PATRICK LAWRENCE: US Defiles ‘Common Humanity’ During Pandemic

Washington’s priorities are maintaining divisions, suspicions, animosities and enmities as if there were no global humanitarian crisis.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Cuba sends 50–odd doctors and nurses to Italy, among the nations the COVID–19 virus has hit hardest. It was Cuba alone that assisted Britain in managing passengers on a stricken cruise ship in the Caribbean earlier this month. At writing, Havana is poised to send  “medical brigades” — just what they should be called — to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Jamaica, and Grenada. The struggle continues, let us say.

China dispatches aid, equipment, and doctors to Italy, Serbia, Iran, Venezuela, the Philippines, and other countries fighting the corona virus onslaught. Italy, believe it or not, is discussing the dispatch of medical assistance from Venezuela.

Russia sends convoys of aid, notably testing kits, to 10 ailing nations, among them Iran, Belarus, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, North Korea, and Mongolia. South Korea “will provide as much support as possible,” President Moon Jae-in told President Donald Trump by telephone last week, “if there is spare medical equipment in Korea.” Seoul sent $5 million worth of medical equipment to Wuhan, the first epicenter of the virus, in the early days of the pandemic.

Cuban doctors arriving in Italy to help during the pandemic. (Twitter, @JoseCarlosRguez)

There must be more of this going on. Surely there will be as the weeks of crisis proceed. What do we witness? The world draws together — or some of it, anyway. This is the unity and solidarity we Americans wish we could summon among us but cannot. We find it primarily and not so oddly among non–Western nations. The next paragraph is a review of what America is doing for the sake of common humanity in the face of a common crisis.


Instead, the Trump administration, the grotesquely small-minded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bearing the standard, warns other nations away from accepting assistance from those such as Cuba that respond to COVID–19 in selfless behalf of others. The secretary of state, and many others in his poisonous camp, regularly belittle such efforts as nothing more than cynical efforts to enhance public images. They are not the ones in need of such things now, if you have not noticed.

Undermining US-China Cooperation 

When President Donald Trump telephoned Chinese President Xi Jinping to request China’s assistance last Friday, Xi agreed “to unreservedly share our experience in prevention and control efforts and treatment with the World Health Organization and countries including the U.S.” This was a wise burying of the hatchet, but against what background?

Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser, quickly asserted that Americans must be wary of this as a “propaganda exercise.” Gazumping  the administration’s relentless China hawk, Pompeo disrupted a session of Group of 7 foreign ministers by insisting their final communiqué refer to COVID–19 as “Wuhan virus.”

Not for the first time, the bovine secretary flopped in the presence of his more civilized (if far from faultless) counterparts. A day before the Trump–Xi exchange, Pompeo’s Deep State Department — there is appeal in this latest Trump coinage — let it be known the U.S. is considering expelling more Chinese journalists. They are “foreign agents, not ‘journalists,’” a department spokeswoman announced paranoiacally. Just the time for this.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting to the media, March 25, 2020. (State Department, Freddie Everett)

Elsewhere in the news, as they say, the Justice Department finds this the right moment to bring patently silly charges of “narco-terrorism” against Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s eternally beleaguered president.

On Friday, the Agency for International Development, that long-reliable instrument of U.S. coercion, “regime change,” and all around disruption, announced it would cut off aid worth tens of millions of dollars to Yemen’s health care programs. A.I.D. cited the presence of Houthi rebels in northern Yemen—where there have been Houthi rebels, excuse me, for many years.

Where would we be without another strike at the Iranians? Treasury announced yet another set of sanctions against Iran last Thursday in full knowledge of the unconscionable damage the U.S. is doing to Tehran’s campaign to fight COVID–19. As Caitlin Johnstone astutely points out, this is back-door biological warfare; Washington is up to the same thing in Venezuela, of course.

One of the truly touching moments in the past couple of weeks’ events was captured in a Reuters video shot as Cuban doctors disembarked in Italy last Monday. Asked whether the Cubans in white coats were nervous about treating patients where COVID–19 is rampant, a gray-haired physician with smiling eyes named Grasiliano Diaz replied, “Whoever says he isn’t afraid is a superhero, and we’re not superheroes. We’re revolutionary doctors.” After 60 years, the Cubans still know who they are and still hold high their purpose.

Jealous Preservation of Power

Put this next to what the U.S. has got up to lately. Washington’s priorities are maintaining divisions, suspicions, animosities, and enmities as if there were no global humanitarian crisis. Indeed, it is taking advantage of the crisis when and wherever there is opportunity. Self-interest is paramount, the jealous preservation of power our leadership’s highest value.

Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican and the stupidest person taking up valuable space in the Senate, now furthers a new rehearsal of precisely the “yellow peril” racism that shamed this nation a century ago. “China unleashed this plague on the world,” he told Fox News in an interview that must be seen to be believed, “and there will be a reckoning when we’re on the back side of it.”

Eli Lake, among Israel’s most reliable running dogs, argued in a Bloomberg column  that Washington should point-blank ignore Iran’s repeated pleas for sanctions relief in view of its inability to counter the spread of COVID–19 effectively. The head says it all: “The corona virus is not a reason to lift sanctions on Iran.” Together with Cotton, Lake must be counted among the outstanding cretins of last week, although it is perfectly true they articulate what a depressing number of Americans think—or think they think.

A few months into this crisis, there is a fundamental distinction to be made between strong nations and the merely powerful. Cuba proves a strong nation, as does China, as does Russia, as does South Korea, as do Iran and Venezuela even in their debilitated states. The U.S. is nothing if not powerful, but by the same token it is also revealed now as nothing, if not weak.

“It is the choice our leaders make as they refuse to surrender an ephemeral preeminence to a salutary reconnection to the rest of humanity.”

In a word, the America of 2020 proves itself entirely incapable of transcendence even amid the direst circumstances since World War II. Václav Havel, the late Czech president, delivered a splendid speech on this subject in the mid–1990s to an audience of Americans in Philadelphia — just the people who needed to hear it. He meant “transcendence as a hand reached out,” as “a joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not,” as “the only real alternative to extinction.”

Wholly lacking in this capacity, we Americans are about to discover that COVID–19 is nicely on the way to proving our Waterloo. One is all for the drowning of American imperial hegemony in a rising sea of multipolarity and the non–West’s emergence to a position of parity.

This now occurs before our eyes and is inevitable as history’s wheel turns. The pity of it is, by the evidence to date, that this will also prove America’s moment of precipitous decline. This was not inevitable. It is the choice our leaders make as they refuse to surrender an ephemeral preeminence to a salutary reconnection to the rest of humanity.

Who would have thought we would tumble so swiftly down our big rock candy mountain? One imagined multipolarity and decline, if America choses decline, to be a phenomena that arrived gradually over the course of years. Now they knock urgently on our doors.

On March 4, 1933, the newly elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Americans in the depths of the Depression, “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” He did a good job of it. This was his “only thing we have to fear” speech.

“Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply,” F.D.R. said.

“Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence… Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.”

Political speeches now are cotton candy by comparison. In these remarks, the great New Dealer transcended the quotidian clutter of his moment. And what of us? Are we left now only with opportunists in Washington and the conniving profiteers?

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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28 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: US Defiles ‘Common Humanity’ During Pandemic

  1. Joe
    April 1, 2020 at 08:03

    If you have dealt with an individual narcissist, an unempathetic, selfish, cowardly, dismissive shell, you can easily extrapolate her/him to the American condition. Like the narcissist, collectively, America is dying from the inside out. For those of us with hearts and compassion, we must redouble our efforts.

  2. geeyp
    April 1, 2020 at 00:59

    From the story in, now the “resisters” are whining that President Trump has accepted medical aid from Russia. It shows a plane fully stocked with med supplies taking off for the USA. What very small tiny, wee wee little people these whiners are.

  3. Realist
    March 31, 2020 at 15:33

    The exceptional and indispensable country sure acts like a bunch of dishonorable, sadistic penny-ante punks whose idea of sport is taking knee-cap shots at Good Samaritans everywhere. Did I leave anything out?

  4. Jeff Harrison
    March 31, 2020 at 14:19

    The Chinese, masters of the insult, had a term for those who fought for the US in Vietnam- running dog lackeys of the capitalist, imperialist warmongers. Shall we list the running dog lackeys today?

  5. March 31, 2020 at 13:56

    Great article but equally so is the commentary on CN. To Sam F., yes it is sympathy that is lacking but before it empathy, to have the capacity to feel pain where it exists and ergo to express sympathy for the many victims we have created and others who are suffering for other reasons.

    • Sam F
      March 31, 2020 at 17:55

      Yes, I use the term sympathy to avoid having to define empathy and the differences, which are not widely agreed (Sympathy: Gr. sumpatheia, affected by like feelings, v. Empathy: Gr. empatheia, passion), and modern usage varies. But “the capacity to feel pain… for the many victims… who are suffering” is indeed the key.

  6. March 31, 2020 at 12:54

    A Nation which is in decline enters in to a survival mode and (in the process) typically surrenders once admirable virtues. Sad it is that others from foreign lands must set the example for our fallen American empire. Pompeo is reflective of the soul-less rogues who have only the ruse of self deception to justify their lack of humanity. An excellent article sir!

  7. Vera Gottlieb
    March 31, 2020 at 11:08

    The entire Western MSM is too much of a coward to let readers know about Cuba’s involvement. Having to swallow ones pride does leave a very bitter taste, eh?

  8. Vera Gottlieb
    March 31, 2020 at 10:58

    The “exceptional” nation and the “exceptional” people. This PR might have worked in years past but, perhaps thanks to world-wide internet, this “exceptionalism” just doesn’t hold water any longer. A nation that is so into itself with total disrespect for the rest of humanity, total disrespect for our environment and with the total belief that we, non Americans, are here to serve it. Not exceptional but exceptionable…

    • Sam F
      March 31, 2020 at 19:41

      Yes, the world must enjoy watching the exceptional US rogue suffer for its carelessness and hubris, with no one to blame but itself. Today it has over twice the CV cases of China with one-fifth the population, its rate growing rapidly as theirs levels off. And that despite China’s warnings and advance experience with the problem. Perhaps disaster will show our common humanity, if not reform the US.

      Germany seems to have low infection rates like China, due to better testing, treatment, ICU capacity, and isolation with their more rigorous cultures. Epidemics may not target the rich, but can select nations too luxurious and self-obsessed to take precautions early. New disasters befall former democracies led by demagogues, who create foreign enemies to pose as protectors, showing that the real enemies were the demagogues.

      Sanctions by the US may have made Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba more exceptional than the US in susceptibility to the virus: together they have less than a third of the infections of their US-supported neighbors.

    • Melissa W.
      April 1, 2020 at 10:12

      US empire has the Highest renonciation fee in the world, a whopping $2350, plus FATCA, IRS mafia, and citizenship based double taxation in line with only 1 other Eritrea- a African dictatorship. The US empire was The sleazy roach motel. Easy to check in but you cannot check out without tons of punitive measures and being called a defector. Hopefully, flu/virus may shine some reality light on the fake US with its « pants down »—showing the real countries what the US really was and what it sourly stood for.

  9. March 31, 2020 at 10:29

    A Nation in decline seeks to preserve itself at the expense of all others. Americas own citizens are feared by the cabal which occupies her throne as their nakedness is exposed. The sad part is that souls bereft of human kindness like Pompeo think they are justified and are thus snared in their own deceit. Excellent and informative article.

    • OlyaPola
      April 2, 2020 at 10:48

      “like Pompeo think they are justified and are thus snared in their own deceit.”

      The conflation of a component with a laterally interacting system limits perception of opportunities.

      Like Mr. Gulliver and other invaders, the like Pompeos are snared by many threads, some fashioned by the Lilliputians to avail themselves of opportunities facilitated by the like Pompeos, although the like Pompeos are loathe to accept this since Lilliputians are “small people”.

  10. geeyp
    March 30, 2020 at 23:18

    The clearly shown vacuousness of Cotton is his constant threat of a war du jour. The same with Pompass. To quote radio host Mike Malloy: ” Have I told you lately how much I hate these people?”

  11. Sam F
    March 30, 2020 at 20:57

    The US may be very lucky to be decimated by disease before it causes a nuclear war, saving itself and the world centuries of its tyranny over a contracting empire, before its slave class sees that it is not a democracy, but an oligarchy of economic exploitation.

    US institutions were left open to economic corruption because there were no concentrated economic powers when the Constitution was written: they slowly seized control of its mass media and political parties.

    After WWII the US could have built the roads, schools, and hospitals of the developing world, lifting it from poverty, ignorance, malnutrition, and disease, an American Century of moral leadership. Instead its empty suit of armor lunged about the world madly, bullying the poor, who lifted themselves. The world bids “good riddance” to the corrupt empire of gold, however it destroys itself.

    The foundation of civilization is the education of Sympathy, especially among the fortunate and powerful. Sympathy is taught by experiences that few can have outside of literature or other media, because they are rare, dangerous, or require wise interpretation.

    History, the litany of human error, must become literature to educate morally. Its warnings are ignored by the tyrants over democracy against whom Aristotle warned, who create enemies to pose as protectors and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty. Religion limited to the memorizing of good principles does not teach them. Both must be raised into literature to teach sympathy.

    Political decay obscured the lessons of literature, a hard sell because it contains some tragedy. It is read primarily by students who have little time. Literature fails where money controls mass media, where business primitives attack sympathy, leaving us only the forms of civilization filled with the savagery of ancient times. We must now retrace its prior progress in regulating power.

  12. March 30, 2020 at 19:03

    I run out of superlatives for how evil the U.S. government has become. It’s beyond out vocabulary and beyond imagination. It’s like the mafia and the nazis got together and decided to take over the country for their own personal profit and do everything that can to create true horror in the world, *** and no, guys, that is not a compliment.
    The Covid-19 virus pandemic is not the ultimate culprit, and setting aside my hatred for the psychopathic morons that pushed the economy to the brink, the nazis and the mafiosi and not entirely to blame either.
    I have written a book called “The Secret of Money” and I hope it will soon be published. It outlines how money, (as a scarce commodity), rules our society, world societies. It turns everything into competition, and the bad thing about that is nobody competes like the psychopaths dedicated to the acquisition of wealth & power. Money is like the Ring of power in Tolkiens novels, and the economy is like “The Matrix” in the movie, which I urge people to see again, or for the first time, if you haven’t seen it before. The book is the red pill, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
    Search online for “The Secret of Money,” and me “Fred Williams.” You’ll find a page with a 12,000 word essay on the topic, which was an inspiration for the book which is over 3 times the length. Be Aware: If you understand what you read, your life and goals may be changed, but if we work to decorporatize our society and build cooperative economies, we would have only a little trouble dealing with this pandemic.
    Good Health, everyone! Stay strong.

  13. Drew Hunkins
    March 30, 2020 at 18:17

    “Asked whether the Cubans in white coats were nervous about treating patients where COVID–19 is rampant, a gray-haired physician with smiling eyes named Grasiliano Diaz replied, “Whoever says he isn’t afraid is a superhero, and we’re not superheroes. We’re revolutionary doctors.” After 60 years, the Cubans still know who they are and still hold high their purpose….”

    If this doesn’t get you, you’ve got no humanity in the fiber of your being.

    • March 31, 2020 at 12:31

      Very well said,we all should salute the Cuban experience.Very proud of my Cuban Comrades;somehow this tells me that even though,the cubanos claim to be atheist,they are also, ultimately….christian.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    March 30, 2020 at 18:13

    “The next paragraph is a review of what America is doing for the sake of common humanity in the face of a common crisis.


    Haha! Sad and pathetic.

    • March 31, 2020 at 08:43

      I would add that we’re doing more than “nothing” – we’re being the cruelest nation on earth.

    • Joe
      April 1, 2020 at 08:11

      Drew and Sandra, you are both so correct. I am torn between anger and tears for what we have become. And we now have overlapping generations that do not give one whit, as long as they have devices, apps, games, and insipid lives, that they delude themselves into believing are fulfilling. Human connection, relationships, etc., are disposable at the very moment actual effort is required. Sad.

    • Melissa W.
      April 1, 2020 at 10:04

      Why America Failed by Morris Berman. The US was a failed empire. 40o yrs+ Of emptiness- Hustlers, hucksters, and war mongering imperialists. The problem with America, was Americans. Dumber than a box of rocks, yet proclamations « greatness?! »

  15. AnneR
    March 30, 2020 at 17:40

    Thank you very much, Mr Lawrence, for this most pertinent overview of the imperium’s politics at this time of world distress, death and disease.

    As a side note, the EU in Brussels would appear to be much akin to DC – well, bien sur, being vassals – in the hawking of the idea that Russia and possibly China are really up to no good with all of this aid to Italy; Russia is using the assistance to undermine the EU, so the Brussels lot purport. Of course, none of their national governments have lifted a bloody finger to give aid to Italy or Spain…Another way in which they resemble DC.

    The Strumpet is bad enough – but Pompeo is the antithesis of humane, human even. An out and out pathological obscenity. Were I not an atheist I would wish for him the fires of hell… And then he pretends to be a christian. But clearly, if he is indeed, he is not of the sort that troubles his non-existent conscience with the NT. No sirree – the Jesus person portrayed in the first four gospels is too much of a humanitarian, too *Communist,* too concerned with helping the poor and ridiculing the rich. No, the OT is much more up Pompeo’s street.

    Sickening. Economic sanctions are siege warfare; they kill by starvation, by lack of essential medicines and other essentials. At this time of pandemic to continue with such warfare, to deliberately procure the deaths of thousands of Iranians, Venezuelans by refusing to lift sanctions and instead to only increase them demonstrates beyond any doubt that as an administration, as a bureaucratic political edifice (DC politicos – after all, where are the loud protests against the continuance of these sanctions, of the cutting of aid to Yemen among the Dems??? at this dreadful time) this country is seriously lacking in humanity, all of its “religiosity” notwithstanding.

    Obscene, grotesque. Inhuman.

    • bobzz
      March 31, 2020 at 13:57

      AnneR, I find it interesting that you, an atheist and many other unbelievers, know more about the heart of Jesus than born-again, Christian Zionists like Mr. Pompeo. Christians smart over criticism, but everyone knows over 95% of legislators profess to be Christian. If legislators really knew Jesus, this nation would be going 180 degrees in a different direction. And we wonder why unbelievers are criticizing us. We are not being persecuted; we are experiencing ‘blowback’ that we have brought on ourselves. The vast majority of Christians are unaware that Jesus ‘ wall of separation’ was thicker than Jefferson’s, so we our votes out of narrow concerns keep sending ‘enforcers’ to office. Peter tells us that judgment will begin first with the church. We could, if we knew Jesus, be quietly influencing the nation we profess to love for good. We do a lot of good deeds in private but fail when comes to the big picture; we are not pouring oil on troubled waters but stirring them. My sermon for the day.

    • rosemerry
      March 31, 2020 at 16:56

      I have yet to hear from any of these “Christians” like the Mikes Pence and Pompass, as well as Trump, what harm Iran has actually done , or even threatened, to the USA, to enable them to withdraw from a meticulously constructed effective agreement the JCPOA, then spend ever since “sanctioning” and destroying the Islamic Republic. All the fanciful lies do not wash,yet the hatred shown and the vicious destruction of a culture which these arrogant ignorant “leaders” have decided to destroy (replaced with what? another Shah?)have no relation to humane and forward-looking cooperation which could allow peace and a level of understanding among potential enemies. In that way “natural disasters” can also be overcome. That certainly is not the case with the USA now.

  16. March 30, 2020 at 17:39

    Thank you, Patrick.

  17. Pedro del grifos
    March 30, 2020 at 16:52

    Yes, Mr. Lawrence, we do seem to be left only with opportunists and conniving profiteers. Any who might rise to remotely resemble FDR seem to be quickly marginalized. Thank you for including that memorable portion of his speech, and for your article.

Comments are closed.