News | May 7, 2020

Governing a Pandemic

By Sarah Jacobs Gamberini and Amanda Moodie Inkstick


In cities across the United States, anti-lockdown demonstrators gather in previously empty streets as Americans protest the federal, state, and local efforts to counter COVID-19. Rally participants chant they are fed up with staying home, eager to go back to work, and sick of the government telling them what to do. These demonstrations—and the occasional counter-protest—represent America’s foundational democratic rights to speak and assemble on full display. The problem, of course, is these gatherings are the perfect breeding ground for a virus spread by close contact and crowds.

Meanwhile in China, its authoritarianism is displayed by near-complete control of its COVID-19 narrative, strict enforcement of lockdowns and quarantines, and ability to quash any protest, dissent, or criticism of the government’s (mis)handling of the crisis—presenting a stark contrast in governance during a pandemic. Infectious disease outbreaks lend themselves particularly well to totalitarianism. People are encouraged to put their trust in government leaders to provide and care for them, to cloister themselves in their homes, and to inform on neighbors who fail to do the same. The COVID-19 pandemic, in other words, is a perfect opportunity for Beijing to advertise its authoritarian system as a superior model over Western-style democracy to manage such a global crisis. READ MORE>>>