Even behind China’s. This gets to something I wrote about in July, the extent to which America’s response to the pandemic isn’t just a human tragedy or an economic calamity but a national humiliation. And not a national humiliation like the Iraq war, where the U.S. failed to pull off something that no other world power could have accomplished. This is the crisis of the age and many other countries have handled it better than we have. We’re ninth-worst in the world in COVID deaths per capita among nations with a population of at least one million. We have 20 percent or so of the world’s recorded deaths from the virus despite having less than five percent of the world’s population. The leader of our country was recently exposed, on tape, as admitting to having downplayed the virus during a critical period early on.
What it means for America’s international prestige now that our incompetence has been exposed in such a glaring way is unclear. Maybe not a lot. Some western European countries have had outcomes comparable to ours, and we’ve been given a great gift by China’s relentlessly appalling behavior since the start of the crisis. They’re the rising power to which major nations logically would have turned once they realized that America is in late-stage decline, but no one wants to buddy up to the concentration-camp kommandants who are right now trying to grind Hong Kong under their heels. China’s repulsiveness may have preserved America’s status as the indispensable nation.
But clearly that indispensability is now of the “least bad option” variety, less so the “shining city on the hill” sort. The city on the hill’s too busy burying people and hosting anti-mask protests.