Does American exceptionalism hurt the country?

Corona or: The pitiful end of the American dream

We have never experienced such a global phenomenon in our lives. For the first time in world history, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focuses on the same existential threat, is filled with the same fears and uncertainties, and eagerly awaits the same, as yet unfulfilled, promises of medicine.

In just one season of the year, a microscopic parasite, 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt, humiliated all civilization. Covid-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the tool kit for community and solidarity, which is for people what claws and teeth mean to the tiger.

So far, our interventions have mainly focused on mitigating the prevalence rate and flattening the disease curve. Treatment is not available and a vaccine is not certain to be waiting on the near horizon. The fastest vaccination ever developed was against mumps. That took four years. Covid-19 killed 100,000 Americans in four months. There is evidence that a natural infection might not lead to immunity, which is why some doubt the effectiveness of a vaccine if one is found at all. And she has to be safe. If the world's population were to be immunized, fatal complications for just one person in a thousand would mean the death of millions.

Pandemics and epidemics have the power to change the course of history. But this does not always happen in a way that would be immediately apparent to the survivors. In the 14th century, the Black Death claimed almost half of Europe's population. The shortage of labor led to higher wages. Rising expectations culminated in the peasant revolt of 1381, a turning point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal system that had ruled medieval Europe for a thousand years. The Covid pandemic will be remembered as such a historic moment, a groundbreaking event whose significance will only become apparent in the wake of the crisis. It will determine this era in a similar way to the way that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the stock market crash of 1929 and Adolf Hitler's takeover of power in 1933 became fundamental points of reference in the past century - as portents of larger and more momentous events.

The historical significance of Covid is not in its impact on our daily lives. After all, change is the only constant in terms of culture. All peoples in all places and at all times are always dancing with new possibilities of life. When companies close or downsize central offices, employees work from home, close restaurants, shopping malls lower the shutters, streaming services bring entertainment and sporting events into the home, and when air travel becomes more and more problematic and miserable, then people will adapt, as we do always have done. The mutability of memory and the ability to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to cope with any degree of social, moral or ecological deterioration.

Certainly, financial uncertainty will cast a long shadow. For some time the world economy will be soberly aware that all the money in the hands of all the countries on earth will never be enough to make up for the losses that arise when the entire world ceases to function because workers and companies everywhere before Have a choice between economic and biological survival.

As disturbing as these transitions and circumstances will be, as close as they are to complete economic collapse, none of them stand out as historical turning points. What this certainly does, however, is the absolutely devastating impact this pandemic is having on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In one dark epidemic season, Covid completely destroyed the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, when more than 2,000 people died every day, Americans found themselves in a failed state led by a dysfunctional and incompetent government that was primarily responsible for death rates that ended America's global leadership in a tragic conclusion let.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, the Irish Times wrote, “The United States has created a very wide range of emotions in the world: love and hate, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there was one emotion that - until now - has never been directed towards the United States: compassion. ”As American doctors and nurses waited longingly for emergency air transport with basic supplies from China, the gate of history to the Asian century opened.

No empire lasts long, even if few expect its demise. Every kingdom is meant to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain and the 17th to the Dutch. France ruled the 18th and Great Britain the 19th; Bled to death and bankrupt by the Great War, the British managed to maintain a pretense of dominance until 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographic extent. But of course the baton had long since passed into the hands of America.

As recently as 1940, when Europe was on fire, the United States' army was smaller than that of Portugal or Bulgaria. Four years later, 18 million men and women served in uniform while millions more worked double shifts in mines and factories, making America, as President Roosevelt had promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese brought 90 percent of the world's rubber supplies under their control six weeks after Pearl Harbor, the US lowered the speed limit to 35 mph (miles per hour) to protect the tires. Then, within three years, they built a synthetic rubber industry out of nowhere that allowed the Allied armies to overrun the Nazis. At the height of the war effort, Henry Ford's Willow Run factory produced a B-24 Liberator bomber every two hours around the clock. Long Beach and Sausalito shipyards spewed out two Liberty freighters a day for four years; the record for a ship was four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes. A single American factory, Chrysler's Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the entire Third Reich.

The broken social contract

After the war, when Europe and Japan were in ruins, the United States made up just six percent of the world's population, but half of global economic output, including the production of 93 percent of all automobiles. This economic dominance gave birth to a dynamic middle class and a union movement that enabled a single earner with limited education to own a house and a car, support a family, and send his children to good schools. It was far from being a perfect world, but prosperity made possible a truce between capital and labor, a reciprocity of possibilities in a time of rapid growth and declining income inequality, marked by high taxes for the wealthy, who are by no means the only beneficiaries of the golden Age of American capitalism.

But freedom and prosperity came at a price. On the eve of World War II, the United States was practically a demilitarized country, but never ceded military supremacy after the victory. Today American soldiers are deployed in 150 countries. China has not waged a war since the 1970s; the US has not spent a day in peace. Former President Jimmy Carter recently stated that America had enjoyed only 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, which, as he wrote, made it "the most bellicose country in world history."

Since 2001, the US has spent over six trillion dollars on military operations and war, money that could have been invested in domestic infrastructure. Meanwhile, China has built its country and poured out more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century. While America was playing world police, the violence came back home. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 4,414 Allied soldiers died. In 2019, as many American men and women were killed with firearms domestically by the end of April alone. Last June, firearms in the hands of ordinary Americans had taken more casualties than the Allies suffered in the first month in Normandy, in a campaign that sapped the military strength of five countries.

More than any other country, the postwar United States made the individual hero at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of a common goal. In much of America, the family has lost its foundation as an institution. As early as the 1960s, 40 percent of marriages ended in divorce. Grandparents and grandchildren lived under one roof in only six percent of American households; the old were left in homes.

With slogans such as "24/7" celebrating complete devotion to the workplace, men and women exhaust themselves in jobs that only increase isolation from their families. The average American father spends less than 20 minutes a day in direct communication with his child. By the time a young person turns 18, he or she has spent a full two years in front of a television or laptop screen, adding to an obesity epidemic that the Joint Chiefs have called a national security crisis.

Only half of Americans report they have meaningful personal social interaction on a daily basis. The country consumes two thirds of the world's antidepressant production. The breakdown of working class families is partly responsible for an opiate crisis that has replaced car accidents as the leading killer of Americans under 50.

At the root of this transformation and decline lies a widening gap between those who have and those who have little to nothing. Economic inequalities exist in all countries and create a tension that can be as disruptive as conditions are unfair. However, these negative forces that tear a society apart are usually mitigated or even silenced when social solidarity can be strengthened in other ways - through religious belief, the strength and comfort of the family, pride in tradition, loyalty to the land, the spirit of a place. But when all the old certainties turn out to be lies, when the promise of a good life for a working family breaks, as factories close and entrepreneurs who are getting richer every day move their jobs abroad, then the social contract is irrevocably broken. For two generations America has celebrated globalization with an iconic intensity when - as every working man and woman can see - it is nothing but the hunt of capital for cheaper and cheaper labor.

Trump's wickedness as a symptom of decline

For many years the conservative right in the United States conjured up a nostalgia for the 1950s, for an America that never existed, but which they must assume existed. This is the only way they can relieve their feelings of loss and abandonment, their fear of change, their bitter resentment and their persistent disdain for the social movements of the 1960s, which were a time of new hopes and expectations for women, gays and people of color, streamline. In truth, in the 1950s the country was more like Denmark, at least economically. The marginal tax rate for the rich was 90 percent. The salaries in the executive floor were on average only 20 times as high as those of the employees in middle management.

Today, the base salary of bosses is usually 400 times higher than that of salaried employees, plus substantial amounts in the form of shares and perks. One percent of the American elite controls $ 30 trillion in assets, while the bottom half has more debt than wealth. The three richest Americans have more money than the poorest 160 million of their compatriots. Whole fifth of American households have net worth zero or negative, and that number rises to 37 percent for black families. The median wealth of black households is one tenth of that of white households. The vast majority of Americans - white, black, and tan - are just two months' wages away from bankruptcy. Despite living in a country that celebrates itself as the richest in history, most Americans are performing a tightrope act without a safety net to hold their falls back.

In the corona crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs and 3.3 million businesses had to close, including 41 percent of all black-owned businesses. Black Americans - who make up only 13 percent of the population but are proportionally far more likely to be in federal prisons than whites - are suffering from shockingly high rates of illness and mortality in the pandemic and are dying nearly three times as often from Covid-19 as white Americans. The basic rule of American social policy - do not let any ethnic group slip among blacks and suffer no more humiliation than they do - applies even to the pandemic, as if the virus was inspired by American history.

Covid-19 did not bring America down, it just revealed what the country had long given up. As the crisis took its course and another American died every minute of every day, a country that once produced warplanes every hour failed to make the paper masks or cotton swabs that were essential to tracking the disease. The country that defeated smallpox and polio, and had led the world in medical innovation and discovery for generations, laughed at itself when a clown recommended the use of household disinfectants to a president as a treatment for a disease he could not intellectually comprehend.

While a number of countries promptly set about containing the virus, the United States stumbled forward in a stance of denial as if it were deliberately blind. Although they make up less than four percent of the world's population, the United States soon accounted for more than a fifth of the corona deaths. The percentage of American disease victims who died was six times the global average. But the fact that the country had reached the world's highest disease and mortality rate did not cause shame, but only more lies, the search for scapegoats and the bragging of miracle cures, as dubious as a faircler or a crook looking for money .

The United States reacted to the crisis like a corrupt operetta dictatorship, and the real operetta dictatorships of the world took advantage of this to feel morally superior, especially after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The autocratic President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, criticized America for “malicious violation of the rights of ordinary people”, and North Korean newspapers turned against “police brutality” in America. And the Iranian press quoted Ayatollah Khamenei's malicious glee: "America has begun the process of self-destruction."

Trump's performance and America's crisis diverted attention from China's mishandling of the original Wuhan outbreak, not to mention Beijing's attempt to smash democracy in Hong Kong. When an American official referred to human rights on Twitter, the Chinese State Department spokesman, referring to the killing of George Floyd, responded with a short sentence: "I can't breathe." These politically motivated comments are easy to dismiss. More importantly, Americans have done themselves no favors. Their political process has made it possible for a national disgrace, namely a demagogue to rise to the highest office in the country, who is morally and ethically as compromised as a person can be.Or, as one British writer quipped: “There have always been stupid people in the world and there have been many mean ones too. But seldom was stupidity so mean or meanness so stupid. "

The American president lives to cultivate resentment, demonize his opponents and affirm hatred. His main tool in governing is the lie; Up to July 9th of this year alone, 20,055 misrepresentations and false statements have been documented. If America’s first president, as we know, could not tell a lie, the present one cannot acknowledge the truth. This somber troll of a man pervers the words and views of Abraham Lincoln by extolling malice for all and mercy for no one.

Disgusting as Trump may be, he is less the cause of America's decline than a product of its decline. When Americans look in the mirror and only find the myth of their exceptionalism, they remain, in an almost bizarre way, unable to see what has really become of their country. The republic, which defined the free flow of information as the lifeline of democracy, is now only 45th worldwide in terms of freedom of the press. In a country that once welcomed the enslaved masses of the world, more people are now in favor of building a wall on the southern border as a preventive measure for health and protection for the illegalized mothers and children who desperately arrive at its doors. In complete abandonment of the common good, US law defines freedom as the inalienable right of every individual to own a personal arsenal of weapons. This claim even trumps the safety of the children; In the past decade alone, 346 pupils and teachers were shot dead on school grounds.

The cult of the individual and the end of society

The American cult of the individual denies not only community, but the very idea of ​​society itself. Nobody owes anything to anyone. Everyone must be ready to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy sees as fundamental rights - universal health, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, old and infirm - America dismisses as a socialist luxury, like a sign of weakness.

How can the rest of the world expect America to take the lead on global threats - climate change, extinction, pandemics - when, even in the case of its own nation, it no longer has a sense of benevolent cause or the collective good? Patriotism wrapped in a flag is no substitute for compassion; Anger and enmity are not a counterpart to love. All those who, despite Corona, flock to the beaches, the bars and the political rallies and thus endanger their fellow citizens, are not exercising their freedom. Rather, as one commentator noted, they show the weakness of a people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the steadfastness to defeat it. Your command is Donald Trump, a bone spur warrior, [1] a liar and deceiver, the grotesque caricature of a strong man with the backbone of a schoolyard racket.

In the past few months, a joke has been circulating on the Internet: Living in Canada today is comparable to owning an apartment over a crystal meth laboratory. Canada is not a perfect place, but it has handled the corona crisis well, especially in British Columbia, where I live. Vancouver is just a three-hour drive north of Seattle, where the US outbreak began. Half of Vancouver's residents are Asian, and typically dozens of flights land every day from China and East Asia. So it should have hit the city hard, but the health system worked extremely well. Throughout the entire crisis, the test rates in Canada were consistently five times as high as in the USA. Per capita disease and mortality in Canada were only half as high. For every person who died in British Columbia, 44 died in Massachusetts, a state with a comparable population but which has reported more Covid cases than Canada as a whole. On July 30, when infection and death rates skyrocketed in much of the United States and 59,629 new cases were reported on that one day alone, British Columbia hospitals recorded a total of just five Covid patients.

When American friends ask me for an explanation, I encourage them to remember the last time they bought groceries at the Safeway in their neighborhood. In the United States, there is almost always an ethnic, economic, cultural, and educational gap between consumers and staff that is difficult, if not impossible, to bridge. In Canada you have a different experience. One interacts, if not as equals among equals, at least as members of a larger community. The reason for this is simple: the employees may not be as wealthy as you, but they know you know that thanks to the unions, they are getting a wage that is enough to live on. Second, they know that you know their kids and yours most likely go to the same public school in the neighborhood. And third, and most importantly, they know that you know that when their children get sick, not only are they getting exactly the same medical treatment as your children, but as the Prime Minister's. These three strands are interwoven to form the structure of Canadian social democracy.

When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, "I think it would be a good idea." Such a remark may sound harsh, but it reflects exactly how a modern social democracy looks to America today. Canada got through the corona crisis well because of our social contract, the gangs of the community, the trust in each other and in our institutions, especially in our healthcare system, whose hospitals are geared towards the medical needs of the collective, not those of the individual and certainly not that by private investors who consider every hospital bed a rental property. In a civilized country, prosperity is not measured by the money that a lucky few have amassed, but by the strength and resonance of social relationships and the mutual bonds that unite all people towards a common goal.

It is not about political ideology, but about quality of life. Finns live longer and are less likely to die in childhood or childbirth than Americans. Danes have roughly the same after-tax income as Americans, but work 20 percent less. You pay 19 cents more in taxes for every dollar you earn. But in return they get free health care, free pre-school to university education, and the opportunity to thrive in a thriving market economy where rates of poverty, homelessness, crime and inequality are significantly lower. The average worker is paid better, treated more respectfully, and rewarded with life insurance, retirement plans, maternity leave, and six weeks of paid vacation a year. All of these advantages mean that the Danes are even willing to work harder: a full 80 percent of men and women between 16 and 64 years of age are gainfully employed there, much more than in the United States.

America's final decline?

American politicians are dismissing the Scandinavian model as creeping socialism, as communism light, as something that would never work in the United States. In truth, social democracies are successful precisely because they fuel dynamic capitalist economies that benefit every social class. It may well be that social democracy can never take root in the United States. But that would be an indictment of poverty and would confirm Oscar Wilde's joke that the United States is the only country that goes straight from barbarism into decadence, skipping civilization in the process.

Evidence of such final decadence is the choice so many Americans made in 2016 to put their personal anger on top. Elevating their resentment over any concern for the fate of the country and the world, they chose a man whose only qualification for office was his will to voice their hatred, confirm their anger, and target their real or imagined enemies to take. It makes one shudder to imagine what it will mean to the rest of the world if Americans vote on November 3rd - for all they know - to keep such a man in power. But even if Trump were to be defeated resoundingly, it is by no means clear whether such a deeply divided country will be able to look ahead again. Whatever happens, America's time is up.

The end of the American era and the handover of the baton to Asia is no reason to celebrate, no cause for glee. In a moment of international danger, when humanity could very well have entered a dark age beyond known horrors, the industrial might of the United States, along with the blood of ordinary Russian soldiers, literally saved the world. American ideals, such as those extolled by Madison and Monroe, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, once inspired and gave hope to millions.

If and if the Chinese have gained dominant influence, with their camps for the Uyghurs, the ruthless reach of their military, their 200 million surveillance cameras that monitor every move and gesture of their people, then we will surely be after the prime of America Century. Right now we only have Donald Trump's kleptocracy. Between praise for China's treatment of the Uyghurs - whose internment and torture he described as "just the right thing" - and his medical advice on the therapeutic benefits of chemical disinfectants, Trump said bluntly, "One day, miraculously, it will go away." Of course, he was thinking of the corona virus. But he might as well have meant something else: the American dream.

German first publication of a text that was first published in "Rolling Stone" under the title "The Unraveling of America". Translation: Steffen Vogel.

[1] Trump achieved his exemption from the Vietnam War because of a bone spur. - D. Red.