‘Once upon a time…’

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

In the last few months we have wit­nessed the con­tin­ued un­rav­el­ing of the United States. Many might at­tribute the dis­man­tling of what once was Amer­ica to Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, but, truth be told, this has been in the mak­ing for quite some time. The long-stand­ing prob­lems plagu­ing the US sys­tem of gov­er­nance and its econ­omy, along with its grow­ing so­cial in­jus­tice and in­equal­ity have all ex­ploded into plain view be­cause of Covid and, more specif­i­cally, be­cause of the way that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment led by the pres­i­dent’s team has mis­han­dled the pan­demic and its dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts. Po­lit­i­cal in­de­ci­sion, con­flict­ing mes­sages (mixed with dis­in­for­ma­tion and false­hoods), a bla­tant lack of em­pa­thy for the dy­ing and un­em­ployed, the ab­sence of tan­gi­ble con­crete plan­ning for all Amer­i­cans that might have re­as­sured the pub­lic – all were on dis­play day af­ter day dur­ing the White House brief­ings and sub­se­quent fol­low-up tweets that only ex­ac­er­bated fears, re­sent­ment and con­fu­sion. If it hadn’t been for gov­er­nors and may­ors, the coun­try might have fallen into full-fledged chaos.

At the height of the pan­demic in April, ur­ban dwellers re­al­ized in the most con­crete way pos­si­ble that they were en­tirely de­pen­dent on es­sen­tial work­ers that in­cluded nurses and doc­tors, am­bu­lance driv­ers, fire­fight­ers, the po­lice, post of­fice work­ers, but also the de­liv­ery per­son­nel that kept their re­frig­er­a­tors and pantries full of food to weather the storm. Th­ese peo­ple main­tained the flow of the most vi­tal goods and ser­vices that were once taken for granted. The cul­mi­na­tion of this dys­func­tion and the out­break of anger has led to ri­ots all across Amer­ica. Peo­ple are demon­strat­ing with con­vic­tion. They see the in­equal­ity that has en­gulfed Amer­ica; they have wit­nessed the mil­lions lin­ing up for food while farm­ers – who once supplied mar­kets and restau­rants – are now de­stroy­ing their sur­plus pro­duc­tion, un­able to switch the di­rec­tion of their sup­ply chains.

Amer­i­cans can no longer ig­nore the fact that pub­lic schools were not able to im­me­di­ately close at the start of the pan­demic be­cause mil­lions of chil­dren re­lied on free school meals to eat. The rich lamented quar­an­tin­ing in their es­tates, while the poor strug­gled with un­em­ploy­ment, em­ploy­ment with high-risk ex­po­sure and months of quar­an­tin­ing in dif­fi­cult sur­round­ings. One can­not be­gin to cover all the rev­e­la­tions that Covid has made pub­lic. Now years of un­re­solved racial ten­sions and a so­ci­ety that has learned to rely on force as the prin­ci­pal in­stru­ment to en­sure peace and or­der is out­raged. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans are tak­ing to the streets day af­ter day to voice their ob­jec­tions to a sys­tem that is bro­ken on ev­ery con­ceiv­able level.

Im­por­tantly, the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the im­age of Amer­ica in the eyes of the world is espe­cially painful, par­tic­u­larly for those who have stood with Amer­ica, be­lieved in the Amer­i­can dream of op­por­tu­nity and ex­cel­lence, in the right to free speech, and in the pro­gres­sive­ness that so­cial mo­bil­ity en­sured. More­over, it is par­tic­u­larly trou­bling as this is hap­pen­ing dur­ing a pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant global power re­align­ments. That the US has been re­coil­ing from world af­fairs and will con­tinue to do so has been ev­i­dent for quite some time. What is now highly prob­lem­atic is the re­al­iza­tion that this no longer con­sti­tutes a tem­po­rary re­treat. While Trump’s dis­re­gard for pos­i­tive global en­gage­ment dealt the death blow to the world or­der cre­ated af­ter WWII, coun­tries can no longer look to the US as a place for in­spi­ra­tion, hope, free­dom, norms and val­ues. It is a coun­try that will for years need to turn in­ward to solve its long-stand­ing prob­lems, and the en­su­ing pe­riod is likely not only to be fraught but vi­o­lent.

What might such de­vel­op­ments mean for the rest of the world? How and by whom will the power vac­uum be filled? There are those who have long lamented the in­equal­ity in global af­fairs as tra­di­tional in­dus­trial pow­ers that have in­cluded the US, Europe and Ja­pan as­serted them­selves as ex­clu­sive driv­ers of global en­gage­ment, fi­nance and trade. To them, the demise of Amer­i­can hege­mony might ac­tu­ally be a good thing. It may, in fact, help de­moc­ra­tize mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and lead to truer part­ner­ships among the de­vel­oped and the de­vel­op­ing world. Cau­tion, how­ever, is war­ranted in op­ti­misti­cally em­brac­ing this sort of nar­ra­tive. On the one hand, unimag­in­able as it may seem to many Amer­i­can schol­ars, an­a­lysts and pol­i­cy­mak­ers, clearly a world in which the US is no longer the guar­an­tor of a post-WWII or­der is al­ready in the mak­ing. China has in­di­cated that it would like to lead the de­vel­op­ing world through com­pre­hen­sive part­ner­ships, re­gional mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, new trade cor­ri­dors and con­nec­tiv­ity as en­vi­sioned by the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. And of course there is the Euro­pean Union that has for years been un­der­es­ti­mated be­cause it has of­ten failed to act with one voice and one re­solve. For Euro­peans, the un­rav­el­ing of the US poses an ex­is­ten­tial threat. The US has been its clos­est ally and its great­est trad­ing part­ner. Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans shared lib­eral and demo­cratic norms and val­ues, and un­til the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury were, more of­ten than not, on the same page vis-a-vis the global or­der. This is no longer the case and be­cause it is not it re­quires a dra­matic re­cal­i­bra­tion by the EU dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult time. While no­body can pre­dict the out­come of the events that we are wit­ness­ing, it is cer­tain that Europe and China are look­ing at each other in a new light – one that is no longer pow­ered by the “blind­ing bright­ness” of the USA.

Amer­i­cans can no longer ig­nore the fact that pub­lic schools were not able to im­me­di­ately close at the start of the pan­demic be­cause mil­lions of chil­dren re­lied on free school meals to eat

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­pares to speak to a group of young Repub­li­cans on Tues­day at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Ari­zona, where he also in­spected a sec­tion of the fence along the US-Mex­ico bor­der.

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