Remember when the coronavirus was China’s “Chernobyl” moment? That was the metaphor trotted out by a range of U.S. experts and anti-Beijing hawks in the early stages of the pandemic, when it seemed the Chinese regime’s initial coverup of the virus’s spread would have deep consequences for its opaque, autocratic political system. Eight months later, China appears to have curtailed the crisis. By the end of the summer in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, life seemed back to normal. Thousands gathered in massive pool parties in water parks. Seniors waltzed, sans masks, by the Yangtze riverfront.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has been more of a disaster for Western democracies, especially the United States. America leads the world in coronavirus-related deaths and infections. Its battle with the virus exposed grim co-morbidities, a country riven by deepening socio-economic divides, and an increasingly dysfunctional and polarized political system. Fears over the virus and mounting conspiracy theories over the credibility of mail-in ballots have led numerous experts to fret over the integrity of the upcoming November election, warning of an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Whose “Chernobyl” was this now?