Talking Points

America is more brittle by the day

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has too much to do and too much turnover among staff to do it properly. Congress last week heard testimony that the agency is suffering from a "mass exit" of employees that will make it more difficult to respond to the growing number of natural disasters afflicting the country. 

"With an increase in the frequency and cost of disasters, and with FEMA supporting numerous efforts outside of its normal core responsibilities, GAO is concerned that FEMA personnel may not be prepared to manage a catastrophic natural disaster or concurrent disasters," the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a report released last week. 

So FEMA is brittle — overworked and under-resourced. That's no surprise. Look around at the American landscape and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the whole country is becoming brittle.

You can see it in the medical profession, where doctors and nurses have quit in droves rather than live with the flood of overwork and death brought on by the COVID pandemic. You can see it in industry, where the overtaxed supply chain has left car dealerships empty and grocery store shelves understocked. You can see it in the Navy, where the "high tempo" of operations means America's overworked sailors often go to sea in rustbuckets. And you can see in the primal screams of mothers who have had enough. 

America, it seems, is straining just to keep up. 

Some of this is hopefully passing: Surely the pandemic will burn out sooner or later, right? And some of it is the result of logistics problems that can be worked out with a little effort and a bit of smarts. 

But some of America's brittleness is about bad choices. The country's military resources are strained because our leaders still believe we have to be everywhere and do everything. Doctors and nurses are burnt out because too many of their countrymen refuse to get vaccinated. And FEMA is overtaxed partly because the country would rather react to disasters than prevent them. "There's never been more pressure on the FEMA workforce and they're tired," said GAO's Chris Currie

That makes me worry for the country's near future. That which cannot go on forever will stop. And that which is brittle often snaps.