Lionizing national pride and repudiating the so-called ‘non-patriotic’ at a time when a deadly virus is sweeping the world, indiscriminate of national borders, is proving a dangerous and ineffective response to tackling coronavirus.
In the U.K., the weekly Thursday evening Clap For Our Carers ritual sees millions gather on their doorstep to show their appreciation for so-called frontline workers risking their lives – a patriotic act designed to show solidary and that we’re “all in this together.”
Those who view this engineered social rite as a hypocritical attempt by the populist right to recruit the NHS to their political project, are in minority, such a minority in fact that anyone failing to take part in the weekly clap are exposed to being ostracised by their neighbors, labeled as unpatriotic, unsociable and even uncaring.
In an article about why some health workers have had enough of people clapping, an NHS doctor outlined a motive behind the non-clappers’ decision to be invisible from the weekly ceremony, writing: “It is [the clapping] a sentimental distraction from the issues facing us.”
Drooling over the nationalistic weekly banging of saucepan lids whereby neighbors compete to make the loudest noise and frown upon the no-showers, distracts from the most productive way we are going to tackle this crisis – through a collaborative global response.
As right-wing leaders blame globalization for the spread of the virus, spread a rhetoric of antagonism towards other countries, and promise to surrender ties with other nations in response to the crisis, ad-hoc, disjointed and, in many cases, fatally ineffective government responses, shows just how much globalization and international action and collaboration is needed.
Academics are internationalists. Ideas don’t respect national boundaries and academic conferences are invariably international. This is especially true with science. Rather than acting independently, research shows that the basic needs of people regardless of the geographic location, such as good health and education, are best achieved when world leaders work with a global mindset.
For example, global collaboration proved to be an effective response to the outbreak of the West African Ebola virus. In July 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a collaboration with 11 different countries on a strategy to coordinate support to combat the pandemic and, by September 2014, a huge international response to the crisis was underway. In July 2018, following the end of the ninth outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the WHO congratulated the international efforts to successfully end the outbreak.
At the time, WHO called for global efforts to stop other deadly outbreaks. Sadly, with COVID-19, we have not seen enough in terms of the global collaboration required to collectively stamp out the disease.
Instead, we’ve seen debilitating fractures in international cooperation, an almost obsessive rivalry escalate on who and where are conducting the best and worse responses to the crisis, and a rhetoric of hostility being directed towards those deemed responsible for the spread of the virus.
An example of the fracturing of international cooperation can be found in France and Germany’s banning of the export of protective masks and other PPE. The move was criticized for dissenting from the spirit of the E.U., with top E.U. officials calling for solidarity among member countries in the face of the coronavirus.
The seemingly obsessional rivalry between countries’ independent responses and how they have fared in terms of infection and fatality rates have been constantly pushed in front of us in the form of graphs and tables as the virus swept across the world.
In the U.K., the media have been quick to publish such ‘league tables’ as an indication of how Britain is faring in its response compared to other countries. Such ‘evidence’ has also been used by government opposition in the House of Commons as proof of the U.K.’s inadequate response.
Rather than using other countries’ COVID-19 successes and failings as a productive measure to visualize where governments are going wrong and create much-needed cross-border cohesion, they’re being used as another political tool to score brownie points and spread a climate of antagonism.
Such culture of blame, antagonism, patriotism and deliberately cutting off ties with other nations, is painfully blatant, but sadly expected, in Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic. Asides the aggressive labeling of the pandemic as the “Chinese virus” to whip up a culture of hostility towards China, Trump has been quick to undermine multilateral alliances.
Rather than encouraging the collective, global scientific approach the pandemic desperately needs, Trump deliberately isolates the United States from such a required international response. This hostile, childish and painfully irresponsible “shooting yourself in the foot” reaction, saw Trump remove funding from an America research institute because they worked with Chinese scientists.
In response to Trump’s tactics, Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard, summed up sentiment felt towards the U.S. President:
“The Trump administration’s self-centered, haphazard, and tone-deaf response [to Covid-19] will end up costing Americans trillions of dollars and thousands of otherwise preventable deaths,” Walt wrote.
While the Johnson administration’s response might not be as fiercely irresponsible as Trump’s, the promoting of ‘our NHS’ (as Johnson proudly labels it) exemplified by the patriotic yet deemed by some as hypercritical act of Clapping for Our Carers every Thursday – hypercritical in the sense that the creation of ‘our NHS’ was voted against by Winston Churchill’s Conservative government in the 1940s 22 times before the Act was passed, the fact that consecutive Tory governments have grossly underfunded the NHS in recent years meaning many who work there are unacceptably underpaid, while simultaneously seeking to increasingly privatize the health service – traps the U.K. in a patriotic bubble at a time when global collaboration is so desperately needed.
As a self-confessed ‘clapping refusenik’ who felt ostracised by neighbors for refusing to join in the weekly Clap for Our Carers spectacle on an affluent street in a south Manchester suburb told me:
“Being trapped in the kind of nationalist silos so favored by the likes of Johnson and Trump, is preventing science from moving forward. More deaths will be consequence of trying to deny international scientific co-operation.”