Pandemic debacle is the outcome of style over substance

by Bob Schwartz

We usually talk about the failure of the U.S. to respond effectively to the pandemic as a matter of ignoring or denying science. Along with that, though, is the dominance of style over substance.

The concern for some important leaders was how the situation looked, sounded and felt. If things seemed bad, people would conclude they were bad. Dress up the situation—hiding this, highlighting that, adding some makeup—and everything would seem fine. Even if it was demonstrably not.

Style has always mattered. It is a way of making things or yourself look distinctive, look better. It can also be a way of making things or yourself look better, or at least different, than they are.

Style is more dominant than ever, easier to fashion than ever. Whether or not something is substantial, it is possible for more people and producers to make it look and sound substantial.

Which brings us back to the pandemic and its leaders. Selling something that’s nothing, or less than nothing, is a skill approaching art. They have for the better part of a year now styled the pandemic in ways that didn’t match the substance. The Wizard of Oz, P.T. Barnum. They are continuing that today, and will continue for as long as there are people who will buy the style, no matter how ugly the substance.