If Fourth of July celebrations are more muted this year – as will be the case in Seattle with cancellation of the annual fireworks display over Lake Union – it will not be just because the coronavirus pandemic has shut things down and kept people at home. It will also be because the United States can no longer claim to be the world’s most well-organized, competent society nor the beacon of democracy it once was.

Rather than responding to the threat of COVID-19 with unity and an effective national plan, the United States has acted like a banana republic in which national leaders are preoccupied with serving their political interests and much of the populace is willingly duped by conspiracy theories and snake oil salesmen. While the European Union, Canada, New Zealand and Japan have implemented policies that have gotten the virus spread under control, the U.S. is in the company of Russia, Brazil and other poorly-governed countries that continue to see infections and deaths rise at alarming rates.

Perhaps it is fitting that Americans find themselves outside the circle of advanced democracies, since the president of the United States has abandoned any pretext of caring about traditional American values like human rights and fair elections. President Donald Trump has run a completely transactional foreign policy in which dictators and autocrats have won his fawning admiration and tacit approval of their repressive, anti-democratic methods.

Two current news stories are emblematic of the American predicament: European countries are banning travel from the United States because we remain health risks, thanks to our failure to beat COVID-19. Meanwhile, the president stands accused of doing nothing in response to alarming intelligence reports that Russia has put bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. 

America has not become great again. On this Fourth of July, this nation is deeply divided, governed by incompetents who are clueless about beating a pandemic, teetering at the edge of economic disaster and sharply diminished in the eyes of the world. Next July, there may be something to celebrate, but, this year, fireworks are best left in the box.

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