Will someone please make America great again? I think our Coronavirus pandemic has pulled aside the curtains and exposed a distressing decline.
My grandparents lived through the Spanish Flu, otherwise I would not be around. In 1918, one third of the world’s population was infected and 50 million died. My parents lived through World War II, or else I would not be around. This 1939-1945 war infected to more than 30 countries and more than 70 million died. I am involved in the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for the score.
I guess each generation lives through a major global crisis. My grandparents were particularly hard hit as they had to experience not only a pandemic, but also World War I and the Great Depression. Again, stay tuned.
One reason the Spanish Flu was so bad was a global lack of good political leadership. Maybe because of World War I security concerns, most national governments of the day blatantly lied about the pandemic until it was too late. Most people never learned the truth until their neighborhoods started dying. Communities that made the best of a bad situation were those with strong, local leadership. Sound familiar?
In 2020, some countries have done well with strong national leadership. I think you would agree that Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand are positive exemplars. On the other hand, you may have noticed a few countries have lacked strong national leadership. These include United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and many others.
So, what this this to do with make America great again? Plenty. In the past, we have turned to the hegemony for support. Our hegemony are countries or social groups with dominance or leadership over others. Neither U.S. nor China have provided global leadership. Moreover, our dominant multi-lateral institutions including United Nations, World Health Organization and European Union have been essentially useless.
Make America Great Again – Please!
It would be all too easy for me to blame America’s failures on the dufus in the Whitehouse. Unfortunately, he is just a symptom. Consider the social trajectory of the past forty years.
Our gap between coastal elites (including institutions, media and academics) and “real people” widened dramatically. Post-modern ideologies dug the hole even deeper and identity politics emerged. Our tea-party response was to fight back by making national government dysfunctional. We can point fingers at the Executive Branch, but Congress is just as useless. Political parties no longer seek the broad public interest, just enough special interests to get elected. (Even though I am Canadian, I say “our” because this general trend is global, although perhaps not as severe as in the U.S.)
But if we can put aside politics for the moment, our greater disease is living in countries that no longer make physical things. Our global supply chains are one thing, but how is it America cannot organize itself to manufacture simple things like personal protective equipment (PPE), testing swabs and chemicals? Good grief! It could not even organize a shared purchase and import scheme.
(Folks, as an aside, the only global supply chain that has worked really well belongs to: the Coronavirus.)
During World War II, America produced staggering amounts of materials for the Allied effort. Historians have called U.S. industrial performance of the era “miraculous”. How will historians describe American industrial performance during COVID-19? All U.S. authorities managed to accomplish this time around was “log into Alibaba and bid against each other”.
Our lack of greatness is partly politics and leadership, but mainly the lack of domestic production of simple things in a time of need. And I am not just pointing my finger south. Here in Canada, we had to keep our cross-border supply chains open because we don’t make many essentials either, other than some summertime food supplies and meat. We do make energy, but it’s tough to keep that going.
So far, our ability to handle our generation’s great crisis has illustrated great weakness. Enough to make Washington, Lincoln and F.D.R. weep.