By Robert A. Vella
The idea of American Exceptionalism was always a myth. The U.S. has never been an exceptional nation in all or even most respects. It has always had its fair share of strengths and weaknesses, its fair share of jubilations and sorrows. But, what the country did have for much of its history was an exceptional sense of aspiration, the belief that Americans could achieve great things together. From its foundation as a democratic constitutional republic against autocratic rule, to its costly Civil War against institutional slavery, to its monumental efforts against fascism in WWII, to its impressive construction of a prosperous middle class, to its impassioned fight against racism during the Civil Rights era, to its prominence as a leader in medicine, science, space exploration and other technologies, the U.S. has often dared to do what others thought was impracticable, implausible or even impossible.
Today, however, the exceptional nature of America’s aspirationalism is dead and buried. When the deadly and destructive coronavirus pandemic tested the nation’s resolve, the U.S. failed in the most catastrophic way imaginable. It did so under the leadership of a megalomaniacal dictator who measures greatness only in terms which benefits himself and his cronies. Donald Trump sees the world not as a constructive cooperative, but as a battlefield where aggressors freely take what they want from the most vulnerable. Life, to Trump, is a zero-sum game. The economic pie cannot be expanded or shared, it must be stolen and it must be hoarded. Trump and his right-wing ideological cohorts see the concept of freedom not as the enabling of ordinary people to seek a better life for their families, but as the capture or dismantling of governmental impediments to their perceived privileged social status. For the racist, that means being free to discriminate against and oppress blacks and other ethnic minorities. For the bigot, that means being free to dominate and persecute women and LGBT persons. For Christian dominionists, that means being free to impose their theology upon everyone else. For the greedy, that means being free to deceive and exploit the masses. Theirs is the authoritarian philosophy of predator versus prey. So, Trump and his ilk are the personification of Social Darwinism; and, that makes him the absolute worst kind of political leader for any nation to have especially during a terrible global health crisis.
One might have hoped that large democratic unions like the US and the EU would have been well-prepared to face this crisis, with coordinated, collaborative response mechanisms in place across their member governments.
Instead, the rapid pace at which coronavirus has overtaken health systems on both sides of the Atlantic has exposed, and perhaps accelerated, the withering health of these democracies and the dwindling viability of the neoliberal order.
The US and UK both initially sought to downplay the spread of the virus among their populations, hoping they would somehow be spared from its devastating effects. Now, along with Spain and Italy, they lead the world in the number of confirmed cases.
For the past several years, political scientists and commentators have worried over the growing sense of disaffection, or ambivalence, that younger generations appear to harbor toward democracy. As efficiency, transparency, and speed came to be the primary values of life under late capitalism, the messy, opaque mechanisms of representative democracy seemed to be going out of style.
The coronavirus crisis risks exacerbating, and perhaps accelerating, this trend. Never in recent memory have national and class differences been felt so acutely, and never has the American political union felt quite so imperiled. Far from being a great equalizer, COVID-19 has exposed just how entrenched the oldest societal divisions really are.
The white-collar wealthy have been relatively insulated from the virus and its disastrous effects, with better access to testing, care, and comfortable quarantines. The stock market is rallying even though the national unemployment numbers are growing grimmer by the day.
“This is breathtaking — no pun intended — what’s happening with COVID-19,” said Marguerite Pappaioanou, a career epidemiologist and veteran of the CDC and the FDA, of the situation in the US. The pandemic preparedness efforts that she spent her career working on have been disassembled and defunded during the Trump administration.
Here’s today’s news:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The trove of emails show the nation’s top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.
This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.
The United States on Friday stunned other members of the UN Security Council by preventing a vote on a resolution for a ceasefire in various conflicts around the world to help troubled nations better fight the coronavirus pandemic, diplomats said.
Washington’s reversal came a day after it agreed to the text, negotiators said under cover of anonymity.
Diplomats told AFP that the language used in the draft to describe the World Health Organization was behind the US move to prevent the vote.
US President Donald Trump has accused the WHO of downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak in China.
The procedure blocked by the United States would have allowed the sponsors of the resolution, France and Tunisia, to put it to a vote.
Widely credited to President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the plan harked back to storied U.S. wartime efforts such as the Berlin Airlift. It called for the federal government to partner with a handful of medical supply companies, which could purchase emergency masks, gowns and gloves in Asia. The government would pay to fly the supplies to the United States — bypassing weeks of shipping delays — as long as the companies sold half of the goods in parts of the country hit hardest by the pandemic.
Almost six weeks after its launch, Project Airbridge has completed its 122nd flight, having cost taxpayers at least $91 million. But its impact on the pandemic is unclear and shrouded in secrecy: The White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the companies involved have declined to disclose where supplies have been delivered.
At the heart of Project Airbridge is the deal the Trump administration struck with the six medical supply companies: Cardinal Health, Concordance, Henry Schein, McKesson, Medline and Owens & Minor.
In exchange for the subsidized flights — costing taxpayers $750,000 to $800,000 per trip — the companies agreed to sell half of their cargo to customers in geographic hot spots specified by the administration. But the companies decide where to sell the rest of the supplies flown into the country at taxpayers’ expense.
Welcome to “Steambath Earth,” featuring sauna-like temperatures and humidity too high for humans to tolerate.
Extremely humid heat that is more intense than most Americans have experienced — approaching a crucial, immovable human survivability limit — has more than doubled in frequency in some coastal subtropical regions of the world since 1979, according to a new study published Friday.
The study is the first to find that wet bulb temperatures of 95 degrees (35 Celsius), which renders ineffective the human heat response of sweating to shed heat through evaporation, leading to hyperthermia, are already occurring for short periods of time at a few weather stations.
These tend to be located in parts of the Persian Gulf shoreline and coastal southwest North America, where sizzling lands border sultry seas, as well as in northern South Asia, where extreme heat and humidity combinations overlap just before the annual monsoon begins.