On Wednesday morning, the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide trembled on the brink of 2 million people, with more than 127,000 recorded deaths. These numbers are probably an undercount, given the state secrecy of some nations, and because people were dying of COVID-19 before anyone knew its name.
In the United States, the total number of documented COVID-19 cases has surpassed 600,000 people, with more than 26,000 documented deaths. These numbers are almost certainly lower than the actual totals because coronavirus testing in this country remains a cruel joke, and again, because people were probably dying of this before it was properly labeled.
We have learned a few things about ourselves as a nation in the last several weeks. A person can pour water into a deflated balloon to see if there are holes. In this case, COVID-19 poured water into the balloon of the so-called “greatest country on Earth,” and exposed more holes than even the bleakest pessimist dissidents had identified. Worse, it did so all at once.
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The U.S. is on its knees today because the public schools are closed, so millions of children from low-income families have lost their most reliable source of daily calories. This, in turn, has caused food banks across the country to be burdened far beyond their capacities. Before COVID-19, it was “too expensive” to feed people in our hypercapitalist system. How much is that concept costing us today?
This “exceptional” nation’s deeply embedded racism is on full display as COVID-19 disproportionally attacks communities of color. Generations of environmental racism and oppressive restrictions on opportunities for health care, housing, employment and more — as well as an economic system in which communities of color are disproportionately dependent on taking public transit to work and more likely to be deemed essential workers who must face continued exposure to the virus at work rather than self-isolating at home — have left many Black and Latinx more vulnerable to the coronavirus. In New York City alone, the COVID-19 death rate among Black and Latinx people has been twice as high as it is for whites.
In this nation, the wealthy get tested for coronavirus antibodies before anyone else. “The antibody tests are not yet widely available,” reports NBC News, “and only one kind has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization.” On Fisher Island in Florida, one of the richest ZIP codes in the country, everybody gets an antibody test. The Gilded Age lives on and on.
The ripple effects of violent U.S. policies on the wider world are also about to be placed on grim display. In Iraq, Syria and Yemen, COVID-19 has begun to wreak its havoc. In Iran, one of the world’s hottest COVID-19 hotspots, that havoc has been loose for weeks.
Because of U.S. wars and vicious economic sanctions, these nations endure destabilized governments and a shattered health care infrastructure. Iraq, Syria and Yemen in particular are also dealing with millions of war-displaced people living in crowded refugee camps. The situation is a keg of COVID-19 dynamite waiting for a match.
“Ultimately, there may also be an opportunity to go beyond self-interest in helping other countries through the pandemic,” writes Sharon E. Burke for The Boston Globe. “For the United States, this could be another moment — just like the squandered aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — when there is an opportunity to make common cause with adversaries and allies alike to defeat a common threat to our people and prosperity.”
A worthy idea. Instead, we have Donald Trump, who wants us to believe the pandemic is all but over so he can win reelection, and seeks in that cause to open portions of the national economy by May 1. It is, by every medical and scientific measure, a preposterously dangerous proposal. It is a bright, blinking sign of cratered leadership. In this, the “exceptional” nation is exactly on par with the countries we have ravaged with our wars and plunder.
Trump announced on Tuesday his intention to cut funding to the World Health Organization because he needs to blame someone for his own incandescent failures during this crisis. Precisely at the moment when the world needs to come together, Trump continues his efforts to tear it apart.
Systemically violent capitalism at home and abroad has left both the U.S. and the world wide open to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the U.S. seeks to cut off the world even as it dragoons its workforce back to its labors with no thought given to the risks and possible consequences. Wealth must be generated and then hoarded, and no other ethos need apply.
There are a great many holes in this “exceptional” nation, and they are unavoidably on display to all. After COVID-19 has had its way with this nation and the world, we will all see what this nation and the world have to say about “going back to normal.” I strongly suspect that “normal” will never be the same again.