“In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.”
That’s Wade Davis in an op-ed titled “The Unraveling of America” in Rolling Stone magazine published Aug. 6 that paints a grim picture of the current state of the U.S.
Wade Davis is an anthropologist at the University of British Columbia and his post in Rolling Stone has racked up millions of page views since its publication earlier this month. For some readers it drew comparisons with an article written by Matt Taibbi in 2010 titled the “The Great American Bubble Machine” centered on Goldman Sachs as a “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”
In Davis’s article, he suggests that the days of U.S. dominance may be undone by the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected nearly 5.5 million Americans, or more than a quarter of the 21 million global total, thus far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The critique from the U.S.’s sister country to the north may be a hard pill for some to swallow, as Davis says that America’s obsession with individual rights and liberty at the expense of community has been a key point of weakness for the nation.
“More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family,” he wrote. “What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose. “
In a CBC article Davis said that he isn’t taking cheap shots at the U.S., which is an ally and trading partner with Canada, but he believes his essay was an attempt to encourage widespread introspection.
“I think of it like a family when you have to do an intervention. The first step is to hold a mirror to the face of the individual to let them know what has become of themselves. That’s the first step on the path to rehabilitation,” Davis was quoted as saying by the CBC.
Davis isn’t the only one questioning the outlook for the global superpower.
Earlier this summer, Stephen Roach, Yale University senior fellow and former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman, warned that the U.S. dollar DXY, -0.57% may face a challenge to its place as the reserve currency of the world.
The prominent economist told MarketWatch in an interview that the dollar’s decline could occur at “warp speed” and that the era of U.S. hegemony may be coming to an end, citing increases in the nation’s fiscal deficit and dwindling savings.
To be sure, the list of those who have inaccurately written about the demise of the U.S. and its leadership place in the world is lengthy.
Like Davis, Roach said that responses to his article were very visceral.
Davis says his criticism has less to do with the dominance of the U.S. currency or with the nation’s leadership in the White House, but he points out that growing disparities between haves and have-nots may be the nation’s undoing.
“At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing,” Davis wrote. “The elite one percent of Americans control $30 trillion of assets, while the bottom half have more debt than assets.”
“Economic disparities exist in all nations, creating a tension that can be as disruptive as the inequities are unjust,” he continued.
However, “What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights — universal health care, equal access to quality public education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly, and infirmed — America dismisses as socialist indulgences, as if so many signs of weakness.”
His warning comes as the S&P 500 stock index carves out its first record since Feb. 19, marking an unofficial end to a bear market that gripped the benchmark SPX, +0.23% and the broader market, including the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.24% and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, +0.72%.
However, those new highs for the broad-market stock benchmark may only highlight the fact that the U.S. economy, and the economy for much of the developed world, remains in tatters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.