The myth of American exceptionalism is 'in tatters' thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic: anthropologist
President Donald Trump hugged the US flag as he arrived to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. (AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM)

America's handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic may have permanently destroyed the myth that America is a uniquely "exceptional" country, argues anthropologist Wade Davis.


Davis, who holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia, writes in Rolling Stone that most of the world is looking at America's response to the pandemic with a sense of genuine pity.

"In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism," he writes. "At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world."

But even before the pandemic struck, Davis argued that the United States was well on its way to massive decline due to its celebration of selfish individualism.

"But when all the old certainties are shown to be lies, when the promise of a good life for a working family is shattered as factories close and corporate leaders, growing wealthier by the day, ship jobs abroad, the social contract is irrevocably broken," he writes. "For two generations, America has celebrated globalization with iconic intensity, when, as any working man or woman can see, it’s nothing more than capital on the prowl in search of ever cheaper sources of labor."

And the COVID pandemic has only made these trends worse, as the stock market has still been surging even as ordinary Americans have lost their jobs by the millions and large businesses have continued consolidating their power over markets.

"The American cult of the individual denies not just community but the very idea of society," he argues. "No one owes anything to anyone. All must be prepared to fight for everything: education, shelter, food, medical care. What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights -- universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed -- America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness."

Read the whole essay here.