These profound times have personally impacted all of us in very different ways. They have revealed the extraordinary good that exists in humanity while exposing dangerous flaws inherent in our government and society.
The lessons learned from our missteps during this crisis should inform the actions we must now take – decisions that will shape the future of our world as we move forward. One hopes that the precious lives we have lost and the hard-earned business successes that have been obliterated will not be totally in vain.
People all over the world are criticizing their governments’ response to the threat of COVID-19, and though some condemnation is groundless, much of it is justified. As an American, I can say with a heavy heart that my country failed the world in this effort by not being adequately prepared for the pandemic and by recklessly refusing to take the lead on a coordinated global response.
“America leads,” former President Barack Obama once said in a news interview. “We are the indispensable nation. And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us.”
U.S. presidents, regardless of party, have always led the global response to international crises. America has unparalleled capability and resources, and while working across party lines and in collaboration with other world leaders, we have historically always coordinated international response efforts—Ebola, HIV/AIDS, H1N1, the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and the Paris Climate Accord are just a few examples.
However, now that our government is helmed by a man who proclaims “America First,” many Americans have seemingly forsaken our nation’s remarkable spirit of humanitarianism and are blatantly ignoring our legacy of goodwill and global leadership. Battered by months of misleading and false statements by the US president and government leaders in Washington, D.C. – which exacerbated insufficient preparation and a delayed and incompetent medical response – we are truly adrift in a crisis and seeking medical supplies and support from other countries. In years past, we would be serving as the caregivers.
Nonetheless, even in the absence of an impactful federally coordinated program by the current US president, several courageous mayors and governors across America have taken charge of local relief efforts with significant success. In addition, a number of private institutions, businesses, and citizens are selflessly contributing in inspiring ways. This is the American spirit of coming together. This is what has always made America great.
In Spain, as in most nations around the world, we have seen similar heroic actions – scientific and medical institutions are all working internationally to help inform their own government-led national responses, and citizens are adhering to extremely challenging regulations and taking actions to protect themselves and their neighbors.
Even Spaniards have suffered dire consequences as a result of our president’s erratic policies. Spanish olive oil, cheese and wine producers have been targeted with harsh tariffs earmarked by our president to inflict extreme financial damage in retaliation for alleged malfeasance in the aerospace industry, a matter completely unrelated to these essential consumer exports.
As we grieve our losses and pray for the millions of people around the world who are suffering catastrophic health issues and the disastrous economic effects from this dreadful virus – many that were preventable – we must strive to establish a new world order that best serves and protects our planet. In order to heal our society, we must mindfully discern the positive lessons in this tragic situation. For instance, we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. As we recently celebrated Earth Day we witnessed an unexpected blessing that is already emerging from the pandemic: the environment has begun to heal itself.
Just look outside your window – it didn’t take a United Nations resolution to significantly reduce air emissions. Our clean air is the result of the stringent social distancing recommended by scientists and medical experts to protect us from COVID-19. And Mother Nature responded brilliantly.
In counterpoint to ardent climate-crisis deniers, this is an immediate validation that the measures outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce emissions would quickly help ameliorate the damage done to our environment.
However, competent leadership and a firm reliance on science is required to take the necessary actions to save our planet for future generations to come. Science and research are not fake news.
In addition, since working remotely has now been proven both viable and effective, perhaps the Paris Climate Agreement could be amended to include the bold, even radical step of asking member states to agree to stop nonessential travel on an intermittent basis and to support the concept of remote work from home on a global synchronized schedule, say one week per quarter. If we continue to offer our planet a much-needed rest, our recent environmental gains will not be forsaken, but can be sustained and multiply.
We must work to restore trust in our leadership and join together to solve our world problems. Electing former Vice-President Joe Biden to the White House in November is the fundamental first step Americans should take to heal the soul and spirit of our nation, with the concomitant goal of immediately refocusing our nation’s global agenda.
Now is the time for the world to take action. It has never been more clear that global cooperation and goodwill are essential in order for our world to survive.
James Costos is a former US Ambassador to Spain and Andorra (2013–2017)