Coronavirus shakes the conceit of ‘American exceptionalism’

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 file photo, a flag at the World War II Memorial flies upside down after it unclipped from its snaphook, before sunrise on Capitol Hill in Washington. At right is the Washington Monument. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

WASHINGTON – What if the real “invisible enemy” is the enemy from within — America's very institutions?

When the coronavirus pandemic came from distant lands to the United States, it was met with cascading failures and incompetencies by a system that exists to prepare, protect, prevent and cut citizens a check in a national crisis.

The molecular menace posed by the new coronavirus has shaken the conceit of “American exceptionalism” like nothing big enough to see with your own eyes.

A nation with unmatched power, brazen ambition and aspirations through the arc of history to be humanity’s “shining city upon a hill” cannot come up with enough simple cotton swabs despite the wartime manufacturing and supply powers assumed by President Donald Trump.

The crisis turned doctors in the iconic American shining city, New York, into beggars with hands outstretched for ponchos because they couldn’t get proper medical gowns. “Rain ponchos!” laments tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen. “In 2020! In America!”

It’s turned a Massachusetts hospital executive into an under-the-radar road warrior, working up a deal through a friend of a friend of an employee who heard about a warehouse more than five hours away with masks. Two tractor-trailers disguised as grocery trucks picked them up, dodged interference from Homeland Security and took separate routes back in case one load got intercepted on highways through the northeast “pandemic alley.”

“Did I foresee, as a health system leader working in a rich, highly developed country with state-of-the-art science and technology and incredible talent, that my organization would ever be faced with such a set of circumstances?” asked Dr. Andrew W. Artenstein of Baystate Health, who was on hand at the warehouse to help score the booty. “Of course not.”

But, he said, “the cavalry does not appear to be coming.”