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Ringvorlesung Guest Speaker: Gareth Davies (University College of London)

Nov 11, 2020 | 06:00 PM c.t. - 08:00 PM

Understanding the Trump Administration's Respose to COVID - Can History Help?


What is new, and what is familiar, in the Trump Administration’s response to the Coronavirus emergency?  This talk addresses these questions by putting Trump’s handling of the current crisis in the context of how previous presidents have handled not just previous epidemics (such as the Swine Flu scare of 1976, and the Influenza epidemic of 1918-19) but a range of other great disasters.  One obvious continuity has to do with the expectation that the federal government will take charge and that the President will personally guide the national response.  In both cases, these norms date back to the Great Society era of the 1960s.  Another important parallel concerns the politicisation of disaster.  During the past half-century, as expectations of presidential leadership have mounted, so too have the  political stakes: Presidents can win new political capital by responding effectively to a disaster, but (and this is a more common pattern) they can also sustain lasting damage in cases where they fail to meet these expanded expectations of White House direction and empathy.  A third parallel has to do with the public policy implications of presidential leadership: I will argue in this talk that White House direction frequently comes at the expense of sound public policy.  As for differences, Trump has not displayed the sort of empathy towards disaster victims that previous presidents have in times of crisis.  And whereas the trend in US disaster management ever since the New Deal has been towards greater centralisation, the national response to COVID has been notable for the degree to which state and local governments have taken the lead.


Gareth Davies is Professor of American History at the UCL Institute of the Americas.

He has published on the history of American liberalism; on the development of American social policy since the New Deal; and on the history of education politics.  He is currently completing a book on the evolution of American responses to natural disaster, from the early Republic to the present day.  In it, he explores when, why and how American expectations of government have grown, and seeks to understand why natural disasters have become vastly more costly during the past half-century.  In that last context, he is particularly interested in the paradoxical ways that governmental efforts to protect Americans from catastrophe have sometimes had the opposite effect.

Please register for the event by emailing connorruby@zedat.fu-berlin.de

Time & Location

Nov 11, 2020 | 06:00 PM c.t. - 08:00 PM

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