American leaders have, for years engaged in their own brand of ‘over the top’ patriotic arrogance grounded in the belief that the US ‘differs qualitatively from other developed nations because of its national credo, historical evolution, or distinctive political and religious institutions’. Because of this, they believe that the US is destined to lead the world, playing a positive role and claiming some sort of moral superiority because unlike other countries, our mission to lead is divinely ordained by God himself.
Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on how best to provide healthcare for Americans or how far to go with police reform measures in the wake of high profile incidents of police misconduct. But, ask any politician with a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after their name and they will tell you that America still remains ‘the shining city on a hill’ or ‘the leader of the free world.’
It’s also a requirement for all candidates vying for the Oval Office to lean in to the concept of American exceptionalism, offering ritualistic paeans to American greatness. But, no politician has ever done this in a more bombastic and inordinate fashion than Donald Trump. Which is ironic, because if there is any US president’s tenure that proves that the whole concept of American exceptionalism is a myth, it’s Donald Trump’s.
There are a number of examples one can cite from this administration to prove that the notion of America being the world’s leader and moral arbiter is downright ludicrous. From separating kids from their parents at the border and locking them in cages to Bill Barr destroying the rule of law for the Trump administration. But, for the sake of time, I’ll focus on this administration’s response to the coronavirus and how the pandemic destroyed the myth of American exceptionalism.
The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is woefully inadequate, highlighted by episodes of wishful thinking on the part of the president, sidelining of medical experts, spreading misinformation, and projecting their failures on to others.
The Washington Post reports, Donald Trump was being warned of the potential dangers of the coronavirus since January, when he would receive daily updates in his intel briefings. He ignored them all.
One day after the country reported its first coronavirus case in Washington State on January 21, Trump was in Davos downplaying the risks of the virus, telling CNBC: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Throughout the rest of the month and into February, Trump and his allies in right-wing media leaned in to this message that the virus was under control. He went as far as to say the coronavirus was a democratic hoax designed to ruin his reelection chances. His unwillingness to act hampered the entire federal government’s response. Test kits were slow to develop, so, the coronavirus spread undetected in the country leading to the first confirmed death from the virus on February 6. Despite this, Trump kept repeating that the virus was under control.
It was Trump’s and by extension the federal government’s incompetence and arrogance that led to fears we once thought we would never face in our ‘exceptional American’ bubble creeping in and taking root. Before the pandemic, we watched in horror as other countries grapple with the effects of war, we saw the images and videos of dead bodies being buried in mass graves, we saw the makeshift hospitals and quietly say to ourselves ‘thank God we live in America, we never have to deal with that.’ But, the coronavirus brought it all here.
America became a warzone
Soon, the mass graves and the makeshift hospitals were in our backyard. Overnight, the roles reversed, America was being attacked and ravaged from the inside while the rest of the world looked on in horror as the coronavirus pandemic exposed the many inadequacies in our healthcare system.
They watched in shock as exhausted doctors and nurses in the ‘leader of the free world’, and the richest country in the world wrapped themselves in garbage bags because they lacked proper personal protective equipment. They listened to the scream of sirens bringing the severely ill to a hospital that’s already falling apart under the pressure of dealing with so many COVID 19 patients.
They watched as thousands of Americans die every day, as these same exhausted healthcare professionals beg the government for resources and help. That help would come in the form of the military building makeshift hospitals to alleviate the stress on the hospital system. Elective surgeries were postponed and dead bodies were being stored in ice trucks because hospital morgues were full. The bodies of the unclaimed were being buried in mass graves and all this was happening while the leader of the free world, sat in his room tweeting and casting blame.
The world watched as over 30 million Americans lost their jobs and the unemployment rate hit levels never before seen since the great depression. Unemployment claims gradually increased week after week and the best the government could do was to offer Americans a measly one-time payment of $1200 to offset expenses.
The health and safety of workers were at risk, especially in meat processing plants where the virus spread like wildfire.
In a matter of weeks, America became a warzone. Our well guarded, exceptional bubble burst and we came to realize that we aren’t that exceptional at all, we are pretty much like any other country in the world. Fighting a war, only this time our enemy is invisible, and our government is incompetent.
And, the world took notice, now they are taking action. The European Union plans to ban all Americans from entering their member countries when they reopen their borders on July 1. Mainly because of how the US responded to the coronavirus. America is the only developed nation the EU is considering blocking, grouping the country with Russia and Brazil. Hell, they are even allowing visitors from China—where the virus originated to enter their country.
The sad thing is, the EU’s actions are totally justified. There is evidence to suggest that the coronavirus is resurging in America. A country that makes up about 4 percent of the world’s population is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s confirmed coronavirus cases AND deaths.
Mandate of Heaven
Don’t get me wrong, America has its own unique qualities and many successes that are to be celebrated, much like any other country.
As Stephen Walt wrote in Foreign Policy, “confidence is a valuable commodity for any country. But when a nation starts to think it enjoys the mandate of heaven and becomes convinced that it cannot fail or be led astray by scoundrels or incompetents, then reality is likely to deliver a swift rebuke. Ancient Athens, Napoleonic France, imperial Japan, and countless other countries have succumbed to this sort of hubris, and nearly always with catastrophic results”
This appears to be the case with modern-day America. Even as Donald Trump continues to endanger American lives whether through his rallies (the only leader of a developed nation holding large indoor gatherings that facilitate the spread of the virus) or not telling people to wear a mask, there is a small but very influential portion of the population who still believe that he can do wrong since he is carrying out the mandate of heaven.
That is the sad reality. The coronavirus exploited the many inadequacies in our healthcare system and our government. Proving that even with our many global successes, wealth, and power at the end of the day, America is just like every other country.