Donald Trump is but a symptom of a larger disease. That disease is American imperial arrogance, and it has been on full display as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world and the American mainland. The potential lethality of COVID-19 is exponentially more dangerous when combined with the hubris of the American imperial order and its hyper-capitalist economic foundation. The U.S.’s response to the virus lags far behind the rest of the world. A deep thirst for profit among powerful elites dictates all social policies and organizations in the United States and this thirst has deadly consequences.
Testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. remains virtually non-existent when considered in per capita terms. The Trump administration rejected the use of COVID-19 tests supplied by the World Health Organization despite having nearly two months to prepare for the possibility of the virus’ spread on U.S. shores. Now, privately-run labs scramble to assemble their own testing kits, wasting precious time in the process. COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days. Vulnerable populations such as the disabled, the elderly, the incarcerated, and the chronically ill are potentially being sacrificed en masse because of the U.S.’ vested interest in shirking international coordination for its own short-term interests.
American imperial arrogance has thus left ordinary people in the United States completely in the dark about the dangers of COVID-19. Some people have responded with panic shopping and individual efforts in isolation. Others have ignored many of the basic recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to employ social distance and wash hands frequently. Without a planned and organized response, some Americans have even minimized the possible consequences of COVID-19. Prior to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s March 16 declaration that non-essential businesses reduce capacity, New Yorkers packed into bars and parks as if the world wasn’t mobilizing to ensure COVID-19 is contained and addressed.
American arrogance is fueled by a bipartisan consensus in Washington which prioritizes the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many. It is no secret that President Trump’s response to COVID-19 has been extremely negligent. Trump had met with several individuals who were suspected to have the virus, including Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. That hadn’t stopped Trump from refusing to get tested and avoiding the fact that the U.S. healthcare system lacks the capacity to respond to COVID-19’s possible impact on the population. But Trump is not alone in the negligence. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi collaborated with Republicans over a coronavirus relief bill that leaves out corporations of five hundred workers or more from a mandatory fourteen-day sick time benefit paid for by the federal government. The legislation excludes 80 percent of the working population, many of which do not have the sick time necessary to quarantine and protect themselves and their families.
Such a tepid and putrid response from the bipartisan establishment is demonstrative of how far the U.S. political class will go to concede to its rich donors in the capitalist class. While the political class on both sides of the political aisle willfully and arrogantly ignored recommendations from the WHO, one and a half trillion dollars in stimulus has been pumped into the stock exchange to keep finance capital afloat. Meanwhile, workers are suffering. No sick time, massive school closures, and no national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures means that COVID-19 is already having devastating consequences on the half of the U.S. population which lives paycheck to paycheck. Black workers and migrant workers who make up a large portion of the low-wage economy and the prison population will be disproportionately affected by the virus’ spread.
COVID-19 is in many ways a painful form of blowback for the ways in which American imperial arrogance has ravaged the world’s nations and their people. For over a month, U.S. corporate media and political officials demonized China and condemned its response to COVID-19 as “authoritarian” and “draconian.” Iran’s own experience with COVID-19 has been made exponentially worse by U.S.-imposed sanctions that prevent access to critical medical supplies. The U.S.-blockade of Cuba prevents ordinary Americans from receiving the assistance of Cuban anti-viral medication that has proven effective in treating COVID-19. Furthermore, American leadership in pushing austerity across the world has left European countries like Italy even more vulnerable to the spread of the virus.
The U.S. is no stranger to biological warfare as part of its overall commitment to destroying the planet at the behest of profit. Private capital views disaster as an opportunity to maximize profit. The U.S. military contracted with Monsanto and Dow Chemical to spray toxic chemicals on large portions of Vietnam’s agricultural lands. The U.S. military has repeatedly used white phosphorus and depleted uranium in Iraq. In 1945, the U.S. dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan. These acts of biological warfare and terror continue to create devastating health consequences for tens of millions of people across the world.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the U.S. ruling class has used COVID-19 to demonize China. In the Arizona Democratic Party debate, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders whether they would punish China for suppressing the potential global impact of COVID-19. Neither candidate rejected the very premise of the question, which rests on the faulty assumption that China allowed COVID-19 to fester and grow because a so-called whistleblower ophthalmologist was ignored and punished by Chinese authorities. The reality is that Chinese health workers had reported unusual clusters of viral cases as early as December 27, 2019. China’s response to the virus has been praised for both its aggressiveness and effectiveness in reducing the impact of COVID-19 by leading epidemiologists and the WHO.
The U.S. placing blame on China for COVID-19 is yet another dangerous example of American imperial arrogance. While CNN and the Democratic Party candidates were arguing about China’s “authoritarianism,” Chinese billionaire and Communist Party member Jack Ma was donating masks and test kits to the United States. The deadly consequences of American imperial arrogance are domestic and global. Domestically, U.S. elites are antagonistic to the kind of comprehensive social response that is necessary to contain the virus. Abroad, these same elites prioritize war instead of solidarity and squander critical opportunities for coordination around crises such as COVID-19 and climate change in the process. American imperial arrogance is far more dangerous than COVID-19, as it impedes our collective ability to demand more from a U.S.-led global order which has far outlasted its usefulness to humanity.
American Herald Tribune, where this article originally appeared, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Danny Haiphong is the co-author of the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News-From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.