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American Un-Exceptionalism in the Time of Coronavirus

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The appalling response to the coronavirus pandemic on the part of the administration, Congress, corporations, and certain segments of the public should be cause for a serious reconsideration of our priorities as a country.

The current crisis highlights, as little else has, a lack of social cohesion among Americans: Clearly, we are not all in this together. The startling lack of civic solidarity has only been exacerbated by the stunning incompetence of the Trump administration.

To discuss the current crisis, I spoke to author and photographer Ann Jones.

Jones, a Distinguished Fellow at the Quincy Institute, is an astute observer of American decline, having chronicled our misadventures in Afghanistan, while at the same time documenting the political and social dysfunction that plagues us at home. Her 2016 Nation essay “After I Lived in Norway, America Felt Backward” should be required reading for those searching for an alternative to the economic and social policies that have failed us.

I began by asking Jones, who recently returned to the United States from Norway, how she thinks this country is handling the crisis, particularly compared to our European counterparts.

James Carden: You just returned from Norway by way of Boston’s Logan airport. Can you talk about your initial impressions of the respective American and Norwegian responses to the crisis upon landing?

Ann Jones: The day after Trump’s March 11 announcement of a “travel ban” from Europe, anxious Americans abroad felt an urgency to get home before Trump did something worse. So, like the frantic parents of US students abroad, I paid top dollar for an inflated ticket home from Norway. On the second leg of that journey, from London, I was wedged among some 200 students, including many coming from Italy, for a seven-hour flight to Boston. There, under the low ceiling of Logan’s cramped arrivals room, we spent a few more hours together, inching along—more a mob than a line—to the passport controllers, and then one at a time to a small room for an official “Screening.” I’m an old woman—a member of an endangered group—and by that time I was fairly exhausted. But the masked woman in charge asked me no questions. Indeed, she seemed scared to inquire about my condition; she just gestured to some pamphlets on a table and told me to go home and take my temperature. That was the entire “screening.”

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