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America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a shocking lack of preparedness for public health emergencies. But it has also revealed what must be, for the aspiring strongman in the White House and his coterie, a more embarrassing fact: if America were to move in an authoritarian direction, it would be shedding international allies in order to enter into a competition with nationalistic authoritarian states that it probably can’t win.

The strengths that the US has built over the seventy-five years since World War II lie elsewhere—and they are ones that the Trump administration clearly doesn’t recognize. If the White House had chosen the standard liberal-democratic approach to a pandemic for which we were once well prepared, it would have prioritized public health goals: minimizing suffering and reducing mortality rates, and thereby also mitigating the damage to social, economic, and political institutions. That approach would have meant global cooperation, scientific collaboration, and humanitarian aid to poorer countries to help halt the spread of the virus.

But this administration did not choose that path. The president is a fan neither... see more