Dick Brass: How us Americans have already flunked the biggest stress test of our lives

COMMENT

I was supposed to be with you, safely in Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand and well clear of Donald Trump’s America. But I screwed up the plan.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dick Brass. And although I’m best known as a former Microsoft exec and one of the inventors of spellcheck, I used to be a journalist in New York City and an editor of America’s largest paper then, The Daily News.

As a result, like most Manhattan residents, my wife Regina and I were familiar with Trump’s stunts. We knew his presidency would be a colossal train wreck. True fact: Trump got just 10 per cent of the votes against Hillary Clinton in Manhattan, where he lived longest and was known best. Ten! If a candidate named Ebola Mussolini was on the ballot, he’d get more votes than 10 per cent.

So when Trump was elected, we quickly applied and were granted permanent residency in your wonderful country. But we delayed coming and finishing the process. We knew all our friends and family would come visit us … once. And then we’d never see them again. When we were finally ready, the pandemic hit. Borders quickly closed.

I imagined that in New Zealand, my new neighbours and friends would ask me to explain what the hell had happened to America.

They would say: Why do 40 per cent of you passionately backTrump? What’s with the armed anti-mask open-carry types plotting to kidnap a state governor? Why is the pre-eminent medical-science nationdoing so badly against Covid? Are you going to become a faux democracy, like Russia and Turkey? Will Trump lose, win or steal the election?
And I would oblige as best I could. But because I’m here, thanks to my kind editors at the Herald, I will try instead to do the same from just north of Seattle.

These next few weeks are probably going to be quite a ride. There’s still a good chance a blowout tidal wave for Biden will force Trump peaceably from office. But Trump has consistently refused to say he’d abide by the election results. He has worked hard to sow doubt about almost non-existent election fraud. He has deliberately messed up the US Post Office’s ability to deliver our tens of millions of mail-in ballots. He has told armed militias to “stand back and stand by”. So if the election is close, no one should be surprised if there is turmoil, chaos and more than a little violence.

This would be just our local circus, if America’s footprint on the world was a bit smaller. But if Trump remains President, and America descends into full-blown “populism,” and a truly unpredictable or unpalatable foreign policy emerges here, New Zealand and all our traditional friends will need to rethink their relations with us. The truth is, they already are and have been for four years.

I’m hopeful we will muddle through, optimistic but not completely sure. It’s hard to ask for re-election when you have allowed about 225,000 Americans to die of Covid, versus less than 460 in South Korea and just 25 in New Zealand. The polls clearly favour Biden. But on the other hand, America has already flunked the biggest stress test of our lives this year.

Think of the virus as a stress test for the nations of the world, like 2008 was a stress test for the economy and the banks.

People argue all the time about which nation is better. Which has happier people or richer people? Which is more or less repressive? Which is more or less honest and more or less democratic? Lists are regularly compiled, eagerly read by would-be expats such as ourselves.

But it’s usually a difficult judgment because every country has good and bad episodes. Good and bad leaders. Good and bad aspects. But now, every country in the world is being subjected to approximately the same stress and challenge. And we can see which countries care more about money than people, which lie, which are cruel or crazy … and which act rationally, effectively, decently and compassionately.

And thanks to computers and digital statistics, you can see the results not only qualitatively in the decisions made but also quantitatively in the number of cases, the number of dead and the economic numbers.

So far, Taiwan, South Korea and New Zealand look brilliant. Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Norway and Senegal look very good. Germany, Israel and Canada look good. China looks much better than expected. Ireland looks better than England. England looks bad. And America looks like the ridiculous giant banana republic we have become.

Do we stay this way? Get better? Get worse? The next few months will tell the tale.

Dick Brasswas vice-president of Microsoft and Oracle for almost two decades. Before that, his firm Dictronics developed the first modern dictionary-based spellcheck. He was also aneditor at The Daily News in New York, where his frequent and terrible spelling errors led him to help create spellcheck software.

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