Ship of the Damned: 21st Century Replay.

What makes a nation exceptional? So many Americans assume American exceptionalism but I doubt they ask this basic question. Surely an exceptional nation is caring and decent, even when that is hard to do. Exceptional is as exceptional does.

This is the story of a ship . . . or two. This ship has people on board in desperate need to get off the ship. If they are not permitted to dock in Florida and leave the ship many of them, hundreds in fact, will die.

This story is not a hypothetical, it happened. The ship was turned away and hundreds did die, because they were not the “right” kind of people.

In 1939 the MS St. Louis left Europe with over 900 Jews desperate to flee the accelerating holocaust. It ended up off the coast of Florida seeking any port to off load these refugees. No port was permitted. The Captain was so desperate to save his passengers that he considered running his ship aground to allow them onto American soil. An uncaring administration ordered the Coast Guard to deploy gunships to prevent it.

The MS St. Louis

The MS St. Louis returned to Europe where its passengers had to fend for themselves. 254 of them were murdered in the holocaust. The MS St. Louis has since gone down in history as “The ship of the damned.” Not exactly a proud moment for an exceptional nation.

Of course, an exceptional nation would learn from its mistakes. A nation worthy of being called exceptional would remember the story of the MS St. Louis and say “never again!” Sadly, we are not that nation.

Today another ship sits off the Florida coast with passengers desperate to get off. The luxury cruise liner HMS Zaandam seeks a port. On board are hundreds of passengers and crew, some 200 of which report flu like symptoms, though only 8 have actually tested positive for the Coronavirus. Most of the passengers are Americans (roughly 300) and Canadians.

The HMS Zaandam, A 21st Century Ship of the Damned.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has decreed that the Zaandam can dock in Florida, and offload only Florida residents (only about 50 of those onboard). Even the hundreds of other Americans on board will not be allowed to leave the ship. Governor DeSantis appears inspired by Trump’s March 6 comment about another cruise ship, where the President opposed allowing it to dock saying, “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

America now has about 215,000 Covid-19 positive cases. Any argument that the couple hundred potential cases on this ship will overwhelm us is absurd. Yet that’s the argument advanced by Governor DeSantis, whose state already has 7,000 confirmed cases. These lame excuses are not those of an exceptional nation, or even a mediocre one.

Where in this is any empathy for those on the ship, for the terror they and their families must feel?

This is not the America I grew up believing in. What has happened to us?



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Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80