Opinion |

For Lovers of the U.S., Trump’s Coronavirus Cock-up Is Heartbreaking

America is facing its 'Yom Kippur': Intelligence ignored, threat belittled, preparations defective – and arrogance, reigning supreme

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Washington D.C., April 10, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Washington D.C., April 10, 2020.Credit: Evan Vucci,AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Few people are indifferent to the United States. The supposedly greatest power on earth evokes strong and contrasting sentiments: Either you love America, despite its flaws, or you hate it, notwithstanding its virtues.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, however, the United States is evoking new and unfamiliar emotions among fans and critics alike: Pity. Commiseration. Sorrow.

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The country seems like a train wreck: Its systems are failing, hospitals collapsing, patients crying for help and corpses piling up in makeshift morgues. New York, the jewel in the crown, has turned into a ghost town and valley of death; the undeclared capital of the free world cannot hide its shame.

The pertinent Israeli idiom, borne of the calamitous 1973 War, is that this is America’s Yom Kippur: Front-line positions are abandoned, stocks are depleted and the arsenal, it turns out, is largely dysfunctional. Despite clear-cut intelligence warnings that the barbarian virus is at the gate, the United States languished, its senses dulled by past immunity and current arrogance.

Bodies being buried on New York's Hart Island where the department of corrections is dealing with more burials overall, amid the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, April 9, 2020.
Bodies being buried on New York's Hart Island where the department of corrections is dealing with more burials overall, amid the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, April 9, 2020.Credit: Lucas Jackson/ REUTERS

The “conception,” which is the word that has come to symbolize Israel’s fatal 1973 attachment to a false sense of security and concurrent disdain for its enemies’ deadliness, ruled Washington DC at the start of the coronavirus crisis and, in many ways, still governs it today.

The United States would have been challenged by coronavirus in any case. Its’ borders are long, its entry points numerous and its ability to control movements limited. A significant part of its urban population is poor and overcrowded.

Unlike countries such as Israel, experienced in national emergencies, over the past century, the United States has fought its wars overseas, far from the mainland. The last deadly emergency that touched all 50 states was the Spanish Flu, over a century ago.

Command and control powers in the United States are divided between the President, the administration, Congress, states, counties, cities and more: They often overlap and sometimes contradict each other. The health system was crippled even before Donald Trump cut deeply into its budgets: Barack Obama staked his presidency on reforming the system but ultimately came up short.

And Americans, born and bred on individualism, are a stubborn folk. They have a hard time taking orders from the authorities, even those meant to save their lives.

And still, things might have been completely different had there been any other president in the White House besides Trump. If the federal government had been headed by an experienced and cool-headed politician, rather than a flaming narcissist whose only concern is looking out for himself; if the person running the show was a rational creature who listens to experts, rather than a science-hating president who thinks he’s smarter than all; if the leader of America was a simply a reasonable man (or, preferably, woman) rather than a vindictive, shoot-from-the-hip megalomaniac.

When experts warned, Trump ignored; when officials sounded the alarm, Trump harrumphed; when coronavirus had already infiltrated, Trump promised it would disappear forthwith; when medical experts issued guidelines, Trump mocked them; when they asserted no medicine had yet to found, he touted one in which he was invested; when governors cried out for help, Trump demanded vows of servitude; when America yearned for direction and inspiration, Trump gave it excuses, animosity and incitement.

It could have been America’s finest hour. The United States might have shined as the world’s “shining city on a hill,” as Ronald Reagan prescribed. A different president would have taken the threat seriously, prepared his troops and marshaled the enormous human, financial and technological resources at America’s disposal. A different president would have provided solace and confidence, not only to his own citizens but also to the world as a whole.

The statue of Christ the Redeemer is lit up in the colours of the U.S. flag during an Easter Sunday mass, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 12, 2020.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer is lit up in the colours of the U.S. flag during an Easter Sunday mass, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 12, 2020.Credit: RICARDO MORAES/ REUTERS

But the United States found itself with Trump, whose unbounded arrogance and misplaced self-confidence have already cost thousands of American lives. Rather than serving as a role model for all, Trump’s United States has turned into a bad joke: If the spread of coronavirus is part of a nefarious hostile plot to weaken America and embarrass it in front of the whole world, as conspiracy theorists claim, it has achieved complete success.

Small wonder that in addition to their own coronavirus trials and tribulations, America’s conduct over the past few months has compounded the anguish of fans everywhere. Lovers of America increasingly ignore news reports about the situation in the United States for one simple reason: It’s breaking their hearts. 

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