Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. Karl Marx used it to describe Napoleon’s cataclysmic reign followed by the far less momentous and far more ignominious reign of his nephew, Napoleon III.
Marx’s saying applies well to two momentous events in recent U.S. history: the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and the current coronavirus pandemic. The American response to the first was tragic; to the second, farcical.
Let me explain. I vividly recall the aftermath to the 9/11 attacks. The world was largely supportive of the United States. “We are all Americans now” was a sentiment aired in many a country that didn’t necessarily love America. And the Bush/Cheney administration proceeded to throw all that good will away in a disastrous war on terror that only made terror into a pandemic of sorts, with American troops spreading it during calamitous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, among other military interventions around the globe.
Again, it was tragic for America to have thrown away all that good will in the pursuit of dominance through endless military action. A great opportunity was missed for true American leadership achieved via a more patient, far less bellicose, approach to suppressing terrorism.
In this tragedy, the Bush/Cheney administration avoided all responsibility, first for not preventing the attacks, and second for bungling the response so terribly. Indeed, George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 and has now been rehabilitated as a decent man and a friend by popular Democrats like Michelle Obama, who see him in a new light when compared to America’s current president.
Speaking of Donald Trump, consider his response to America’s second defining moment of the 21st century: the coronavirus pandemic. It’s been farcical. The one great theme that’s emerged from Trump’s 260,000 words about the pandemic is self-congratulation, notes the New York Times. Even as America’s death toll climbs above 50,000, Trump congratulates himself on limiting the number of deaths, even as he takes pride in television ratings related to his appearances. The farce was complete when the president unwisely decided to pose as a health authority, telling Americans to ingest or inject poisonous household disinfectants to kill the virus.
Tragedy, then farce. But with the same repetition of a total failure to take responsibility. As Trump infamously said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the botched response to the pandemic.
9/11 and Covid-19 may well be the defining events of the last 20 years. After 9/11, Bush/Cheney tragically squandered the good will of the world in rampant militarism and ceaseless wars. Then came Covid, an even bigger calamity, and now we have our farcical president, talking about the health benefits of injecting or ingesting bleach and similar poisons. At a time when the U.S. should lead the world in medical expertise to confront this virus, we’ve become a laughingstock instead.
What comes after farce, one wonders? For too many Americans, the answer may well be further death and loss.