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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Trudy Rubin: America atop the list of global shame

UPDATED: Thu., June 25, 2020

By Trudy Rubin Philadelphia Inquirer

As European Union countries rush to reopen their borders Wednesday, they have readied lists of feckless countries whose citizens will be unwelcome. Those countries all have leaders who have failed to contain COVID-19.

Guess who tops the list? Travelers from the United States, where case numbers are soaring (and not just due to increased tests), will be banned because of fear they will spread the coronavirus.

Even more humiliating, Americans are lumped together with citizens of Russia and Brazil, the club of COVID-19 losers that leads the world in infections, with the United States taking an enormous lead. Citizens of China, Vietnam and Cuba, on the other hand, are among the many countries now controlling the virus that will be welcome in Europe. Meantime, Beijing stands ready to capitalize globally on signs of American incompetence.

No one should underestimate the blow to U.S. prestige of our continued failure to test, trace and contain the virus.

The Europeans recognize the global threat posed by America’s COVID-19 chaos and by a U.S. president who believes the virus will magically vanish. Once admired around the world for scientific prowess, our country stumbles, leaderless, in full sight of an unbelieving world.

In a sane world, the European ban would shock Republican leaders into finally pressing President Trump and recalcitrant GOP governors to take basic steps toward containing the virus – like mandatory masking and a national testing and tracing strategy, with adequate federal funding.

But we may have to wait for November to try to restore sanity, along with a coherent national effort to control the virus. That wait will guarantee thousands of unnecessary virus deaths and a much harder economic recovery, along with a further drop in U.S. influence abroad.

Either way, it is essential to recognize what the Europe ban on Americans reveals.

The reaction there is largely one of astonishment that the U.S. could be so inept. “I certainly would not feel safe traveling to the U.S.,” a columnist for Italy’s La Repubblica told Bloomberg News, echoing what I’ve heard from colleagues in Europe.

Think about that. “Not safe” visiting the U.S., and not just due to gun violence, but because we can’t cope with a pandemic that most European nations have controlled for now.

And then there is astonishment at American behavior. A Bloomberg columnist in Singapore wrote: “Hovering over all this is incredulity that the U.S., which most here still see as a great nation and important counterweight to China, is engaged in a culture war over something so straightforward as wearing a mask.”

It is particularly shameful for the United States to be grouped with Brazil and Russia as the world’s leading virus threesome. Not so surprising when you consider the similarities between Trump and two leaders he admires, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. These three populists – who mobilize followers with attacks on opposition “traitors” – all have a hard time coping with a real virus enemy they can’t see.

Bolsonaro, a staunch Trump ally who has two sons under investigation for corruption, has spent months disparaging the threat of the coronavirus. Refusing to wear a mask, he labeled the virus a “measly flu” and tried to suppress data on Brazil’s surging death toll (nearly 55,000) until Brazil’s Supreme Court forced him to cease. He fired a popular health minister, replacing him with a general. As infections surge out of control, he has hinted he’d like a military takeover.

Meantime, Putin just presided over a massive military parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of Russia’s victory over Germany – the kind of martial military display of Trump’s dreams. Thousands of soldiers marched shoulder-to-shoulder without masks.

Putin himself, who fancies himself and often poses as a macho man, was of course unmasked. (Although he has been hiding out for months at his country dacha, no doubt to avoid contagion.)

European leaders stayed away from this Petri dish of a parade, but Putin no doubt hoped it would eclipse growing public concern over more than 600,000 cases in the world’s third-hardest-hit country. Experts disparage Russia’s minimal death statistics (around 8,600 deaths) as totally unreliable, with a surge in deaths attributed to other causes.

Reminds one of Trump’s recent critique of testing because “you’re gonna find more cases.”

The neon-lit message from the European ban is that we don’t want to be in the club of badly behaved nations, just as we shouldn’t be atop the statistics for coronavirus cases and deaths. There is no reason America should be behaving like Brazil or Russia.

As Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio put it, “Everyone should just wear a damn mask.” That is the sane response. But so long as Trump mocks masks at rallies, and obstinate GOP governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis refuse to order masking, we will deserve to be banned from Europe.

And so long as Trump rejects his own science advisers along with any national testing strategy, we will top the global list of shame, until November at least.

Write to Trudy Rubin at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101, or by email at trubin@phillynews.com.

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