How American Exceptionalism is Exacerbating the Pandemic

A coronavirus vaccine by year’s end: That is President Trump’s hope. He promised today a vaccine at “warp speed.” But expert after expert warns that this is unlikely in the best of circumstances. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong warned in a 2018 article that the world was underprepared for the next pandemic. He has been chronicling COVID-19 and the American government’s response since the outbreak began.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But I’m very interested because, you know, you have also kind of considered a bit of the psychology. People are quite shocked that in the United States it’s the epicenter by far, the worst statistics. Here in Britain, the worst in Europe. I mean, just by far. The two countries that are the most powerful and that yet took way too long to get serious about it. Describe the sort of national characteristics that you have talked about.

ED YONG, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. So, America is famed for its sense of exceptionalism, that it is the greatest country in the world. Britain has a very different tact, it’s got this blithe spirit, this idea that it is stoic, it has stiff upper lip and all of that. I think both of these characteristics left the countries vulnerable to a threat that started in a place as distant and foreign as China. I think there was a sense that what happened in China would not hit other parts of the world or that if it did, those countries would be ready. And I think we have underestimated how vulnerable the world is because of the globalization, because of a weakening of public health, because of a devaluation in expertise. All of those things have meant that these countries that should have been much more prepared than they actually were have really fumbled in their response to this pandemic. And I think in America, we are seeing this very strange dynamic where — think about 9/11. 9/11 was an attack on the American ideal and it gave the country something to rally around. But a virus doesn’t really do that to the same extent. In some ways, the response to the virus, telling people to stay at home, diminishing their freedoms, feels more like an attack on what America is, and I think that’s contributing to some of the protests you’ve seen, some of the rush to go back into the world. That sense of not living in fear is not the right attitude when you’re dealing with a virus which doesn’t care about how scared you are.

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Ed Yong, staff writer for The Atlantic, joins Christiane Amanpour to explain how American exceptionalism could be exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis. Soccer legend Gary Lineker discusses how the pandemic is impacting his sport and the greater athletic community. Tom Nichols joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the death of expertise in American society.