While I’m mad at how the US has performed during COVID, and especially our government health authorities, I still have bristled at completely undermining their authority. This is at least equal parts fear of the lack of better alternatives and a recognition that, “the painfully visible gap between the institutions’ claims of competence and their actual performance,” while real, also strike me as “a function of the limits of human knowledge,” as Martin Gurri wrote.

This crisis of authority is real, but their failures to be perfect are not. And in some ways, my frustrations are feeding a narrative that requires, at times, magical or impossible standards. That’s why specific criticism is so important— the early communication on masks was wrong, but possibly not bad 1 decisions. Whereas the slow process to full approval for the mRNA vaccines and hesitance to introduce vaccine mandates of any kind feel more like both bad and wrong decisions.

Our government’s handling of COVID-19 is littered with wrong decisions and bad decisions. We would do well to focus criticism on the latter, lest we succumb to a hopeless nihilism that will only leave us less prepared to face the next crisis.

  1. A wrong decision is one that results in a less good outcome. We make decisions all the time that, with the power of hindsight, are revealed to be wrong. But a bad decision is one that is not based upon the best available data and interpretation of that data to make a choice. Bad decisions can turn out right— this is the whole “right for the wrong reason” idea. Wrong decisions can still be a decision that was well considered. ↩︎