An Emergency Decades in the Making

Was the United States ever prepared for a pandemic?

Illustration by Curt Merlo

How does an outbreak evolve into an epidemic and finally a pandemic? In Episode 4 of The Politics of Everything, hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene discuss how the coronavirus crisis has been mishandled by the Trump administration, as well as the history of institutional and governmental response to public health crises. Their guest, Laurie Garrett, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer and the author of The Coming Plague, a book about emerging diseases in the twentieth century. The current fiasco may feel like it came out of nowhere, but it’s the result of countless concerted policy decisions. “You can’t do public health by privatizing it,” Garrett points out. “The societies that have tried have seen it fail.”

Later in the episode, Walter Shapiro speculates about Biden’s choice of vice president. Media hype notwithstanding, chances are the selection won’t be all that consequential—unless, that is, it’s a really bad one.