Pundits have been forecasting for several decades the end of the American century, and so far they have been proven wrong. But several new world rankings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are raising new fears about the country’s future.
The latest rankings come amid President Donald Trump’s taped admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he lied to the American public about the seriousness of the coronavirus, which may have cost tens of thousands of the more than 194,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States.
While the leaders of many other countries routinely wore face masks in public and urged people to maintain social distance, Trump mocked those measures and urged states to open their economies despite knowing how lethal the virus was.
Trump says now that he wanted to avoid panic — which is hard to believe, given his daily doomsday warnings about Black Lives Matter protests and potential Mexican immigrant invasions. But he was most likely eager to prevent a plummeting stock market that could hurt his re-election chances. Whatever the reasons, the hard data show that Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous.
With only 4.2% of the world population, the U.S. accounts for 22% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
What’s more, the U.S. ranks 32nd out of 36 countries in its response to the pandemic, according to a new index by Foreign Policy Analytics, the data research arm of Foreign Policy magazine. Senegal and Kenya are among the countries that did a much better job than the U.S., the COVID-19 Global Response Index says.
But beyond the U.S. response to the pandemic, other new international rankings that measure economic and social data also are pointing at a U.S. decline.
The just-released Social Progress Index, which measures 50 indicators of well-being, places the U.S. in 28th place among 163 countries. As recently as 2011, the U.S. ranked No. 19 in this index.
The Social Progress Index, chaired by Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, puts the U.S. behind poorer countries such as Greece. The ranking is led by Norway, Denmark and Finland.
Another massive study, the 2020 World Happiness Report — partly based on the Gallup World Poll — puts the U.S. in 18th place out of 153 countries, down from 15th place in 2015. The ranking is led by Finland, Denmark and Switzerland.
When it comes to the U.S. image abroad, it has generally declined during the past two decades, according to a Pew Research Center study. The percentage of Germans with a favorable view of the United States has fallen from 63% 10 years ago to 39% today, while in Spain the percentage has dropped from 61% to 52%, and in Mexico from 69% to 36%.
Still, as Mexico’s former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda says in his new book, “America Through Foreign Eyes,” what he describes as “American civilization” may be declining but has still has a long way to go.
America’s political system has become dysfunctional, among other things, because — even before Trump’s threats to question the Nov. 3 election results if he loses — an outdated Electoral College voting system that privileges smaller and less populated rural states does not reflect the country’s political reality.
While Democrats have won the popular vote in most recent presidential elections, Republican presidents have ruled during 12 of the past 20 years. That has led to a “political paralysis” that has not allowed major reforms on issues such as gun safety, immigration and civil rights in recent decades, Castaneda says.
“The United States is still way ahead of China, and will probably continue being so for the next 40 or 50 years because of its economic, military and cultural superiority,” Castaneda told me. “In the long run, China and India will probably surpass the United States, but I don’t see that happening over the next four decades.”
I agree. Even the Pew Research survey shows that the U.S. remains much more popular than China worldwide.
Trump’s terrible handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, race relations and world affairs has probably accelerated America’s fall in global rankings. But, especially if current polls are right and Trump is not re-elected, the U.S. stands a good chance of prolonging its global primacy among the big powers in the near future.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He’s at email@example.com.