The coronavirus pandemic is a global problem. It requires cooperation at the local, regional, national and international level. Political point-scoring, unilateralism and nationalism have no place in defeating Covid-19. Pandemics are no respecters of bank balances, social position and especially not borders.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the Western democracies are failing to rise to the occasion, and the result could very likely be long term damage to our political system.
Ever since WW2 the world has looked to the USA for leadership in times of crisis. Not this time. Nearly four years’ experience of Donald Trump’s isolationist unilateralism has taught us that he is congenitally incapable of forging the international consensus that is called for. Trump’s arsenal of political tactics is limited to attack, mockery and denigration. He has no strategy and the concepts of compromise and cooperation are totally absent at the personal, national and international level.
So far Trump has managed to damage the prospect of essential bipartisanship by referring to coronavirus as the Democrats “new hoax”. In any national crisis, it is essential to have the media on board as the vital channel of communication. The president has denounced them as peddlers of fake news and “sensationalism.” European allies were estranged by Trump’s unilateral decision close American borders to their citizens.
But perhaps, worst of all, has been the president’s treatment of China. By repeatedly referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” he has alienated the one government whose experience of the pandemic could prove invaluable in stopping it.
The political vacuum created by the failings of the American president is an opportunity for the EU to fulfil its federal ambitions. In the past, every problem Brussels has faced has been with calls for “more Europe.” Not this time. The Commission has decided that less Europe is better. Coordination of the crisis has been devolved to national governments who have responded by closing their borders; thus, making a mockery of the Schengen Agreement. The WHO, by the way, has said that closing European borders is pointless.
The only major contribution pf Brussels has been to divert $41 billion which had been set aside for EU infrastructure development to national governments. The European Central Bank has done its bit for “more Europe” by launching an $800 billion bond-buying programme to support European economies during the pandemic and aid in their recovery when it is finally over.
There is one country that has stepped up to fill the leadership vacuum—China. It may have been slow to admit is role as the source of Covid-19, but once it did it effectively and impressively harnessed the powers of its authoritarian system to stamp out the virus. Now it is using its experience to help others. Chinese medical teams and equipment have been sent to Italy, Spain, Iran and Serbia. China is currently producing 1.6 million face masks a day as well as an increasing number of respirators and protective suits for health workers.
Beijing is making no secret of the fact that its handling of the pandemic is an opportunity for it to favourably contrast their political system with that of the liberal West. So far, they are succeeding. That is bad for democracies.
Tom Arms is a regular contributor.