Ironies, dysfunction and distressing trends – Part 2

PHOTO: NYTIMES

Continued from yesterday
The pandemic and economic disarray are playing out within the background of turbulent and in some ways conflicting trends, namely, rising nationalism, authoritarianism and geo-political shifts, within a background of globalisation in terms of politics, economics (trade and supply chains) and travel. Given these interconnections, nationalistic rumblings and naked power-plays are at variance with the appropriate solutions for pandemics and other global challenges.

Although much of this can definitely be blamed on Trump, it is not the full story. China’s handling of the pandemic was no doubt partly to save face, which combined with its power play, its silk road project and grandiose economic blueprint which plans for that country’s development and dominance in cutting edge fields such as Artificial Intelligence etic suggests a country gearing for world dominance, major shifts in geo-politics in its favour.

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Trump has been assaulting the post second world war military alliance (NATO) and the fee trade principles that US had championed, showing a marked preference for authoritarian rule at home and for regimes abroad and taking unilateral anti-free trade policies. As the pandemic has unfolded he has extricated the US from the WHO, ignored the global push for a solution to the crisis and instead made moves to go it alone in developing and gobbling vaccines for Covid-19. In line with the adage, never waste a crisis, Russia has heightened its nefarious activities, notably in the Middle East and most recently announced the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Unfortunately therefore for the world, a devastating pandemic has become wedged in this toxic and turbulent world chess game playing out in real time where the key players are an incompetent wannabe strong man, a budding super-power with antiquated political decision making structure, an unscrupulous has-been and a fragmented supra-state.

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A century ago, as the world came out of the First World War, the first global pandemic, the Spanish Flu hit the world. Globalisation was on the rise fuelled by the technological revolution in the form of modern ships, cars, planes, global trade, telecommunication, and the media that were bringing the world closer together. A hundred years later, these trends have accelerated, with, the digital revolution, rapid changes in industrial production and supply chains speeding up the move to a global village.

A century ago, a new world power, the USA, was tepidly taking over the mantle from Great Britain. Interestingly the new super-power had come to that role in a similar fashion as China’s march, through break-necked economic growth and industrialisation, often ironically, like China, misappropriating European technology. Like Trump the president of the US, Woodrow Wilson, was a racist who implemented /encouraged/turned a blind eye to racist policies. The Ku Klux Klan was having a heyday and many of the statues of confederate soldiers and politicians that Trump is defending were put up during or just after Wilson’s reign.

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On the international front, rather than helping to build the peace process after the First World War, the US retreated into isolationism and gave birth to the America First mantra. We are also seeing a change of global leadership, partly as China muscles its way to a leading position but also, as Trump fritters away the US’s lead. The EU, the largest economic unit, is still, largely that, an economic arrangement, without the political muscle that its member states jealously retain; its response to the pandemic has been managed on a national basis.

It should be noted that a hundred years ago saw the rise of a Corporal who penned a book which gave birth to a toxic ideology, fascism, fusing nationalism with authoritarianism. Unlike the major alternative to western capitalism, it allowed for significant free market activity, making the fascist movement a potent force. He felt that victors in the war had treated Germany unfairly and was determined to make amends and put Germany in its rightful, dominant position. Nearly a hundred years after the demise of that rascal we are seeing the resurgence of nationalism combined with authoritarian tendencies in Trump’s America, China, Brazil, the largest country in South America, Russia and India, with elements that echo of the corporal’s rise, namely, anger/grievance, supremacy, disregard/antipathy towards minorities and authoritarianism. This toxic mix gave rise to the corporal’s fascist movement. Trump’s premise is that the world has taken advantage of America, stealing its technology, closing markets to American companies and products and, allies taking a free ride on America’s military umbrella.

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What he fails to take into account is that America also stole technology from Europe, it is American companies spurred by the profit motive that have shifted production abroad, America has also lost out because of underinvestment in its physical infrastructure and people in terms of training and education.

American politicians, particularly Republicans, have instead invested a disproportionate amount of their budgets on the military. China’s rush to world dominance is no doubt related to its humiliation in the 19th and 20th century by Western powers and Japan. A similar pattern is building up in the other countries jostling for prominence, a toxic trend that is caused and/fuelled by developments in the two super-powers. The new normal does not bode well for the world as a whole. Firstly, Covid-19 is here to stay for an extended visit, the world will have to adjust to this unwelcomed guest. The dysfunctions that have accentuated the impacts of the virus could be ameliorated but are unlikely to be completely eradicated.
Concluded.

In the US, hopefully, according to most polls Trump could be removed from office by voters although given his solid support among White Americans, there is no guarantee that the country would not again elect this totally unqualified and unfit president.

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Indeed if he is re-elected, it will be the gross manifestation of political dysfunction, a reward for failure and the country should really change its name into United White America the electoral segment that he appeals to and that polls indicate still support him strongly. His racist and America First populist mantra has developed shoots that are unlikely to be snuffed out.

We could face either of two nightmare scenarios. Scenario one is the re-election of Trump despite the destruction he has caused in terms of thousands of Cocid-19 deaths, over five million infections, economic devastation, assault on democratic norms, the environment, economic inequality, strife and a diminished American brand that Trump’s rule has brought to America and the world.

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Indeed his steadfast support among the 40% of the electorate, 80% of Republicans, means that his base has been completely hoodwinked and/or completely motivated by tribalism, no doubt a position reinforced by the falsehoods that are put out in his campaign literature and social media feeds that are consumed by his supporters.

In scenario 2, if defeated this year, he could be replaced by leaders like Senator Tom Cotton or the Fox news firebrand, Tucker Carlson who share his views but are much smarter operators. The disarray in the western alliance and assaults on the democratic movement around the world will take time to heal. The rise of China and its hawkish national posture will continue. Given this scenario, the world will continue its march into the turbulent unknown. Given these possibilities the world could be faced with years of a dysfunctional super-powers and God forbid if another virus or calamity comes through.

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What would be a huge plus is an improvement in the political dynamics of the leading super-power, its budding rival and the impotent supra-state, the EU. An optimistic scenario could emerge as follows. Hopefully after the fiasco of Trump, he and his enablers are soundly defeated in November, the political establishment institutes checks and balances to prevent totally unqualified candidates like Trump ever rising to the position he holds. China develops amore transparent and robust decision making process that is in line with the complexity of its new super-power role and moves to the use of more soft power.

The European Union becomes a more cohesive and assertive political force to assume the mantle it deserves; as part of that transformation it could also discourage the development of authoritarian moves in some of its member states, notably Poland and Hungary who are significant beneficiaries of the largess of its more liberal northern members.

There is a concerted fight against the seeds of fascism that are sprouting around the globe. A revitalised US, cleansed of Trumpism and, a more potent liberal EU would be a strong bulwark against the dark forces of authoritarianism and fascism. This realigned power structure can and should accept, encourage and pressure China to play the game as a mature and respected member of the global super-power fraternity. The empowerment of the WHO and other global institutions would also help. One crucial improvement will be for the WHO to be given the authority to operate unfettered early warning systems anywhere in the world, an unlikely development unless the ultra-nationalism trends are curbed.

Concluded.

Rogers, principal consultant at Media and Event Management (MEMO), wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.
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