America and a Failed State

Author: Sujin Cho (Democrat)

In the recent news cycle, several articles claiming or questioning if the U.S. is becoming a failed state started coming to light. Even the Chinese State newspaper published articles categorizing the U.S. as a failed state earlier in June of 2020. People are increasingly becoming frustrated and using the term “failed state” to define the U.S. in response to this nation’s failed attempts at addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, as well as the seeming lack of a power check on the executive branch just to name a few. 

Let’s first review the common premise of a failed state.

In her article titled “Failed State” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Naval Postgraduate School assistant professor Naazneen H. Barma defines a failed state as one that completes this checklist*:

“[A failed state] is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries.”  

The United States government does project authority over its territory and peoples, and it can protect its national boundaries. Why, then, is the U.S. claimed as a failed or failing state that can be comparable to other failed states such as Yemen or Syria? How can we be patriotic of our nation, the United States, if the world views it as a failing nation?

The United States was a symbol of opportunity and, to many in other nations, a land of hope. To support this image, in a 2012 article titled “How Bad is Bad” published in ForeignPolicy by Alessandra N. Ram, the author uses the US as a standard of what a successful country should be to compare failed states and show a devastatingly clear meaning of “failure” within the top 10 failed states such as Somalia and Sudan. Now, however, the United States is slowly revealing symptoms of heading towards becoming a failed state. 

Let’s explore three primary examples from the recent past that people are using as conditions for the decline of the United States.

  1. Government mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic  

As of August 2nd 2020, the United States has the most coronavirus cases and deaths of any country at 4.8 million cases. That is nearly twice the number of cases as the country with the second most cases in the world, Brazil. Having a large population and a large land size cannot be blamed for the high number of cases in the U.S. Countries with a high population density or large land size were all able to control the virus at some point within the first half of the year, 2020. Who or what is to blame for the mishandling of this pandemic? Following the sudden surge of the Coronavirus in the U.S. earlier in April of 2020, the CDC recommended people to wear face masks as a way to help stop the spread. Face masks have been proven to help slow down the spread of the pandemic, and in countries where wearing face masks is a regular habit, the coronavirus was easily contained. On the contrary, President Trump never publicly endorsed wearing face masks; rather, he told the public “wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, and queens – I just don’t see it”. Trump would also blatantly say “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it” in regards to wearing a face mask. Finally on July 11th 2020, with nearly 3 million coronavirus cases in the United States, President Trump wore a mask for the first time in public. On July 20th, President Trump tweeted “We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”

Even though face masks were scientifically proven to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the president of the United States himself never endorsed wearing face masks until nearly two months after the U.S. death toll from the pandemic passed 100,000 lives, and also long after the United States started holding the title for having the most coronavirus cases. 

  1. The U.S. federal government’s lack of sympathy in response to the Black Lives Matter movement

The Black Lives Matter movement is an outcry for social justice. Though the movement has progressed for decades, the unjust murder of George Floyed in May of 2020 sparked a massive wave of national attention to the movement, which inspired many protests. One striking example of decreasing government legitimacy is an incident in June 2020, when peaceful BLM protesters in front of the White House were violently attacked so that the president could perform a photo-op. Though the White House denied using tear gas on the peaceful crowd, many protesters as well as news journalists at the protest reported experiencing similar effects from the smoke used as they would to tear gas. 

It is evident the government incited chaos amidst a fully peaceful protest for a reason not worth unleashing tear-gas-like smoke canisters. The lack of sympathy in regards to protestors protesting for basic social justice further undermines the idea that the United States is performing perfectly fine as is. 

  1. An individualized U.S. Executive branch

The lack of a power check on the current executive branch is a topic colossal to address in one article, but simply put the current executive branch proved itself to operate in an individual manner despite the attempts at checks and balances of the other branches. The Trump Administration seemingly spends or withholds money as the President wishes, despite what Congress says is allowed and what is not. Trump’s personal lawyer was tasked to conduct foreign policy in Ukraine in ways that violated official American policies. The president also withheld Congress-appropriated aid to a country without alerting the Congress of his plans to withhold the money, and did not experience any consequences in ignoring the Congress’ decision. 

The executive branch, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, seems to make decisions and act in defiance of what others say, jeopardizing the legitimacy of the government as a whole. 

How do these recent events align with an outsider’s perspective of the U.S. in regards to an overall assessment of whether the U.S. is a failed or failing state or not? The Fragile States Index provides more information to this question. 

In a Vox article, “Is the U.S. a Failed State?” written by Matthew Gault, Gault explains that “…the Fragile States Index [FSI], [is] an assessment of the fragility of states… The FSI looks at a number of factors—including income inequality, the state of public services, and relationships between police and citizenry—and assigns countries a score indicating…” their fragility in the best way social concepts could be represented as numbers. 

The 2020 FSI report**, published in May of 2020, includes the FSI’s 12-level scale with the best countries being categorized as “Very Sustainable” and the most fragile states being categorized as “Very High Alert”, in which the United States lands near the bottom of the third highest categorization: “Very Stable”. Interestingly, the United States is mentioned as being in the Top 20 worsened states since 2010***, with the reasoning that the United States has “…experienced years of tumultuous politics and social division” as written in the 2020 FSI report. 

President Trump himself tweeted “There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!” However, how can he, or anyone else, remain patriotic towards a country that is seemingly heading towards the direction of failure without attempting to take action to positively improve the country? What does it take to be patriotic? It is rather unpatriotic to deny the United States is doing perfectly fine as is and stay idle towards positive progression.

When observing the status quo, is the United States a failed state? 

No. 

Is the United States idle and borderline heading in the direction of failing? 

Yes. 

According to the 2020 FSI report, the United States is not experiencing a positive progression as a nation. That being said, as a country that is categorized as “very stable”, it would be easier for the U.S. to turn the trend and positively progress as a nation compared to other failed states, since the U.S. has the resources and power to do so. 

It is only patriotic to understand how our country is doing, and act upon what we can improve to progress further as a nation. 

*Definitions of failed states vary, and the entire explanation encompases a larger premise 

**The 2020 FSI report does not account for the impact from COVID-19 

***It is crucial to understand that the issues that promote inefficiency and chaos within the United States have built up over the years.

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