The United States is embroiled with the greatest proportion of COVID-19 cases in the world, it cements a new reality: the US is no longer a world leader. And it’s Donald Trump’s fault.
The world used to look to the United States because we used to lead by example in times of great turmoil. Not so much now. The Trump administration’s worthless pandemic response has not just cost thousands of American lives—something to be deeply ashamed of—it has also marred our reputation for competence. There is something tragically ironic about the fact that what meat there was behind the notion of American exceptionalism has been squandered by an ideologue whose mantra is “Make America Great Again.” But that’s beside the point.
The world as led by America was one in which we had a stake in virtually everything (which, granted, was not always a good thing). But Americans could sleep soundly at night knowing that, basically, our government called the shots. Since World War II, generally good leadership secured our spot as the most trusted major polity, our rampant discrimination aside. Call it selfish, but there’s no question that Americans had a better global standing.
Today? Well, we were becoming a more tolerant society with time and we were managing to at least maintain global hegemony. Trump ruined both. Nations of the world used to have to choose between the US and the USSR, which, frankly, wasn’t much of a choice. Now, however, nations of the world can choose between the incompetent US, a rising China, a conniving Russia, and a fragmented Europe. It’s less clear than it used to be. Is it worth sticking it out with the US in the hopes that Trump isn’t reelected? Is it worth getting on China’s bad side? Is Russia going to meddle with our politics if we ally with the US or Europe? Is Europe on the verge of implosion? Kakistocracy or kleptocracy? Nations of the world are rightly uncertain.
And that’s the point, really. In the first sentence of this article, I said that the US is no longer a world leader, and yes, that’s hyperbole to some extent. But the hyperbole ends when it comes to this: the fact that the US is no longer an appealing role model means we are not a true world leader. If other nations were to take on our traits having learned from us by example, we’d see politicians in Finland standing in the balmy Arctic Circle wearing tank tops while holding signs saying global warming is a Chinese hoax. We’d see pundits in Liberia telling everybody that vaccines are giving children autism. Clearly, they haven’t quite been following our lead.
Then again, maybe America is leading by example — “See what we did? Don’t try this at home.”