Pankaj Mishra · Flailing States: Anglo-America Loses its Grip · London Review of Books, 16 July 2020
‘The abyss of history is deep enough to hold us all,’ Paul Valéry wrote in 1919, as Europe lay in ruins. The words resonate today as the coronavirus blows the roof off the world, most brutally exposing Britain and the United States, these prime movers of modern civilisation, which proudly claimed victory in two world wars, and in the Cold War, and which until recently held themselves up as exemplars of enlightened progress, economic and cultural models to be imitated across the globe.
‘The true test of a good government,’ Alexander Hamilton wrote, ‘is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.’ It is a test the United States and Britain have failed ruinously during the current crisis. Both countries had weeks of warnings about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan; strategies deployed by nations that responded early, such as South Korea and Taiwan, could have been adapted and implemented. But Donald Trump and Boris Johnson chose instead to claim immunity. ‘I think it’s going to work out fine,’ Trump announced on 19 February. On 3 March, the day the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned against shaking hands, Johnson boasted after a visit to a hospital treating coronavirus patients: ‘I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.’