The Jakarta Post
The scene was eerily familiar.
The sky has turned orange and with a giant plume of smoke from forest fire blotting out the sun, motorists had to drive with their headlights on, although it was 11 a.m. in the morning.
Yet, this is not something that happened in Jambi, where last year's forest fires turned the sky bloody red while smoke with significant amounts of pollutant particles choked millions of people living in the area.
The scene was from San Francisco, one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, which is currently in the thick of massive forest fires affecting three Western states: California, Oregon and Washington. At some point during the fire, the air quality in some of areas in these regions was four times as bad as in Beijing or New Delhi.
Seen from the air, the plume of smoke from these forest fires which blew out over the Pacific Ocean was eerily similar to a pall of thick, dangerous smoke that blanketed significant parts of Kalimantan in September last year.
The problem with the West Coast fire is that it has turned into an annual event, the way bush and forest fire has ravaged parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan until recently. We can also expect the fires to recur with growing intensity as the climate continues to change.
Having seen all of this, you can certainly offer a counterargument: "So what, the United States will not suddenly degenerate into a third world country for its failure to deal with a changing climate. Just look at Australia!"
But today, forest fires are only one among too many problems Americans have to deal with. Wherever we look, there's almost no good news coming out of America these days.
And in areas where the US government has stumbled, you can see that the mishandling of problems results from rookie mistakes that we can easily associate with third world countries.
How the Trump administration has botched the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been well-documented, and there's no point in going through some of the mistakes.
Yet, a recent revelation about a plan from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to spend more than US$250 million on a campaign to "defeat despair" and "inspire hope" while the country continues to break records in the death toll and daily case number could be an indication of how low the US have sunk.
And if it's true that the public relations campaign will rope in Hollywood actors, sports figures and music artists, this amateurish move was copied from a playbook written by clueless bureaucrats in a banana republic.
If anything, the Trump government’s "inspire-hope" campaign very much looks like what the administration of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attempted when allocating $5.2 million to pay influencers to promote Indonesia's tourism industry, which has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But then again, spending so much money for a PR campaign is what Trump does best. After all, this is a president who just wants to always look good in the media and when the media refuse to say good things about him or declines to submit to his version of “reality” and “truth”, the commander in chief will have no power labeling them "fake news" and the "enemy of the people".
Trump's hunger for good publicity has also driven him to talk to a "state television network," while his handlers would have no problems kicking out reporters who are tough on his policies. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found in its April report that Trump's rhetoric and actions have discredited the media and threaten democracy in America.
With so many bad news coming out of America today, most of us who have long admired its economic and technological achievement, feared its military prowess and been mesmerized by its popular culture, now certainly have a hard time figuring out what has become of the world's greatest superpower.
This is, after all, the land that has given the world the greatest minds in science, the most skillful politicians and diplomats and the best tacticians and military generals. This is also a country which sent people to the moon and harnessed the power of the internet to create an unprecedented amount of wealth.
Looking at how things are going in America right now, people who are convinced that America could be the force of good are now getting really worried. The US has been fraught with problems ranging from racism and economic inequality to militarization of its society, but we feel it has now reached its breaking point.
I can say from personal experience that loving America is difficult.
As a foreign national living in America and being only 40 miles from where then-president-elect Barack Obama would deliver his victory speech, I had the obligation to join the merriment.
It was late at night in November 2008 and I was driving 35 miles per hour, when two police officers suddenly appeared behind me in their patrol car. I got a ticket for violating the 30-mph speed limit. The incident hit me hard, because right at the moment when you want to celebrate one of America's greatest political achievements, reality bites back quickly.
Twelve years later, I can feel that this experience could be a perfect metaphor for the world's relationship with the US. America only needs tough love.
And this November, if voters in the Midwest make another wrong choice, it would be impossible to love America.
Deputy editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post