If the foreign press covered the U.S. measles outbreak the way the American press covered the Ebola crisis . . .
Paranoia and fear have spread throughout this human-resource-rich but politically dysfunctional nation, allowing a disease once nearly eradicated to return and ravage large swaths of the U.S. population.
Measles, a highly communicable and potentially deadly illness, has been mostly preventable since a vaccine was developed more than 50 years ago. And for decades this North American superpower — like other Western nation-states — had near-universal immunization rates. In recent years, though, locals have become increasingly distrustful of Western medicine. Many have opted for alternative methods to ward off illness, relying on dietary supplements, frantic Google searches and advice from former Playboy models.
As superstitions and anti-elite conspiracy theories have taken hold, measles outbreaks have flared up around the nation in the past few years. The epidemic reached a fever pitch in December after it infiltrated one of the country’s holiest sites: a national shrine honoring a singing rodent who serves pilgrims fried dough in exchange for alms. (Pious natives refer to the site as “Disneyland.”) Unsuspecting wayfarers were reportedly exposed to measles while queuing for a popular worship site involving whirling teacups, revered for its ability to purify and purge believers’ insides by inducing vertigo; infected visitors brought the disease back to their home towns, whence it spread to unvaccinated communities around the country.
Foreign leaders, fearful for the health of the United States’ most vulnerable ethnic groups (particularly those already suffering from the recent gluten-allergy epidemic), have urged the U.S. government to start mandating immunizations. But although American statesmen have almost uniformly treated their own offspring to such preventive measures, they are reluctant to force modern medicine upon their unruly and independent-minded constituents.
Indeed, some American politicians have been fomenting distrust of the government’s public health initiatives. They seem to fear losing the coveted Anti-Science vote, a growing demographic expected to play a key role in deciding the next presidential election.
“In traditional American culture, locals value ‘rugged individualism’ above all social or moral obligations,” said longtime U.S. observer and ethnographer Ike Arumba. “Many Americans believe liberty and public health are fundamentally at odds.”
Arumba cited as evidence a political showdown last year over a prominent doctor’s suggestion that gun ownership and the incidence of gunshot wounds might be correlated.
Meanwhile, the United States’ trading partners have begun screening and quarantining airline passengers arriving from the troubled Western nation. Some allies have even considered outright travel bans, fearing that American passengers may lie about their exposure as they become more desperate to escape the risk of infection. Of course, such bans seem futile, given how porous U.S. borders have proved in the past.
The outbreak comes as observers grow increasingly frustrated with other public health developments in the United States. Several years ago, the country made a commitment to bring its health system up to international standards, by extending basic care to 26-year-olds and other indigents. But intertribal fighting has complicated the rollout of the new health-care initiative, as the country’s increasingly radicalized right-wing party has tried, repeatedly, to repeal it. The president has vowed to veto any such repeal effort, but observers worry that the nation’s highest court is also preparing to dismantle the program, on a semantic technicality.
Despite such concerns, allies and economic rivals alike continue to lend trillions of dollars to the U.S. government, with no strings attached and at ultra-low interest rates. Many longtime America-watchers had hoped that this financial lifeline would be used to bolster humanitarian concerns, including health-care access and human capital accumulation, as well as much-needed basic infrastructure projects. Instead, critics say, the cheap foreign loans have been largely diverted to the country’s ruling class through tax expenditures. Federal monies have also been funneled to the country’s increasingly militarized police forces, to arm them for escalating conflicts with historically oppressed racial minorities.
Experts say that the United States’ broken institutions and collective cultural allergy to scientific or technical expertise are to blame for both of these macro issues, as well as the recent public health scares.
“Oh, sure, they’re more than happy to take our money, but time and again Americans have shown their unwillingness to shape up and join modern civilization,” said one diplomat, who requested anonymity because he has promised his son a trip to measles-ravaged Disneyland. “It’s really a shame, but you can’t vaccinate against stupid.”
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