At 244 years, America is a broken, humiliated country

At 244 years, America is a broken, humiliated country


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

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On July 4 America celebrated its 244th year of Independence. This year, however, it rings false to even use the word “celebration”, given the state of the country and the sickening humiliation it has been undergoing under the leadership of President Donald Trump.

On its 244th year, America is as divided as it has ever been. It is caught in the midst of a pandemic to which there has been no robust federal response; thus, no sense of national unanimity as to how to defeat it.

According to the country's Census Bureau, almost one-third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety and depression. This no doubt has been exacerbated by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a 42 per cent surge in overdose deaths in May. A Pew Survey estimates that 71 per cent of Americans are terribly displeased about the state of the country, 66 per cent being fearful for the future, and 16 per cent proud of where the country is.

There has, perhaps, never been a time in recent memory when compassionate leadership has been more absent in America. It is the absence of such leadership, at the federal level especially, why the country has failed abysmally to subdue the coronavirus. This was evident from the very beginning, as the president's first instinct was not to protect the people, but to make political calculations as to how rising numbers could affect his prospects in an election year. This has been his approach in dealing with the virus from there on. It explains the early reopening of the economy against the recommendation of the scientific experts and at a time when the virus was still raging with mounting infections and deaths in populous states.

Perhaps one of the most egregious and heartless actions on the part of the president, aided and abetted by the Republican Party which he leads, obviously with an iron hand, is the desperation to have the Supreme Court end the Affordable Care Act (ACA), called Obamacare, which has provided health insurance for millions of Americans and which would hurt millions more in the context of the pandemic. Just two weeks ago Trump reaffirmed his intention to end the law when his Department of Justice joined briefs with 20 Republican-controlled states before the Supreme Court.

I say that Trump and the Republican Party are driven by desperation as this action is an essential item in his limited bucket list to win the November presidential election. Time is not on his side to prove to his base that he honoured one of the chief promises he made in 2016. There should be no illusion as to the enormous difficulties that terminating Obamacare would mean for millions of Americans. Immediately it would end the provision that Americans cannot be denied health insurance because they have a pre-existing condition. COVID-19 would now become a pre-existing condition. This would be a huge blow in the face of the pandemic, since many Americans — including younger ones, many of whom would no longer be able to stay on their parents' health insurance — could be denied coverage. This is so despite the president's mendacious attempts to say otherwise.

Neither he nor the Republican Party has any viable plan to come up with a health insurance policy any time soon. They have not done so in 10 years, and you can be certain they will not do so in four months. What we see playing out before us is an unconscionable and reckless disregard for the health of the American people. It is all about re-electing the president. Never mind the millions of people who will suffer as a result.

What is clear is that millions of Americans who have benefited from Obamacare, especially in the area of Medicaid expansion, will be adversely affected if the ACA is ended. It is pathetic that in their cultic fealty to Trump many are prepared to endanger their own health and that of their families.

But there is just one sliver of hope in all this that may save the ACA: Chief Justice John Roberts. He single-handedly saved it before, and I can see him once again coming to the rescue and adding the vote that will save the act. If there is any smidgen of compassion left in the hearts of the conservative justices on the court, I can see this residing more prominently in the heart of Chief Justice Roberts. Too many people will be hurt needlessly by the Republicans' heartless move at a time when they are fighting to keep alive in the middle of a pandemic.

The persistence of systemic racism is yet another reason many Americans were not able to celebrate last Saturday. In protests by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement the cries go up against the brutality of white police officers against blacks. But it is more than a protest against white police oppression. It is against an America written of in the history books which they cannot recognise or identify with. For example, they cannot see themselves identified in the “we” mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in the preamble to the declaration of independence. Since their forebears were not recognised as human beings and codified as such, they know that what was mentioned in that endeared document did not apply to them. Neither did it apply to the native Indian population that had been decimated or otherwise herded into reservations and their culture defaced and erased in many ways. Intriguingly, neither did it include women who did not have a vote until the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s.

They cannot see themselves in the further dehumanisation that occurred during the Jim Crow era of segregation, which hardened the course for the institutional racism that is at work in the society, and of which police brutality, income inequality, health, educational disparities, and a host of other evils are the outgrowth.

The sad truth is that America, still the greatest nation on the Earth in terms of military and economic power, is a broken and humiliated country. Its systemic racism, political divisions, and horrid culture wars over the years have finally caught up with it. To the best of my knowledge, I cannot think of any country (with the possible exception of Brazil) that has politicised a pandemic as America under Trump has done. America is being made the laughing stock of the world when other countries whose citizens have worn and continue to wear masks know that this simple action has been instrumental in subduing and defeating COVID-19. America's humiliation in its failure to subdue the virus to date is clearly a function of broken federal leadership buoyed by deep and tragic political divisions.

Many are understandably shell-shocked at what America has become. The country is like a ship drifting on the high seas. The captain is asleep or drunk in the stern. On November 3 the people will have a chance to make a statement as to whether they will allow the ship to be steered towards safe harbour by electing new leadership or allow it to drift to its inevitable demise. And demise will be more shambolic governance from the White House, violence in the face of chaos, and anarchy from internal terror groups, growing hunger and poverty, continued loss of international respectability and prestige as America truly becomes the pariah nation. One can only hope that whatever is left of the American spirit can correct the course and arrest the path of self-immolation on which the country is clearly headed.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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