American exceptionalism in a pandemic

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CDC Director Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci leave a meeting together. A screen displays the text, "Opening Up America Again."

Some scientists and environmentalists believe that the novel coronavirus is nature’s warning to us about the unsustainable ways we have been living. The rate of human development and the encroachment into the natural habitats of wild animals have left us dangerously susceptible to the spread of deadly infectious diseases, they say. 

CNN host and The Washington Post columnist, Fareed Zakaria, also fears the current crisis could be a “dress rehearsal” for an even more deadly threat because disruptive human behaviors have made future pandemics even more likely. Zakaria, the author of the new book: “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World,” argues this is a moment when global cooperation and positive change are not just necessary, but achievable.

Three Takeaways:

  • Zakaria thinks America has an “enormous capacity to reinvent itself,” but the country needs to step out of what he describes as an “exceptionalist stupor,” and our leaders need to stop being “in denial” about the failed US response to the pandemic. He says American exceptionalism has made us “smug and lazy” and hindered our ability to learn lessons from other countries that have responded much better to the crisis. 
  • Although the pandemic is global, Zakaria says the irony is that it has tended to make countries parochial, selfish and more inward looking. He believes the only way to get out of the pandemic is by having more global cooperation. There needs to be greater sharing of information between nations, particularly when it comes to the best medical and scientific approaches, and the World Health Organization needs to be better funded and given more authority, Zakaria argues.
  • Zakaria doesn’t believe the pandemic will lead to a great exodus from cities in the long term. One of the biggest challenges we face is living sustainably, he says, and city life is much more sustainable, environmentally speaking, than rural life. He argues that we do need to change our ways when it comes to risky behaviors that have led to the destruction of the natural habitats of wild animals, along with factory farming practices that create “petri dishes for powerful viruses.”
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