Joe Biden, after entering the Oval Office as the 46th President of the United States, is justifiably focused on steering the nation out of the Covid-19 crisis. The US is still recovering from the pandemic and its recent past that has exposed the racial, economic, and political divide and the unprecedented event of January 6th when Trump’s supporters’ violently disrupted a sacrosanct ritual of the peaceful transfer of power – a hallmark of the world’s oldest democracy.
The attack on Capitol Hill led to Washington D.C. witnessing an unprecedented level of fortified security in the lead up to the inauguration of Joe Biden as US President. These events, together with Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and his pathetic attempts to use the judiciary to overturn the outcome of a historic election, are unprecedented and alien to the peaceful transition of power that the US justifiably prides on – a fundamental tenet underpinning America’s narrative as the beacon of democracy around the world.
Consequently, Donald Trump was impeached for inciting Capitol Hill violence and became the first US President to be impeached twice. Now President Biden is taking corrective action by reversing some of Trump’s domestic and international policy excesses.
However, if one digs deeply, it is not difficult to see that American exceptionalism – a belief that has underpinned its strength, vitality, and innovation – may not be working and the US – both the progressives and the conservatives – are in denial mode. On the one hand, this has led to excessive political correctness and identity politics and on the other hand, a complete repudiation of simple public health measures in the name of pathological reference to “freedom” resulting in greater loss of lives in twelve months than the US lives lost during the Second World War.
American exceptionalism, mainly driven from the American Revolution ideals grounded in the democratic values of liberty, equality, freedom, representative democracy, and free economy, also connotes that the US is superior to other nations having an unparalleled task to transform the world, and the notions such as nothing can happen to the United States.
There is no doubt that the United States has been the beacon of democracy, the greatest example of material achievements on the planet, and an unparalleled superpower with unmatched influence in the post-War period. However, over some time, there has been not only a relative decline in the US power, but the American exceptionalism has been also not working.
In the first, Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election was astounding for many. However, one of the factors behind American’s surprising decision of Trump’s shocking presidential victory was political correctness, which denied the problems that the US was facing. The progressive left was so obsessed with political correctness that they could not accommodate anything that did not suit their ideological framework and refused to see a divided America that pushed populists to reject the imposed political correctness. Trump was successful in connecting with the majority by smashing political decency and basic civility. During his tenure, President Trump’s popularity never dropped below forty percent, and during the Covid-19 outbreak, when Trump invoked nationalism by slamming China for the spread of the disease with the ‘China Virus’ phrase, his popularity crossed more than fifty percent. Although Trump lost his second bid for the White House and became the first incumbent president to be defeated in 28 years, he received 48 per cent of the vote and five million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. The Trump phenomenon remains powerful and may be disruptive in the future.
Another example of the US denial mode is climate change. Though the US climate change denial halted when the US entered the Paris Climate Agreement, the majority of Americans continue to disregard global warming as a major security threat. Overconfidence in the notion of American exceptionalism accelerated during President Trump, which was evident from the beginning in “Make America Great Again” and “America First”.
Trump’s American exceptionalism was evident in the US withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change, the US gun control laws are still incompatible, and every year shooting incidents continue to kill many, and universal health care continues to be a distant dream. All of which is once again American exceptionalism, that everything with America is perfect, has not worked, and US leadership and international standing have been on the decline.
The Covid-19 outbreak further exposed American exceptionalism. Despite being the most capable nation in the world, America has become the worst victim of the Covid-19. The US refused to learn from other countries. The outbreak was at a time when the US could have learned from other nations that had taken prompt actions to contain the outbreak, including China, from where the disease originated. Nevertheless, Trump’s America refused to benefit its own country, which could have saved the majority of Covid-19 deaths in America.
The American exceptionalism refused to accept the procedures that other nations have used to contain the same threat. The US also had the advantage of being hit late by the pandemic and had ample time to take the best-tested and successful containment measures.
The US wasted that vantage and disregarded the playbook developed by the Obama administration to deal with the pandemic that incorporated the experiences of other countries in dealing with pandemics. When China closed down the entire city of Wuhan in January, the message was clear. According to epidemiologists Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell, if the US had implemented social-distancing and other containment measures only two weeks earlier in March, 90% of the cumulative deaths of Covid-19 would have been avoided in the US during the first wave of the outbreak.
The US has believed that its democracy is the best in the world, that nothing is wrong with it, and that America has a future mission to bring freedom and democracy to the world-all this is now being tested. The Biden administration has a momentous task ahead of it to work on American complacency, denial, and the leadership that shaped the last century. American exceptionalism is not working; this is an undeniably compelling reality of the moment.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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