American exceptionalism foreshadowed our pandemic response

By Lucia Thorne

As Americans, we have been taught to believe that the U.S. is the pinnacle of what a nation should be. To question the authority of our nation would be borderline-treasonous, as this is the best the world has to offer. 

The only time the general public seems to question America’s actions is when a whistleblower releases graphic footage or recordings of our government committing horrific actions. So, why would they choose to show us the horrors of COVID-19 when they can just show us numbers and statistics?

Seven hundred and twenty-nine thousand people have died of COVID-19 by the time that I write this story. 

Over 729,000 people, people just like you and me. They had loved ones they left behind. They had dreams, aspirations, and memories. They had a favorite movie, a favorite song, a favorite food; maybe they had the same favorite food as you do. But why do I expect no one reading this to feel saddened by this knowledge? Because 729,000 has just become a number in our minds, and unless one of those 729,000 was someone you loved, it has only been numbers since the start. 

This lack of human connection perpetuated by numerical reporting led to short lived public pressure on the Trump Administration to solve the pandemic, as the exhaustion of lockdown and the abandonment of normalcy persisted. Nineteen months after the start of the pandemic, has led to little accountability being sought after––the typical response to wrongdoing in the U.S. 

The U.S. was doomed to face drastic issues in the fight against COVID-19 from the start, all thanks to the pandemic that has infected American minds since its beginnings—American exceptionalism. 

American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is superior as a result of inherent and unique differences that set it and its purpose apart from others, has always been at the heart of this country and its ideals (or better put, its entitlement and savior complex). 

That superiority stepped foot on North American soil from the very moment that the Mayflower reached the shores of Plymouth, Massachusetts with the intention to “bring civilization” to the Americas. This ideology permeated throughout the founding of our nation and onward, from rallying cries during the Civil War to the preserving the “soul of our nation” in the 2020 presidential election. Most recently, American exceptionalism can be seen by the surplus of misinformation and partisan political conversation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ever since COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, the virus became a controversial topic. Instead of showing some sympathy to those becoming infected with a terrifying, new illness we knew nothing about, the blame game began.  

On top of blaming China for the worsening of the pandemic, news coverage only showed the numbers increasing but not the tragic spread of a disease. This dehumanized coverage created even less urgency and care in the minds of Americans because as we all know, if it’s not happening in the U.S. or in our immediate circles, it’s not actually a problem. 

Then, the circulation of disbelief and misinformation began to spread with the virus as it finally reached the U.S. The campaign of lies surrounding COVID-19, led by former President Donald Trump, infected enough of our population to create divisiveness and the perfect breeding ground for the virus to thrive. 

Trump would often make claims about the “superiority” of the American response to COVID-19.Trump would say things like, “America has developed a testing capacity unmatched and unrivaled anywhere in the world, and it’s not even close,” and “We now have the lowest fatality (mortality) rate in the world.”

Trump said he “launched the largest national mobilization since World War II” against COVID-19, and America “developed, from scratch, the largest and most advanced testing system in the world.” 

All of these statements were false, and all of them promoted the idea that the U.S. is better than the rest of the world, when in fact, we were failing in ways that a country supposedly as great as ours should never fail in. 

This misinformation only served to create an image of success while in reality, we were failing in our response colossally, both in preparedness and public policy. 

Based on the pattern of exceptionalism, this seeming disregard for today’s mistakes costing hundreds of thousands of lives will be watered down in the history books. All in the name of keeping America exceptional tomorrow.

Education in the U.S. has always historically put the U.S. on a pedestal, even painting the U.S. as the champion for the greater good when committing war crimes. In the past decade, the country’s curriculum has been attempting to abandon the “see no evil” approach to education when teaching on America’s wrongdoings, but has been met with successful pushback from conservatives.

In 2015, conservatives were outraged over the Advanced Placement US History course curriculum, leading to the College Board’s revision to include more positive recountings of the nation’s history. 

More recently, the debate has revolved around the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms nationwide– which is scrutinized by conservatives for the same reason—it paints the U.S. in “too negative of a light.” 

Not only has there been push back from the general conservative public, but the government has also attempted to take action by threatening to cut funding of schools teaching CRT and states outlawing the teachings altogether. 

Teaching about race in schools is not the only attempt at truthfully reflecting on America’s past in recent years. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick began a movement amongst athletes after kneeling during the national anthem to protest the continued oppression of Black people and people of color.

Within a few weeks, Kapernick began to receive death threats over his actions, as well as other NFL players participating in this form of protest also receiving backlash. The Miami Dolphins would not be escorted by any police deputies until they stopped kneeling, at the demands of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Clearly, criticism of America is a touchy subject for many. American exceptionalism perpetuates the idea that true patriots love the nation no matter what, even if it means crushing opposition’s criticism of the nation––better known as nationalism. 

They want to keep doing what America does best: hide behind propaganda to hide atrocities committed against its own people, especially minority groups and other countries since the establishment of the first colonies. 

But what happens when America can’t get away with sweeping something under the rug? Change finally happens. 

The Vietnam War is a great example of what overcoming American exceptionalism looks like. After years of protests, the horrors of war in Vietnam were finally broadcast at home and the Pentagon Papers were released, which proved to be enough to rally the general public together to call for an end to the war. It eventually became enough public pressure to withdraw troops and end the war. 

This war shows American exceptionalism can be defeated by undeniable evidence of failure and wrongdoing, and maybe if the pandemic was shown in a more human and realistic context rather than overwhelming statistics, it would have been different. 

But it can’t be different. Over 729,000 people, people just like you and me, that had loved ones they left behind, that had dreams, aspirations, memories, that had a favorite movie, a favorite song, and a favorite food, and that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for us to realize just how tragic this pandemic is, how human it is. It’s time we look within ourselves and how this desensitization and toxic idolization of our nation has poisoned your minds and actions.