Opinion: The Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to end American dominance

Submitted by Michael Ennis, Class of 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings sweeping change with it, and I believe that it would be woefully foolish to dismiss this as a temporary event, one which precedes an inevitable “return to normalcy”. Rather, I believe that a catastrophic event such as this one is to be treated with similar urgency to the Great Depression, which entrenched the United States in a decade of poverty. For reference, the record unemployment rate in 1933, the deepest mire of the depression, was 25%. As of the start of May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs it at 14.7%, with room to grow, possibly to over 25% within the next 12 months.

As previously established, do not expect this to go without some manner of labor reform. During the depression, workers depended on unions and worker co-ops in order to survive. Even after World War II, union membership among private businesses continued to hold at a steady 35% rate. However, with the decline of unions from the 1950s onward, the power of workers has generally diminished. This provided that if current trends stay as they are, we should expect a labor reform in a similar manner to the one that came out of the 1930s.

I see either a decline or end to the United States’ status as the primary world power. However, I do not wish to portray this as a good thing or a bad thing; American imperialism being replaced by Chinese imperialism still keeps the status quo the same. You might perceive them as anti-democratic and totalitarian, but in that manner the Chinese aren’t much different from the United States, or any other global power of similar prominence, such as the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Simply looking at the dozen or so democratic states overthrown directly or indirectly by the United States during the 20th century proves that the ideal of American democracy may be little more than a farce. 

If you think that going to war with China is something we can do, I do wish to inform you that may be an impossibility. While the United States has by far the largest military on the planet, both it and China are armed with nuclear weapons, meaning that conventional warfare may simply be out of the question. Even if we were to decide to go to war, it would certainly be long and brutal. If the War on Terror has cost us over 17 trillion dollars and has lasted through nearly two entire decades, one can only imagine the struggle we would face with an established state, one with a powerhouse economy and a strong military. 

Photo Credit: The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Companies, even those founded in America, use cheaper Chinese labor as a means to produce goods for less, which makes it less likely that companies will side with the United States if we pressured China via an embargo on consumer goods, such as food, clothing, and electronics. It’s a matter of fact that these companies aren’t loyal to any country in particular – they will search for the most profitable option available – and we shouldn’t be surprised by that, even in the slightest. 

In terms of politics, the pandemic may affect how different policies are treated. I have no doubt that faith in the status quo, the Republican and Democratic duopoly will decrease if they react to the crisis poorly. The Republicans’ rallies to reopen the market on an individual level seem to be enacted by people who genuinely believe in their cause, but I have suspicion about the purposes of the protests, seeing as there is latent astroturfing funded by the Koch Foundation and other similar organizations, betraying the perception of this as a grassroots movement. These protests have, in my opinion, incredibly poor optics, meaning that to an apolitical outsider (the vast majority of Americans) they are often viewed in a negative light, in this case perhaps less with the shady origin of their funding, but rather as a result of the protesters’ lack of concern for spreading the virus.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a coronavirus press briefing. Image Credit: Darren McGee/Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

The Democratic party doesn’t seem to have the same optics issue as the GOP – but they still should absolutely be criticized for their actions during the pandemic. Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, has become a media darling during the crisis, as NYC becomes the epicenter of the pandemic. Even amid his proposals to cut Medicaid during the crisis, I expect that he will become a popular moderate nominee pushed by the DNC in 2024.

I believe that, sadly, by the end of this, we will be less united than we were coming in, facing the coronavirus. In conclusion, I truly do hope that things get better for Americans in general, but I also hope that we understand the issues this crisis has illuminated for us.

Michael Ennis is a member of the Class of 2020. This article is part of his Senior Capstone Project.