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General News    H3'ed 5/18/20

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, So Long to American Exceptionalism

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It's old news by now that President Trump has compared the arrival of the coronavirus in America to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and al-Qaeda's 9/11 assault on key symbols of this country -- the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and possibly even the White House (had hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 not crashed in a field in Pennsylvania thanks to resistance from its passengers). In fact, he's claimed that, when it comes to sneak attacks, this "invisible enemy" has been the worst by far.

However, given the president's urge to ignore the coronavirus for essentially months -- remember when "the heat" in April was going to "miraculously" make it disappear? -- two somewhat different historical sneak-attack scenarios come to mind. What if, on December 7, 1941, planes from the U.S. Army Air Forces had attacked the Navy's fleet at Pearl Harbor in a devastating scene of destruction or the Bush administration had dispatched suicidal killers to hijack commercial jets and send them diving into those symbolic buildings?

In truth, Trump, Vice President Pence, and the rest of the crew have a remarkable record when it comes to hijacking a pandemic and sending it crashing into the U.S., while leaving our country remarkably unprepared for it. In fact, to truly grasp our moment, you might have to alter those previous scenarios even more and imagine that the Trumpian Covid-19 version of Flight 93 didn't go down in that field, but made it all the way to Washington and crashed directly into a White House that visibly had no interest in either social distancing or wearing face masks -- even insisting that others take them off. (Before the coronavirus hit, of course, Trump & Company had already crashed the equivalent of more than one plane into the American environment in the service of Big Energy, threatening to turn the country's air, land, and waters into first-class hellholes.)

While the record of the president and his administration has seemed almost uniquely destructive and inept, as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg points out today, you need to give that crew credit for one thing: they managed to bring "war" home big time and destroy what could prove to be the last vestiges of a sense of American exceptionalism. Quite an accomplishment, all in all!

And one small historical footnote, given how fast this country reached Great Depression-level unemployment figures: while, historically, the Great Depression brought the U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, in Germany it brought to power Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. So, in a White House run by you-know-who in the midst of a spreading pandemic, who knows what the future holds? Tom

Over There Is Now Over Here
America's Pandemic Role Reversal
By Karen J. Greenberg

Remember the song "Over There"?

"Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming everywhere..."

Maybe not, since it was popular so long ago, but it was meant to inspire American troops saying goodbye to their country on their way to a Europe embroiled in World War I. Written by George M. Cohan, the song paid homage to an American wartime urge to do good in the world, to take what was precious about this country and spread it to less fortunate, endangered peoples elsewhere. As Jon Meacham and country music star Tim McGraw reminded us, that song's message couldn't have been simpler: The good guys are coming.

A century later, that sentiment in Cohan's lyrics had merged with a related but ultimately contrary message: the supposed determination of America's leaders to keep at bay and away the dangers rife in so much of the rest of the world. As President George W. Bush repeatedly assured Americans after the 9/11 attacks, this country would keep the threat of terrorism "over there" -- and so away from our shores. "We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America," he typically told American legionnaires back in 2007.

More than a decade later, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham offered a reminder of the lingering persistence of such an "over there" mindset. Defending President Trump's decision to keep American forces in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, he explained: "I want to fight the war in the enemy's backyard, not ours."

Trump's version of keeping danger "over there" manifested itself most notably in his attempts to keep the immigrant version of the dangerous Other over there. Beginning with his "big, fat, beautiful wall" and his Muslim ban, such efforts, including most recently his April 22nd proclamation of a 60-day suspension on immigration by those seeking green cards, have never ended.

One "immigrant" he could not keep out, however, was the coronavirus, which -- owing significantly to his acts (or lack of them) -- has played havoc with the over-there conceit. When it comes to Covid-19, undeterred by a military presence abroad or border walls, keeping the threat to this nation at bay is no longer a possibility. Instead, an array of dangers, deprivations, and fears that have long beset the rest of the world -- and from which the United States considered itself largely immune -- have now entered our supposedly separate, well-guarded, very exceptional American world. Like the giant "murder hornets" from Asia detected for the first time in the United States in April, perils once reserved for places abroad are now squarely in our own backyard.

Like it or not, Over There is now Right Here.

America as a War Zone

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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