Saturday, June 20, 2020


The world is going through one crisis - the pandemic.

America is going through three: the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump.

I come across a lot of negativity about America’s response, both from a domestic and from an overseas perspective:

We are the pandemic’s epicenter. The number of American Covid-19 patients is approaching a staggering two and a half million, and it continues to increase by twenty to thirty thousand PER DAY. Meanwhile, most other major nations - in Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere - have turned the corner, their case numbers declining rapidly. All the same, the US is eagerly re-opening its economy and holding mass rallies, come what may. When I drive somewhere in the city, NOT ONE in twenty pedestrians I see in the streets wears a mask.

No wonder that some overseas observers are saying that “America has given up.” This was the title of a recent Atlantic article, as well as the words of the prime minister of New Zealand.

One thing I find little of, is any sort of compassion for this country.

I get e-mails and articles from Europe analyzing and ridiculing America, its politics and its response to the crisis. These are commentaries by friends, intellectuals, newspaper pundits in places like the UK, Holland and France. They are the familiar diatribes about this country’s imbecility and decline.

When Italy was the epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic, we saw loving videos on YouTube about those marvelous Italians singing Hallelujah on their balconies in Milano, eulogizing the thousands of tragic deaths. Viewers were all teary-eyed, feeling nothing but compassion and love for that beautiful country, those beautiful Italian people...

One fourth of the world’s Covid-19 victims are Americans - over 120,000 dead so far, probably 300,000 by the end of the year. In ONE YEAR, as many Americans will have died from this disease as all American deaths in World War Two.

European editorialists pontificate about those American idiots who are incapable of solving their problems, be it public health, race relations, law enforcement or economic inequality. The insinuation is clear: our country deserves its misery (it’s a racist country, anyway).

This Schadenfreude occurs despite the fact that a disproportionate number of the dying are people of color and poor people. Neither does it matter to these critics that millions of Americans are marching, sacrificing their health and safety for social and racial progress and in opposition to Donald Trump. 

So I ask you again: Where is the compassion, or even the simple civility of deploring the massive suffering of the American PEOPLE at this time? Are Americans less deserving of sympathy than Italians, or Germans, or Brazilians? Do New Yorkers (nearly half a million victims so far, over 30,000 dead) deserve to die more than Romans?

I see no editorials in American newspapers writing about those “imbecile Swedes” who are pursuing a different anti-virus strategy - aiming to reach herd immunity as rapidly as possible - and dying at a slightly higher rate than most other countries.

People need to understand that America does NOT = Trump. That Trump was elected by a MINORITY of Americans.

* * * * * * *

The world - including America - will come out of this and recover. America will overcome the corona virus, and it will return to a normal and decent presidency. Most governments in the US - at the state, city and local levels - are already “normal and decent.”

But sadly, we will also remember the widespread callousness an indifference, not to mention the thinly veiled Schadenfreude expressed at this time by some people overseas with regard to America’s plight.

Every time this country has faced huge challenges, it has surmounted them - in the end often brilliantly.

Winston Churchill (it is said) quipped that “Americans will always end up doing the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives.” Witty.

The truthful part of this statement is that the aftermath of every tragedy befalling this country has not only been recovery, but often spectacular progress... So it was after the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars One and Two, Vietnam, 9-11 and more.

Each time, America first bungled and fumbled. The country and its regime were caught with their pants down. Blind sided. This was usually followed by a series of defeats, blunders, confusion. Then, slowly, the country pulled together, mobilized its enormous talent, energy, courage and optimism. In the end, it triumphed over misfortune and whatever enemy it faced.

The American Revolution began as a losing proposition. The odds in favor of George Washington’s ragtag army were not good. Smart money was on the mighty British Empire.

Similarly, the Civil War’s beginnings were inauspicious. The first major battles (Bull Run One and Two, etc.) were won by the Confederacy.

The Great Depression was equally unanticipated and protracted, seemingly with no end in sight.

In both World Wars One and Two, the US was a Johnny-come-lately to the conflict. Pearl Harbor was a surprise and a disaster. 9/11 caught the government, as usual, totally unprepared. America is always slow to react, always somewhat reluctant. But in the end, success triumphs over defeat, the good defeats the bad.

To be sure, the pendulum of progress swings both ways. Reconstruction after the Civil War was followed by the emergence of the KKK and the Jim Crow era. Recent decades have seen an increase in inequality. Race relations, especially between the black community and law enforcement, have not improved.

As to the present plague, once again, this country is slow and seemingly inept in its response. America is currently the epicenter of the plague, and the worst part of the “Covid-19 accident” is that it is - also accidentally - happening at a time when the country is led by the most inept and malevolent president in history. This aggravates the crisis tenfold.

Arnold Toynbee analyzed history as a challenge-and-response process. Doesn’t this apply to most societies, and to none more than to the US?

In recent history, when it comes to defeating a common enemy, defeating evil, be it the abomination of slavery, the German Kaiser, fascism, terrorism, dictators Left or Right, Ebola, HIV, mass starvation, America has been the ESSENTIAL country. It has been the country without which the abomination at hand could not be destroyed.

In the end, this vast, powerful, diverse, innovative “world country” may once again triumph over its enemy - this time an invisible virus capable of as much death and destruction as Hitler, Tojo and Stalin. As in the past, America is slow and unsure in its initial response. But once it flexes its muscles and measures up to the task at hand, it may yet surprise the rest of the world, as it has done so often in the past.

Will America save itself, and save the day? Or is it giving up the fight?

© Tom Kando 2020;All Rights Reserved

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