A Failure of Leadership

Alex Gibney’s new film Totally Under Control examines the American government’s failures amid the pandemic.


image courtesy of politico.com

Robert Redfield’s biased politics caused great problems in the control of COVID-19.

Lucie Flagg, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Since the beginning of 2020, Americans and others around the world have experienced a new age of existence. Life no longer relies on social interaction, but rather on the willingness and ability to survive. And while COVID-19 was seemingly a short phase in most nations, many wonder how and why it has lingered in America for so long. 

Over the course of the year, filmmaker Alex Gibney secretly created a documentary, highlighting the failures of our government before and throughout the pandemic. Totally Under Control documents the spread of COVID-19 from before its arrival in America all the way to now, with over one million deaths around the world.

The nature of our government politicized the disease outbreak. Health Secretary Alex Azar appointed Robert Redfield, an expert in viruses, as director of the CDC in 2018. Most notably, Redfield’s solution to the 1981 AIDS epidemic was the practice of abstinence. Though he has since expressed a change of mind, his underlying mindset proves that his practice is biased. 

Redfield’s questionable trust in science makes him less than trustworthy in the position, which should be based on facts, not politics. However, that hasn’t stopped people from believing him. Despite many warnings and notices from both within the government and from outside organizations, President Trump kept his faith with the CDC director, only heightening the disastrous events of 2020.

On January 20th, the first cases of COVID-19 entered both the United States and South Korea. Since then, South Korea has experienced just 460 deaths, whereas the U.S. has seen over 220,000. What sparked this massive difference? The short answer is politicization.

Both the population and government of South Korea acknowledged the validity of the virus and sprung into action, producing test kits and masks. Meanwhile in America, as Democrats and Republicans argued over the virus’ existence, cases spread and quickly skyrocketed.

President Trump’s trust in Redfield proved to be his fatal flaw this year, both literally and figuratively.”

President Trump’s trust in Redfield proved to be his fatal flaw this year, both literally and figuratively. Through Redfield’s leadership, Trump lied directly to the American people, potentially ruining his chances of re-election. 

I truly believe that Trump said what he was told to say, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. In fact, I think it shows American voters just how unfit he is to be president.

Executive power was created specifically for times like this. Rather than preaching masks and social distancing, President Trump used his power to advocate that COVID-19 is simply a “hoax.” But the 220,000 deaths say otherwise. 

Despite what he said, the spread of the virus is not under control, nor was it ever. When testing kits were first introduced to the U.S. in early February, they implemented three parts—N1, N2, and N3. The N1 and N2 assays specifically detected COVID-19, whereas N3 looked for general coronavirus. 

Quickly after these test kits were sent out to labs, the CDC was flooded with concerning emails. They discovered an error with the N3 assay. Even though that assay was essentially useless to the overall goal of the test, the CDC recalled them and started over. 

Tests soon became rare, even impossible for some to get. Hidden cases spread like wildfire all around the U.S., and there was no way for them to be detected. Without proper diagnoses, people continued on with their normal lives, infecting individuals along the way. 

That same month, Nancy Messonnier from the CDC, who had been present at almost every White House briefing, informed the American public about potential risks and the severity of the spreading virus. Just days later, she stopped appearing in these briefings. To think that this could be a coincidence is just outright absurd.

There’s no denying it—our government failed us. From the exact moment the outbreak began in Wuhan, American political and health officials were aware. This virus was not a surprise—it was bound to be in the U.S. As jobs and lives were lost, President Trump continued to ignore the underlying causes.

As jobs and lives were lost, President Trump continued to ignore the underlying causes.”

In 2016, the American people elected Trump to lead the nation. In hindsight, his anti-government tendencies should have protected the country, making sure that everyone would follow guidelines. The sooner the virus is contained, the sooner we can get back to work. But his inexperience and lack of presidential responsibility forced America to become the laughing stock of the world. 

I’ll be honest, Totally Under Control angered me. To see proof that President Trump knew about the severity of COVID-19 but chose to ignore it blows my mind. Though it was a shoo-in that I’d miss the final months of my junior year, the fact of the matter is, I should be in school full-time right now. If our government had followed the science, promoting masks and social distancing, life today would be very different.

I think every American should watch Totally Under Control and witness the failures we’ve faced. Though many refuse to accept it, this is our life now, and we deserve to know the truth.