Another Pétain

George Packer also says the US is a failed state. (“Also” because I say that too…though not every ten minutes, as I would like to.)

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

Not all Americans, it didn’t. Trump’s reign of terror has done wonders in that direction. A country that can elect a Donald Trump (with more than three million fewer votes than the other candidate) and then be unable to remove him from power despite his long string of crimes and outrages and failures and assaults is a very broken country indeed.

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.

Which makes sense because that’s what we are. The infrastructure was already shaky and Trump has made it much worse, and as for the government…dysfunctional would be several steps up.

Trump wants us to call him a wartime president, but Packer points out that he’s another Pétain.

Like Pétain, Trump collaborated with the invader and abandoned his country to a prolonged disaster. And, like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a collapse that’s larger and deeper than one miserable leader.

It sort of has to be larger and deeper, because if it weren’t, a Trump could never have been nominated, let alone elected.

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