Trump and Covid-19: Japan vs. US

A journalist from Florida – the swing state par excellence – emailed me a few good observations and a critique regarding my original blog “Trump and Covid-19” [1]. He began his letter pointing out: “I agree a per capita approach is the only way to accurately gauge each country’s effectiveness at dealing with the virus.” And ended his letter with: “It’s interesting to look at Japan. Population 126 million, with dense population areas like Tokyo that would seem ripe for virus spread. Its 1,598 deaths represent just 13 deaths per million inhabitants [compared to 631 deaths per million inhabitants in the US]. If the United States had matched that performance, we would have dealt with only about 4,000 fatalities [instead of 200,000].”

Could we have matched Japan? It is not only the US. It is also France (478), Italy (594), the UK (633), Spain (682) and even Germany (115), compared to Japan’s mere 13 deaths per million inhabitants. What do these countries do not have that Japan does have?

Japan has been for centuries ethnically and culturally a very homogeneous society. Immigration to Japan is very restricted and foreign workers in Japan find it very difficult, if not impossible, to acquire Japanese citizenship.

I am not criticizing Japan for this neither I want to enter into the mine-filled field of migration policy: every country has the right to develop its own culture, traditions and migration policies as it seems fit. I have been several times in Japan (business trips) and I dream about finding here in the US (or anywhere else) the tact and courtesy that I have been surrounded with in every visit I had to Japan. Japanese are very courteous and considerate towards each other.

This cultural and ethnic homogeneity has also generated a high degree of behavioral uniformity and conformity: the Japanese people are used to accept and follow the rules that the society (or their institutions) impose, even at the price of individual freedoms and large sacrifices.

The result is that the number of covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants in Japan is a low 13.

On the other hand, the US, by design, is a multi-ethnic society with a very liberal immigration policy. However, the traditional old-fashion idea of the “melting pot” has been lately replaced by the new social movement of “identity politics”, with the concomitant emphasis on what sets us apart from each other instead of what we all have in common. On top of this, “globalization” has produced an enormous regional disparity in the US (I describe all this in my article “Yes, Black Lives Matter – I will vote for Trump” [2]). This produced a dysfunctional society where everyone can identify and hate and blame “the other”. The main objective of the political parties and the media, both the news organizations and the social media, has become to find what is wrong with every phrase and half-phrase said by “the other” and righteously condemn it.

Similar characteristics can be found in the large democracies in Western Europe. In France and the UK the multi-ethnic societies were the result of being former colonial powers. Globalization has also affected them (remember, for example, the rise of the “yellow vests” movement in France). Social tensions and political divisions in these countries are at a high and have been exacerbated by the latest migration waves to Europe, through Italy and Greece.

The result is that the average number of covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants in these Western democracies is around 550 [3]. This is about 40 times the death rate in Japan.

Could we dream to match Japan’s performance in this area? Not a chance.

Trump is not an ideologue and his manners and language are quite vulgar for my intellectually exquisite taste … I am a Scientist; I play Classical Music and even wrote some books about Bach, Mozart and Beethoven [4]. But at least, Trump intuitively felt what went fundamentally wrong in the US during the last several decades and tried to change course. He did this quite successfully during the first three years of his presidency by tackling the fundamentals [2] in spite of the venomous atmosphere prevalent in the Congress, and the unemployment in the US at the end of 2019, before the beginning of the pandemic, was at a record low of 3.5%. For this, he deserves my vote in November 2020.

[1] Jaime Kardontchik, “Trump and Covid-19”, published in the Times of Israel, October 2nd, 2020

[2] Jaime Kardontchik, “Yes, Black Lives Matter – I will vote for Trump”, published in the Times of Israel, August 30, 2020

[3] For the purist: this is a weighted average, using as weights the populations of France, Italy, the US, the UK, Spain and Germany.

[4] Sadly, we also lost the sense of humor, so I am forced to explain the three dots to those who lost it. However, it could fit very well with the reaction of many in the “intellectual” circles to the phenomenon known as “Trump” and to everything that comes from him: a visceral disgust and rejection.

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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