But also largely thanks to Trump, a parallel catastrophe is unfolding around the world: the ruining of America’s reputation as a safe, trustworthy and competent leader and international partner.
Call it the double whammy of Trump. Diplomatically speaking, the United States is on respiratory assistance.
“The Trump administration’s selfish, random and dull response [to Covid-19] will end up costing Americans billions of dollars and thousands of otherwise preventable deaths, “wrote Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard.
“But it is not the only damage the United States will suffer. Far from “restoring America to greatness”, this epic political failure will further tarnish [its] the reputation of a country that knows how to do things effectively. “
The adverse change could be permanent, Walt warned. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has insulted America’s friends, undermined multilateral alliances and chosen confrontation rather than cooperation. Sanctions, embargoes and boycotts targeting China, Iran and Europe have created divisions on a global scale.
For the most part, often-maligned foreign leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel listened politely, turning the other cheek in the interest of preserving wider relationships.
But Trump’s incompetence and dishonesty in dealing with the pandemic, which has left foreign observers and Americans gasping in disbelief, is too far-fetched.
Erratic behavior, tolerated in the past, is now considered downright dangerous. It had long been clear, at least for many in Europe, that Trump could not be trusted. Now he is considered a threat. It’s not just failed leadership. These are overtly hostile and reckless actions.
The furious reaction in Germany after 200,000 protective masks destined for Berlin has mysteriously disappeared in Thailand and would have been redirected to the United States. There is no solid evidence that Trump approved the case. But that’s the kind of thing he would do – at least people believe it.
“We consider this to be an act of modern piracy. It is not a way to treat transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, we must not resort to the tactics of the Wild West, “said Andreas Geisel, one of Berlin’s leading politicians. Significantly, Merkel refused to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
Europeans were already outraged by Trump’s reported efforts to acquire monopoly rights over a coronavirus vaccine being developed in Germany. The latest example of nationalist interest has heightened anger across the EU over Trump’s travel ban, imposed last month without consultation or scientific justification.
Damage to the reputation of the United States is not limited to Europe. G7 countries were dismayed that a joint statement on the fight against the pandemic could not be agreed because Trump insisted on calling it the “Wuhan virus” – his crude way of blaming China.
International action has also been hampered at the United Nations Security Council by US objections to terminology.
Trump has ignored passionate calls to create a Covid-19 global task force or coalition. He seems oblivious to the catastrophe that afflicts millions of people in the developing world.
“Trump’s battle against multilateralism has meant that even formats like the G7 no longer work,” commented Christoph Schult in Der Spiegel. “It seems that the coronavirus is destroying the last vestiges of a world order. “
Trump’s Covid-19 surreal television briefings further undermine respect for American leadership. Trump regularly spreads false or misleading information, gambles on hunches, chats with journalists and contradicts scientific and medical experts.
While publicly rejecting foreign aid, Trump has privately asked European and Asian allies for help – even those, like South Korea, whom he previously rebuked. And it continues to smear the World Health Organization in a transparent quest for scapegoats.
For a watching world, the absence of a fair and affordable American health care system, the fierce competition between American states for scarce medical supplies, the disproportionate number of deaths among ethnic minorities, the rules of chaotic social distancing and the lack of centralized coordination reminds of a poor developing country, not the most powerful and influential nation on earth.
It is a title that the United States appears to be on the verge of losing – a fall of grace that may prove to be irreversible. The internal debacle triggered by the pandemic and global perceptions of American selfishness and incompetence could change everything. According to Walt, Trump presided over “a failure of character unprecedented in American history.”
Do the Americans realize how much the moral and financial stock of their country has dropped? Maybe in this time of extreme stress, it doesn’t seem to matter. But that will matter later – for them and for the future international balance of power.
Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister, said he hoped the crisis would force the United States to fundamentally rethink “if the” America first “model really works.” The Trump administration’s response has been too slow, he said. “Avoiding international connections is expensive,” warned Maas.
A lasting resentment over how the United States disappeared in the 2020 coronavirus wars could change the way the world works.