American exceptionalism. We are the best. The greatest country on Earth. Gold medal winners all. Right?
Turns out we’re exceptionally the best at leading the world in Covid death, infections, hospitalizations. Not just by a little bit. We have close to 200 times more per capita cases than China. We are less than 5% of the World’s population, but we have 25% of the cases.
Covid is proving the failure of the American Experiment. The “American dream,” the cult of the individual, the Heratio Alger pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, I built this by myself, story. The dream is a myth and its logical extension is the disaster we see across the land now. This Covid crisis, American style, brought to you by the cult of competition over caring. People without child care, go to work sick. People without health care stay sick. Parents without parental leave, go to work sick. People without basic income go to work sick. And the virus spreads. These trends effect Black, brown and indigenous folks more than whites, but they effect us all none-the-less. The virus knows no color and the virus spreads.
Our American culture, coined in the New Hampshire license place, “Live free or die” can translate to, “I’ll do what I want to do, F the impact on you.” It is the ultimate in selfishness, self-firstness. And the virus spreads. The numbers spike and the cure for our foundational American disease – that elevates the individual above all collective good — is nowhere in sight.
Humans are social beings. We are part of nature and all things in nature exist in symbiotic relationship to each other. The cult of the individual is an aberration. It cannot exist in nature. Covid is showing us, in stark undeniable relief (well some of course will still deny) this truth: we Americans are outlaws from nature.
I feel angry about it. And yet in a bizarre twist, I also feel hopeful. The emperor’s nakedness is revealed. We see that the Wizard of Oz is just an incompetent man behind a curtain. The system does not work. Knowing this, accepting this, is an essential prerequisite to really, truthfully, fundamentally, systemically doing something to change it.
I am hopeful that the Covid mess, plus the revelations that white people are finally having about our complicity in racism in this country and its disastrous effects, plus economic collapse, plus climate crisis, plus political meltdown, will be the cumulative breakdown that opens our eyes to that naked Emperor. America has no clothes.
The hope in this? The new dream? An American Revolution 2.0? Joe Biden as FDR only better? We shift our mental models from the belief that all are on their own, to the truth that we are all connected; black, brown, pink, lgbtqia+. All related. And we emerge from the ashes, the rubble of this moment, to rebuild with a new sensibility knowing this.
The logical consequence of our connection? New policies built on revering all. Caring for all our relations. It becomes easy. Would you take care of your family if they were sick? Health care for all. Would you support the young Mom and Dad in caring for the little people in their lives? Parental leave. Would you want those little people to have quality care so Mom and Dad can rest easy back at work? Child care. Would you want those children to grow up to be healthy, capable, resilient citizens to keep the family strong? Invest your biggest bucks in education. This list goes on, but it’s a good start.
Fictional? In his movie “Where to invade next,” Michael Moore goes around the world “conquering” other countries to steal the best ideas for America. He finds the best schools in Finland, beautiful nutrition in France, free College in Slovenia, three weeks paid vacation in Italy, restorative justice in Norway, top notch free health care in Cuba. By the end of the film, your heart sinks, we have none of this stuff. But Moore lifts us up, these countries show that the policies are possible, and in America this is true: our innovation muscle is strong. We can figure it out.