Of, by, and for the people? Fighting COVID in Vietnam and the U.S.A.
Army soldiers line up during a ceremony to send off military doctors to Ho Chi Minh City to help with treating COVID-19 patients in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. | Bui Cuong Quyet / VNA via AP

This past week, in order to deal with the difficult COVID-19 outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City, the People’s Army of Vietnam was called on to help. Soldiers from the medical corps were sent to assist the overworked medical staff in the city, while other soldiers were sent to help distribute food and other needed supplies to people unable to shop due to the lockdown. Watching scenes of grateful people receiving food from their country’s military, I found myself thinking of the phrase, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The first time I can remember being taught this phrase was back in elementary school in the United States while learning about the Civil War. The line comes at the end of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Most recently, I read the line again in an essay by Nguyễn Phú Trọng, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Lincoln used the phrase to describe the lofty democratic ideals for which Union soldiers were being sent to fight and die. Trọng used the phrase to describe the democratic reality a government must follow in order to build socialism.

This week, when I saw the government of Vietnam mobilizing all its resources to help the pandemic-stricken people in Ho Chi Minh City, I saw the reality of a government that lives up to the aforementioned standard. The government of Vietnam is ready to do everything in its power to take care of the people of the country. Despite staggering logistical necessities and the huge financial cost of feeding and caring for a city of nine million people, the task had to be done. Despite the fact that Vietnam is not a rich country, everything the government can do for the people is being done.

Let’s compare this to the situation in the United States. The pandemic is running wild, again, while the governments in some localities do next to nothing to slow its spread. The number of homeless is skyrocketing. People are being sent into financial ruin because of medical debt. In the richest country on earth, government officials argue about how little to help the American people, if at all. Why is it that the U.S. government fails to live up to the democratic goals laid out in Lincoln’s speech?

The answer is simple: capitalism. In the United States, we have a government of business, by business, for business. Multi-billion-dollar companies and their lobbyists are the constituency for much of the United States government, not the people. In the COVID-19 aid packages passed in 2020, big businesses were among the largest recipients, receiving billions in taxpayer money. At the same time, the government also found the funds to increase the military budget and send more money to defense contractors. An overwhelming 70% of Americans support Medicare for All, but the insurance companies are against the idea, so the government won’t implement it.

One of the most jaw-dropping examples of the U.S. state serving business at the expense of the people came last year in Oregon. The area was enduring a weeklong power outage, and many people were without food. Desperate, many locals dug through the dumpsters outside a local supermarket for recently discarded food. Police were sent to the scene to protect the corporation’s garbage from the people.

This is the exact opposite of what is being done in socialist-oriented Vietnam. Whereas in the U.S. armed government forces were sent to stop the hungry from getting food, in Vietnam, the military and the police were sent to feed the people. In the United States, government officials talk about decreasing aid to the people; in Vietnam, the government is seeking to increase the amount of aid that can be distributed to the people. In Vietnam, the homeless are being helped as part of the fight against the pandemic, while in the United States homeless people are harassed, abused, and chased from place to place.

President Lincoln set lofty democratic ideals for the U.S. government. However, the goal of having a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is impossible to achieve under capitalism. A state can only have one master, and under capitalism, that master is big business capital. The American people deserve better. They deserve a government like the one Lincoln described in the Gettysburg Address. The American people deserve socialism.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


CONTRIBUTOR

Amiad Horowitz
Amiad Horowitz

Amiad Horowitz studied history with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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