On Saturday, May 30th, 2020, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department tweeted “This is a pivotal moment for the world. It will go down in history. Freedom loving people around the world must stand with the rule of law and hold to account the Chinese Communist Party, which has flagrantly broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong.”
A spokeswoman for the Chinese government responded, in a Twitter clap-back of international proportions, with a screenshot of the tweet and “I can’t breathe”, the final words of both Eric Garner and George Floyd before they were killed by police.
A few days prior to that, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tweeted “The racist and fascist approach that led to the death of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis as a result of torture has not only deeply saddened all of us, but it has also become one of the most painful manifestations of the unjust order we stand against across the world.”
Now, the Communist Party of China and the President of Turkey are not exactly paragons of virtue and justice. Yet, both countries, and many others, have felt more empowered than ever to throw stones at the U.S., disregarding the fact that they themselves live in a glass home.
This is somewhat of a new phenomenon, something that reached new levels when Donald Trump rose to the presidency and has only continued to soar to new heights (or lows, in this case). It’s not just governments, either. Protests over George Floyd’s murder took place around the globe, from Iran to London, and Berlin to Vancouver (where I live). That’s not something that happened when Eric Garner was killed by the NYPD on July 17th, 2014.
The U.S. is losing its foothold on the moral high-ground. Its stature in the global community is dropping seemingly by the day. The U.S. left the Paris Climate Agreement. It abandoned its allies in the fight against ISIS. Whereas in previous pandemics the U.S. could be fairly reliably relied on to provide international leadership and aid, America’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic within its borders has been universally panned. Furthermore, the U.S. is cutting ties with the World Health Organization.
As a Canadian, I always found it kind of odd whenever I heard Americans refer to the U.S. as “the greatest country in the world.” Sure, loving one’s country is no crime, but the way Americans said it felt like it carried with it a sense of exceptionalism and condescension. (Donald Trump verbalized this and took it new levels in 2018 when he referred to several countries around the world as “shithole countries.”)
What exactly makes America so great? Freedom?
To borrow a monologue from The Newsroom, in which household name News Night anchor Will McAvoy sits on a panel at a journalism school and is asked what he thinks makes America the greatest country on Earth:
“With a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK. France. Italy. Germany. Spain. Australia… Belgium! has freedom…207 sovereign states in the world, like 180 of ’em have freedom.”
The right to free speech isn’t so nice when people use it to justify hateful rhetoric and social media giants use it as justification to let those people persist. The freedom to bear arms is a huge contributing factor in police shootings, yet is rarely ever discussed as such. The right to protest? Former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick peacefully protested police brutality and was labeled a traitor by huge segments of his countrymen and called a “son of a bitch” by the President.
At a protest sparked by George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in late May, a Black CNN reporter audibly cooperating with police was arrested, an arrest that came before that of Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home on March 13, 2020 and not one of the officers involved were even fired until June 20th. A July 3rd New Yorker article was titled “To The World, We’re Now America The Racist and Pitiful.” An article in The Atlantic on the same day was titled “Trump Is Turning America Into the ‘Shithole Country’ He Fears.”
On the coronavirus front, while many of countries that saw the earliest outbreaks have wrestled back control, the U.S. is breaking all of the coronavirus records that you do not want to be breaking. Over 130,000 Americans have died and wearing masks is somehow still politicized. A Washington Post report noted that “Has the U.S. given up its fight against coronavirus?” was a headline spotted on the website of Germany’s public broadcaster.
Returning to the monologue from The Newsroom:
“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending — where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. […] So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
At this moment in history, the rest of the world would most likely agree.