American exceptionalism used to imply national greatness; the most powerful military, the most global influence, the world’s defender of democracy and paragon of human rights. Throw in the best scientists and the most Nobel Prizes.
Now, under this administration, American exceptionalism means something quite different.
In a recent commentary in the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole writes America has become an object of worldwide pity. We used to be known for eradicating deadly diseases. Now we are the pandemic’s epicenter — the most infections, the most deaths, the most devastated economy and the most incompetent leadership.
Our reality TV star turned president, Cadet Bone Spurs, fantasizing about being a war-time president, called on Americans to become warriors. But the WAR he wants us to fight is a War Against Reality.
A few days ago Yahoo News ran a story headline, “No other country debates wearing masks.” Indeed, in no other country is wearing a mask to control the pandemic a matter of debate or the provocation of fights. In no other country are protesters with assault rifles demanding their god given right to make all of us play Russian roulette with a deadly virus.
No other country’s leader proffered the medical wisdom of ingesting disinfectants, internal irradiation with UV light, or popping anti-malaria pills for COVID prophylaxis. In no other country are thousands of people waiting 13 hours for a test (Arizona). Nor are they pulling funding from COVID research and forcing all their states to compete with each other in a Hunger Games battle for critical medical supplies.
Science is the means by which modern civilization emerged from the industrial revolution. Medical science — like microbiology and epidemiology — is a major contributor to a 40 year lengthening of our life expectancy since our country was founded.
Utter nonsense from the Mad Hatter in the oval office, the enablers at his Tea Party and their minions with umbilical cords tethered to Faux News are dragging us back to the Dark Ages, shoving America down a rabbit hole of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-empiricism and even anti-common sense.
But the repercussions of America being led by an anti-reality TV star, ripple far beyond the ignominy of the world’s most coronavirus infected country and 130,000 dead Americans. In no other developed country is there a debate about the reality of the climate crisis, or the weaving of florid anti-science into a shroud of climate denial public policy.
No other country has mounted an all out assault on medical research, public health, clean air, clean water, and environmental protection like this Administration. No other nation’s leader has publicly mused about the resumption of nuclear testing, or questioned why we have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them.
At the state level, an elixir of anti-science, head-in-the sand reality denial, Utah pseudo-exceptionalism, and political self-interest, is why Gov. Gary Herbert still hasn’t called for a statewide mandate to wear masks. A similar toxic melange continues to nurture our investment in looming environmental and climate disasters —the polluting inland port, more and more dirty energy extraction, the Uinta railway, a coal port in Oakland, the Lake Powell pipeline, and urban planning for infinite growth via bull dozer and asphalt.
Utah politicians toss out platitudes like, “We’re all in this together,” “We are one,” “Utah’s special,” or “Together we’ll do great things.” But how can we do great things like stop the pandemic if half the state is too “special” to wear a mask? How are we “all in this together” when the inland port will make a sacrifice zone of residents on the west side? How are we “all one” when Utah selfishly claims the right to sell its dirty energy, ignoring our contribution to an out of control climate that imperils the future of our own children?
The COVID disaster didn’t have to be this way. The same can be said about the climate crisis. In 10 years, when the inland port has delivered the inevitable pollution and congestion of tens of thousands more cars and trucks, locomotives and planes, we’ll all say again, “It didn’t have to be this way.”
A government that sees no science, hears no science, and speaks no science creates a deadly reality that is not a game, and nobody wins.
Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.