“American exceptionalism” is the general idea that the United States is different from other countries, endowed with special traits, better, superior. It goes back—well, actually, people debate how far it goes back.
But there’s no debating when it ends. It ends this month, in May 2020, under Donald Trump, who in prematurely sending people back to work (and to gyms) so they can die needlessly is destroying not just thousands of human lives but also any idea of America as a special place. That shining city on a hill business? Done.
We are a laughing stock. And, we are a horror show. The other day, there was a world conference on vaccines, a virtual summit run out of London. There were speeches, live and pre-recorded, by Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Shinzo Abe; even thugs like Netanyahu and Erdogan chimed in, putting aside their usual venality out of respect for the gravity of the occasion. The United States? Not represented. By anyone.
We are an object of international contempt and rage, and maybe at best pity from those dwindling few who still admire what we once were. But that America is dead. Under Trump, the only exceptionalism that exists is that among the nations of the world we are the most exceptionally fucking stupid.
We’re now seeing estimates of the number of dead being revised frighteningly upward. And there’s only one reason why that is happening. Because we have a president who can’t think beyond the next 10 minutes, can’t plan, can’t lead. He dodges and cheats and blames everybody else because that’s what he’s always done, and it’s all he knows how to do, and it’s made him a rich and famous man, which ought to tell us things about this country we’d rather not confront, and it even made him president; and it got him through the normal crises, because in normal crises you can bluff and harangue and blame the other guy, especially when you have a zombie Newspeak-Hate Week propaganda TV network at your disposal.
But you can’t bullshit a disease.
So now, just as we were maaaybe getting a handle on this; just as daily deaths were decreasing, slightly but hopefully, to as few as 1,153 on May 3 (it hasn’t been under 1,000 in a month); just as the line was starting to flatten a little—we’re sending people back out into the world by the millions, because we need to save the economy, because how else is he going to get re-elected?
It’s reckless. It’s immoral. It’s shameful. And beyond all that, it’s just stupid. That’s the part I don’t get, because if I’m the president and this hits, and I’m thinking about re-election, I think: Well, we have to shut the country down until we’ve clearly flattened the curve, and while that will suck, and we’ll need to take a lot of steps in Washington to make sure people don’t lose their homes and all the rest, the worst possible thing in the world would be to have to shut the country down a second time—just psychologically devastating for everyone, let alone awful for the economy. And right in time for the election.
But that seems absolutely where we’re headed now. Every expert you read or see this week says the same thing. There’s going to be a new outbreak. Hospitals are going to be overwhelmed. We’re just going to have to shut down again until the testing can be ramped up.
The testing, of course, should have been ramped up in January and February. But we blew that. No we didn’t blow it. One man blew it. Because it was under control. There was only one case. Or 11, or 15, no matter, it would soon be down to zero.
If this man is a wartime president, then the way he’s reacted to this is a war crime.
What do people in the rest of the world think, as they watch this mayhem, this death, this plague, this gobsmacking incompetence and stupidity? Consider: We have one-third of the world’s reported cases, about 1.2 million out of about 3.6 million (it is universally believed that China is vastly undercounting). And we have about 1/23rd of the world’s population.
For decades, for all our mistakes and flaws and errors, the people of the world looked up to us. Now? No way. It’s so sad, so unnecessary, so hopeless.
And for what? Yes, for the economy, ostensibly, but there’s more to it than that. It’s psychic. Because we’re “free.” Because we need our “liberty.” Because, well, American exceptionalism. So it isn’t just Trump. It’s millions of Americans who agree that the weak should die. Until they turn out to be among the weak themselves. Actually, in some cases, even that probably wouldn’t dissuade them. This is a cult of Social Darwinian individuality taken to twisted, horrifying lengths.
Trump has always represented the dark conscience of this nation. Richard Rovere once wrote of Joseph McCarthy: “No bolder seditionist has ever moved among us, nor any politician with a surer, swifter access to the dark places of the American mind.” Well, Tail Gunner Joe, consider yourself topped. Trump is taking this country to far darker places than McCarthy could have dreamed of. McCarthy was isolated and shamed. Trump is lionized. And the world that once admired us looks on in disbelief.
Can we ever recover? I’d like to think that maybe we can. Maybe, if Joe Biden wins and the Democrats control Congress, we’ll pass humane legislation about mortgage and rent protection, we’ll invest in PPE and other medical necessities at the proper levels, and some semblance of decency will return. Maybe Biden, as president, can travel to Europe and elsewhere and convince people that there is still good in us. But he will need to do no less than that—in other words, imagine an American president having to go to the world and explain that we are a better people than they have lately seen us to be? And maybe good old American ingenuity will produce the vaccine we long for.
But even if all those things happen, I got news for you. Trump ain’t going away. Neither is Fox News. Neither is the brainwashed GOP. And neither are those dark places of the American mind. They’ve been aroused as never before, and an armada of web sites and chat rooms exists to feed them the diet of conspiracies that will keep the synapses to their amygdalas firing at warp speed.
As the death toll mounts in the coming weeks, I’ll bet you my mortgage that we’ll hear more and more people willing to say openly that it’s a good thing that the old and the infirm—not to mention the black and the brown—are dying.
We’ve already heard a few Republicans pick up this line. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opened the bidding when he told Tucker Carlson at the end of March that “no one reached out to me and said as a senior citizen, ‘Are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.”
Then of course Trump himself upped the ante Wednesday with these words: “I’m viewing our great citizens of this country to a certain extent and to a large extent as warriors. They’re warriors. We can’t keep our country closed. We have to open our country… Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”
I know Trump fantasizes about Mt. Rushmore (seriously, he does). Someday, I hope to God that America gives him the memorial he deserves, which will be made of bat guano and sited on the country’s worst rat-infested toxic dump in some remote corner, and etched into the tower of shit will be the imperishable words: “Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”
So there you have it. The president of the United States in essence endorsing the reduction of the “surplus population,” to borrow the Dickensian phrase that one suspects might be coming back into vogue, and how sick is that? And dying with all those surplus people will be any notion of the United States of America as a nation the world should admire or envy in any way, destroyed by a narcissistic moron named Donald John Trump and all his cowardly enablers who actually knew better but let the most durable republic in the history of the world die.