America and COVID-19

When the story of COVID-19 is written, it will show that this virus was more successful than other more lethal viruses such as SARS, MERS and Ebola in significant part due to the lack of international leadership in confronting it, primarily the abdication of the United States under the mantra of “America First.”

Since World War II, U.S. presidents have understood that the nation’s first line of defense existed beyond its borders. For this reason, they created a climate of cooperation and assistance at the global level in all areas, including the control and monitoring of pandemics. In past epidemics, the U.S. always provided support and maintained direct contact at the epicenters where illness erupted; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked hand-in-hand with the World Health Organization in making decisions about how to confront the outbreaks, and the U.S. drove cooperation and assistance with logistics, personnel and equipment to mitigate the effects of these outbreaks. Unfortunately, COVID-19 ran into Donald Trump’s chaotic White House. This is an administration that is proud to undermine global cooperation, that openly expresses mistrust of international organizations, and whose slogan “America First” flies directly in the face of what that nation has stood for during the greater part of its history.

This means that the U.S. provided scant logistical assistance to China and the European Union when the virus exploded in those latitudes. The CDC, without cooperating with the WHO, manufactured a test kit to detect the virus which turned out to be defective. In the first months of the pandemic, the president seemed more interested in propagating conspiracy theories and launching accusations than in reducing the spread of the virus. Now he is focused on blocking the export of supplies for fighting the virus to his neighbors.

Today, the U.S. is the new epicenter of the pandemic. As this article is being written, that country reports 588,300 cases of COVID-19 and 24,480 deaths. The great lockdown is beginning to have an impact on its economy at levels comparable to the Great Depression, and the president’s inability to take necessary and timely action means that the situation there is far from seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

COVID-19 owes its success largely to “America First.” This is the “America First,” that eliminated the international cooperation necessary to contain the pandemic, the “America First” that preferred to ignore the virus as long as it didn’t knock on its own doors, the “America First” that prefers to point fingers in every direction but is incapable of assuming any responsibility, the “America First” that, even while illness circulates in its midst, prefers to play nativist geopolitics.

It is still difficult to estimate the damage to the reputation and soft power of the U.S. that Trump’s administration has inflicted. For now, we can only speculate what the COVID-19 situation would look like if that nation had a moderately competent government.

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