Baltimore bridge collapse further shatters 'American exceptionalism' delusion
Published: Mar 28, 2024 06:03 PM
Photo taken on March 26, 2024 shows the collapsed bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, the US. Photo: Xinhua

Photo taken on March 26, 2024 shows the collapsed bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, the US. Photo: Xinhua

American exceptionalism - the delusion that the US is uniquely different and good - has kept a hold on me in some form or fashion for most of my life. I was never much convinced that our nation founded on genocide and slavery was ever particularly "good," but I do believe that our domination over the rest of the world means a considerable amount of undeserved privilege for us Americans. 

In early 2020, I paid little attention to reports of COVID-19 killing people because I chauvinistically thought pandemics weren't really the type of thing that touched the US in the same way they touched other nations. This presumption and callousness were startled when schools and businesses were closed and events canceled.

Since then I've had family die from the disease and our nation stands with a much larger death toll than any other. 

The US government's refusal to do what it could to protect its people during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was one of its many failures to invest in adequate infrastructure. From train derailments and resulting toxic airborne events, to unchecked pandemics, crumbling roads and collapsing bridges, America's many catastrophic infrastructure failures put the utter fragility of our system into stark relief.

Death, however, is not usually purposeful or filled with dramatic flashes. Societal collapse doesn't look fast and glorious to those living through it, so the totality of it can be easily missed. 

Collapse is slow, painful, inglorious and alienating. We can feel most alone when that which connects us all is a shared end.

Our president recently declared, "I've never been more optimistic about our future!" We do not share his optimism.

63 percent of Americans are very or somewhat pessimistic about the moral and ethical standards in our country, 59 percent are similarly pessimistic about our education system. Only 28 percent of us are optimistic about our nation's ability to ensure racial equality, and a clear plurality of us are pessimistic about our country's ability to get along with the rest of the world. 

We're sad and we don't have healthcare. Is it then any wonder that we self-medicate, and that nearly 100,000 Americans die from a drug overdose every year? 

Our wealth gap is increasing, and most Americans don't have enough savings to get through an emergency requiring even $500. Nearly half of all US roads and highways, as well as tens of thousands of our bridges are in poor or mediocre condition. 

More of us are imprisoned than the citizens of any other nation on earth, housing costs and depression are at all-time highs, and our age expectancy is dropping. Food insecurity is rising, homelessness is rising and the unhoused are increasingly persecuted by police.

American society is not well. Our system is collapsing in on itself. 

This is no lament about the impending end of American empire. Hegemonic power should never be coveted.

Though the chasm between America's propaganda about being "number one" and its limping reality as we lag behind dozens of other nations in many qualitative ways is wide and should always be highlighted, I couldn't care less about us being or having it "better than" other countries. I don't mourn for America's lost position.

What I grieve for is the way any nation's demise affects its people and land. Catastrophe can get our attention and underscore deeper issues but, on the ground, collapse actually looks and feels a lot more like decay.

The author is a Chicago-based columnist covering US politics & culture. He is also a university English & critical journalism instructor. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn