• Pity the Poor Americans

    Subject to all the usual warnings about unhatched chickens, it nevertheless looks, as we come out of Level Four, that we might have cracked it. Our figures – for the total number of cases and deaths, and for the incidence of new cases in particular – compare very favourably with those in most other countries; and, not surprisingly, our efforts have been commended by the WHO as “world-leading”. We are entitled to reflect on what has been so far a great national effort.

    We owe a great deal to what has undoubtedly been effective leadership; but we are also entitled to indulge in a little self-congratulation. Our leaders have been excellent in showing the way; but we have shown, as a people, a great collective spirit and social discipline in our willingness and ability to follow the lead they have offered.

    That might not have been entirely expected, given – as some overseas commentators have remarked – our reputation as a nation of rugged individualists, and our usual unwillingness to be told what to do. There have of course been those who have found reason to complain – “there are only a handful of cases!” one unthinking woman was heard to say; some sacrifices may have been greater than others, but most of us have accepted that we are all adversely affected in one way or another, and that the sacrifice is necessary in the common interest.

    We have also had the good sense to recognise that the sooner and more conscientiously we make those sacrifices, the sooner the need for them will be over.

    We have been particularly fortunate when we compare ourselves with other countries – not least the US – that usually set the standard. Whereas we have had calm and assured leadership that has worked well with, and followed the advice of, the best science available, the Americans have had to put up with leaders who are flaky and irresponsible.

    Even in that respect, however, we can afford to pat ourselves, as a society, on the back. Our leaders reflect us; they were elected by us, and accordingly reflect our values and the qualities that we think are important.

    The Americans, in other words, have no one but themselves to blame for Donald Trump. They – and no one else – have saddled themselves with a leader who advises them, against all medical evidence and advice, to inject themselves with bleach, and who actively encourages protesters to demand an end to the lockdowns imposed by their state governments.

    It is no accident that the US is the global epicentre of the pandemic and that more than 50,000 Americans have died from the virus. The Americans are paying, and will continue to pay, a heavy price for electing and listening to a leader who is deluded and self-obsessed.

    It is increasingly clear that Trump’s view of the crisis is that it is a nursery story that must have a happy ending and that is waiting for a hero to bring that happy ending about – hence his constant quest for a vaccine or cure that he can personally claim to have found.

    The simple fact is that a large sector of the American electorate is apparently prepared to trust and listen to him, however bizarre and irresponsible his behaviour – a judgment that must be seen as an indictment of American society. Democracy can be a dangerous form of government when the voters themselves are so ignorant, prejudiced and irresponsible.

    The Americans must ask themselves how it is that the society they have created could produce such an outcome. The possibility that they might re-elect a leader who has so damagingly failed to protect them and serve their interests – and who has presided over a calamitous and virtually unique (in international terms) national inability to handle a threat that others have been able to surmount – shows that American democracy is in a parlous state.

    We get the leaders we deserve. It is a feather in the cap of the New Zealand public that we have been able to equip ourselves with a government that we can trust, and one that we are ready to follow, because it has revealed itself to be both competent and empathetic. Pity the poor Americans.

    Bryan Gould
    4 May 2020

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