Search results: "coronavirus" (page 1 of 4)

The Virus in the Digital Domain: How Governments Can Respond To Coronavirus-Themed Cyberattacks

Courtesy of US Navy, used under Creative Commons license.

This is a guest post by William Akoto, a postdoctoral researcher jointly appointed at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy at the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, and the One Earth Future Foundation. In the fall, he will begin a tenure-track appointment at Fordham University. 

As people have become consumed with concern about the coronavirus, organized cyber criminal groups are actively exploiting uncertainty, doubt and fear to target individuals and businesses in a variety of ways. Reports of cyber phishing attacks using coronavirus themes started appearing in early February 2020, but these attacks have since become widespread. The explosion of coronavirus-related scams, range from fake storefronts hawking fake vaccines to sophisticated phishing scams that take advantage of the uncertainty around the pandemic. For instance, Google’s threat analysis group reported in late April 2020 that they find an average of 18 million malware and phishing messages per day related to COVID-19. This is in addition to more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages that are automatically deleted by Gmail spam filters. 

Analysis by industry experts show that a significant portion of these attacks are carried out by state-sponsored hackers, some of whom are targeting coronavirus-related research. Responding to these state-sponsored attacks poses a significant challenge to targeted states as they seek to navigate the foreign policy and international relations implications of retributive action. While technical solutions provide the best bet for responding to these attacks, government policy could play a crucial supporting role. In this post, I review modalities of COVID-19 themed cyberattacks and outline some options available to governments as they seek to deal with them.

Continue reading
Share

WHO’s to Blame? Coronavirus and the Politics of Blame Shifting

The following is a guest post by Isabella Alcañiz and Timothy Hellwig. Isabella Alcañiz is Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. Her research interests include climate inequality, disaster policy, the state in the global south, and Latin American politics. She is author of Environmental and Nuclear Networks in the Global South: How Skills Shape International Cooperation (2016, Cambridge). Timothy Hellwig is Professor of Political Science and Academic Director of the Europe Gateway at Indiana University.  He is a team member of the Executive Approval Project and coauthor of Democracy Under Siege? Parties, Voters, and Elections After the Great Recession (forthcoming, Oxford).

Last week, President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cut US funding to the World Health Organization and eventually leave the institution. The opening salvo of Trump’s war against the United Nations agency in charge of global public health came a month ago, when the American president first stopped paying US dues. To many, Trump’s escalating threats to the very organization tasked with monitoring, evaluating, and communicating global health risks during the coronavirus pandemic is equivalent to dismissing the generals on the way into battle. The move has left the United States further isolated in the international arena, with key European allies declaring their support of the UN agency.  

Trump maintains that the WHO’s response during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis justified his unprecedented move. The WHO, he claims, failed to acknowledge reports of the virus out of Wuhan, China in late 2019 even though there was yet to be substantiated evidence to the effect. Rather, the WHO began monitoring the situation in the Chinese province once the first public reports about a novel coronavirus surfaced and issued early guidance about contact protection shortly after the first of the year. In his letter breaking up with the organization, Trump also accused the international organization of showering praise on China and accepting its coronavirus-related data without question. However, this charge is not based on evidence and, given Trump’s own approval of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the pandemic, rings hollow. 

The threat to halt funding permanently to the world’s pre-eminent public health agency during a public health crisis appears highly reckless. Trump’s actions, however, are more strategic than they first seem.

Continue reading
Share

Coronavirus, Communal Violence, and the Politics of Rivalry in India and Pakistan

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Radziszewski, Assistant Professor at Rider University and author of forthcoming book Private Militaries and Security Industry in Civil Wars: Competition and Market Accountability (Oxford University Press) and Jonathan M. DiCicco, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Middle Tennessee State University and a Senior Fellow with the TransResearch Consortium.

While the world has been coping with the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, India and Pakistan have experienced the worst cross-border fighting in two years. Unfortunately, this fight is not against the virus. Instead, it is a continuation of the two enemies’ rivalry over Kashmir, a disputed territory each claims as its own.

Continue reading
Share

Too Soon for a Coronavirus Commission

This is a guest post from Erik Dahl, an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and the author of Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond (Georgetown, 2013). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Naval Postgraduate School or the U.S. Department of Defense.   

As many parts of the United States begin to slowly reopen amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, there are increasing calls in Congress and from emergency management experts for a national commission to examine how well we were prepared for, and responded to, the global crisis. Congressional committees are beginning to hold hearings about the pandemic, including testimony expected soon from Dr. Anthony Fauci, and pressure will likely build for a more extensive investigation. Supporters argue that a commission is needed in the same way national investigations in the wake of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 helped us understand how those disasters could have happened. 

Just as with those previous cases, such an effort will be needed eventually to help the country heal from the current crisis. But history suggests it is too early now to begin that process, because early efforts to investigate national calamities tend to produce more heat than light.    

Continue reading
Share

“Déjà vu All Over Again: The EU, Coronavirus, and the Eurozone Crisis”

This is a guest post from Sean D. Ehrlich, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University who researches international and comparative political economy, trade policy, and democratic institutions. His first book, Access Points, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011 and  his second book, The Politics of Fair Trade, was published by Oxford University Press in 2018. He can be found on Twitter @SeanDEhrlich.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the European Union, the EU itself has been relatively inactive, leaving it up to the member states to address the medical crisis and its economic and social consequences. Largely, this is by design, as public health issues were intentionally left to national discretion.

Where the EU has taken action, it has been limited and technocratic such as pooling money for joint ventilator purchases and funding vaccine research cross-nationally. The one exception has been the European Central Bank, which has taken major steps by injecting over €750 billion into the economy through quantitative easing to support the region’s economies.

Otherwise, what the EU has not done is offer any European-wide fiscal stimulus or aid for countries that implement their own policies. While the EU does not have ready mechanisms to do much of this, they do have tools like the European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) to lend money to countries that have increasing debt which was developed to address the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that started in 2008. However, though negotiations are ongoing and a preliminary deal has been struck, the members of the EU have yet to agree on a final plan to use the ESM.

Continue reading
Share

Experts, Public Intellectuals, and the Coronavirus

This is a guest post from Peter Verovšek, a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics/International Relations at the University of Sheffield

The Coronavirus has turned us all into amateur epidemiologists. This desire for greater understanding makes sense in the face of a threat as novel and as dangerous as COVID-19. The shutdown of massive sections of the economy and state-mandated orders to engage in social – or, more accurately, physical – distancing has left the majority of us stuck at home, wondering when things will go back to normal and worrying that they never will.

As a result of this uncertainty, we are all breathlessly reading scientific reports on pandemics, such as the paper from Imperial College London, which serves as the scientific basis for government policy in the UK. Previously obscure experts on viral pandemics, such as Neil M. Ferguson and Nicholas A. Christakis, have built massive followings on Twitter almost overnight.

Clearly experts have an important role to play in combatting the novel Coronavirus by advising governments, informing citizens, and conducting the basic scientific research necessary to address the crisis in real time. In the words of Michel Foucault, these “specific intellectuals” are supposed “to pose problems, to make them active, to display them in such a complexity that they can silence the prophets and lawgivers” by making the severity of the crisis clear.

However, in addition epidemiologists and scholars of public health, many other researchers – including many political scientists and philosophers – have also sought to cope with the current situation by putting their thoughts down on paper (myself obviously included). In and of itself this is not a bad thing.

Continue reading
Share

Trump’s Coronavirus Response Shows How Much Leaders Matter

This is a guest post by Richard W. Maass, an Associate Professor at the University of Evansville. His research focuses on international security, US foreign policy, terrorism, and diplomatic history. He has a forthcoming book on how democracy and xenophobia limited US territorial expansion (Cornell UP, May 2020).

The international experience of COVID-19 will have many implications for international relations. Scholars have already begun discussing its implications for IR theories, hegemonic stability theory, and measures of state capacity. When all is said and done, I think the central lesson will be how much individual leaders matter.

Continue reading
Share

What matters most for teaching in the age of coronavirus?

This is a guest post from Dr. Rebecca Glazier, who is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She has over 10 years of experience teaching online and her pedagogical research focuses on improving online retention.

Many of us are in the middle of teaching triage—scrambling to put our classes online, adjusting assignments, and responding to panicked students. What should we prioritize in this time of crisis? Lucky for us, there is not only a wealth of academic literature about best practices for teaching online, but there is also a great network of scholars willing to share it through blogs, articles, and Twitter.

My overarching recommendation, from over 10 years of teaching and researching online, is to prioritize. If you are interested, there are extensive lists of best practices, detailed descriptions of all the neat technological tools you can use, and thoughtful articles on how to carefully design an online course for the first time. But this is a pandemic and many of us are moving our classes online with only days or maybe weeks to prepare. There is nothing best about this situation. Under these circumstances, we can be happy with good enough.

Continue reading
Share

How the Coronavirus is Plaguing Autocracies and Democracies

This is a guest post from Renu Singh, PhD Candidate at Georgetown University in political science, researching public health policy, global health security, and European politics.

After weeks of the spiraling transmission of COVID-19, the outbreak has spread from its source in Wuhan, China to nearly 70 locations worldwide. To date, the number of people with confirmed infections of coronavirus has surpassed 100,000, where more than 3,000 have died and over 60,000 have recovered. Mainland China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran remain the hardest hit with confirmed cases in the thousands, but the virus is continuing to spread, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the global alert to the highest level other than calling it a pandemic.

With China witnessing another infectious disease outbreak and the first to be designated as a WHO Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), SARS being the outbreak that facilitated the PHEIC system to begin with, there has been much discussion about China’s response given its authoritarian context. This includes how the disruptions might bring into question the effectiveness of authoritarian rule during public health emergencies. It is equally important to consider what the crisis means for democracy. What role does a country’s regime type have in shaping their response to public health emergencies, and in turn, in what ways do these crises threaten the stability of these regimes?

Continue reading
Share

What coronavirus can tell us about Health Emergencies past, and its future

This is a guest post from Dr. Joshua R. Moon is a Research Fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, researching biomedical research global health security policy. Research & Twitter

The coronavirus epidemic that is ongoing at the moment is not the first to spark global panic and it certainly won’t be the last. Looking to the future, even as we strive to end transmission and bring the epidemic to a close, we have an opportunity to examine the 21st century’s record when it comes to health emergencies. Looking from SARS to COVID19 tells us a story of technological success and political peril.

SARS: Renewed hope for IHR revisions

The rise of SARS, a novel coronavirus, in 2003 fulfilled fears that had been building around “the threat” of emerging infectious diseases. In addition to this, the SARS outbreak provided measures that were “recognized as effective emergency responses and as blueprints for the IHR revision process”. This manifested in a number of changes to the International Health Regulations, the World Health Organization’s legally binding framework of rules, guidance and expectations for states in the event of a health emergency.

Continue reading
Share

What Money Can (and Can’t) Buy for the Global Coronavirus Response

This is a guest post by Summer Marion, a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Northeastern University, where she is a PhD candidate in Political Science. Her research examines international cooperation and crisis politics, with a specific focus on philanthrocapitalism in global health emergencies.

On February 5, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked the international community for $675 million to fund a global response plan for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, including $61.5 million to cover urgent needs between February and April of 2020. Funding in the early stages of an outbreak can mean the difference between virus containment and further spread.

As of February 28, closing out the first month of the three-month plan, more than 2,800 people have lost their lives and WHO has received only $1.45 million. This constitutes just 2.4 percent of the $61.5 million urgent appeal. It remains unclear how much has been pledged toward the total $675 million ask. While WHO reports donors have pledged an additional $29.9 million toward the urgent response, promises of future cash do little good in fast-moving crises.

As the virus continues to spread, with cases spiking in South Korea, Iran, and Italy last week, the international community’s financial response is emblematic of problems that run much deeper.

This post examines funding mechanisms in the context of this latest Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). My primary takeaway is that influx of cash during crises is a short-term necessity that distracts from much-needed long-term investment in global health infrastructure.

This piece builds on a six-part series of posts by Josh Busby covering background on this new virus, politics of declaring a PHEIC, international travel restrictions, China’s domestic response, next steps for this response and future outbreaks, and steps for individual and community preparedness.

Continue reading
Share

Now What? Health Security after the 2020 Coronavirus

On the same day that the World Health Organization said that there were now only 889 new cases of the coronavirus in China (down from 1749 on Wednesday), there were also reports of new outbreaks in two Chinese prisons. We also witnessed the deaths of two people in Iran (apparently from COVID-19) and an outbreak in Korea–now up to more than 150 casesfueled by a superspreader associated with a strange cult and no known connection to China.

In the U.S., there are both reports of several hundred people getting out of quarantine after 14 days with a clean bill of health as well as the amazing story that the State Department overruled the Centers for Disease Control in allowing fourteen people infected with the coronavirus to be on the same plane of evacuees from the Princess Cruises ship.

So, we might be cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind us, or maybe not. It’s looking like the disease will not be contained in China, with there being local transmission taking off in a few other countries.

The first post in this series provided background on the virus, the second examined the declaration of a global health emergency, the third explored international travel restrictions, and the fourth reflected on China’s internal policies. In this fifth and final post of the series, I write about what policies the international community and individual states need to implement to contain this outbreak and prevent the next one.

Continue reading
Share

China and the Coronavirus: Getting It Right or Very Wrong?

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the stories on China’s quarantine and population control measures seem downright crazy, with people needing hall passes to go out of their apartments, buildings turning away residents who had been out of town, periodic temperature checks on residents, drones being deployed to disinfect villages or to shame people to go indoors or put on a mask, and health workers deployed in train stations checking phone records of visitors to see where they have been.

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported the extent of the measures China has imposed on its citizens to control the coronavirus outbreak, which encompass about half of China’s entire population, some 760 million people.

Are these draconian measures working? News out of China is confusing. The last few days have seen a decline in the number of new cases which raises hopes that the herculean efforts imposed by the Chinese government (implemented with zeal by local actors) are succeeding.

However, international observers, like Dr. Tony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, warn that that it too early to conclude the worst is over: “I think we need a few more days to determine if that’s real or variability.” Others like mathematician John Allen Poulos have made similar points.

It is not clear when China’s workforce of some 700 million will get back to work after a three week hiatus and what that will do to infection numbers.

In my previous posts in this series, I laid out basic attributes of the virus, the declaration by the WHO of an international health emergency, and the role played by international travel restrictions. In this post, I want to review whether or not China’s efforts have made the situation better or worse.

My basic takeaway is that the same authoritarianism that gave China the ability to respond to the virus is the same one that allowed the outbreak to get as bad as it did in the first place.

Continue reading
Share

Shut it Down? The International Response to the Coronavirus

If you’ve been following the coronavirus outbreak, you’ve probably heard about the Princess Cruises ship, quarantined in Japan with thousands of passengers on board. It sounds like the veritable cruise ship from hell. Of the 1219 passengers screened for the virus, some 355 passengers tested positive for COVID-19, including some 44 Americans. The Americans were finally being evacuated today after having been quarantined on the ship since February 5th.

The horror of confining thousands to a boat underscores the incredible measures governments have undertaken to try to contain the virus. The Princess Cruises ship harkens back to the original meaning of the word quarantine as Howard Markel reminds us:

Quarantine laws — from the Italian “quaranta giorni,” meaning 40 days— were first developed in Venice in 1370, to keep the bubonic plague at bay by banning any ships and goods for the time it seemed to take most epidemics to burn themselves out.

Howard Markel, New YorK Times

But, were these extreme measures justified? This is the third in the series on the coronavirus COVID-19. In my first post, I provided some background on the nature of the virus, from what we know. In the second, I reflected on the belated declaration of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization in late January 2020.

In this post, I want to reflect on both the international restrictions on travel to and from China. In the next post, I’ll reflect on China’s internal response.

Continue reading
Share

Pull the Alarm? The Coronavirus as a Global Emergency

In my first post on the coronavirus outbreak, I reviewed the nature of the disease. Here, I want to ask and answer the first of four questions I posed about whether a global public health emergency should have been declared earlier. In the next post, I’ll tackle the appropriateness of China’s quarantine measures, the adequacy of its overall response, and what should be done going forward.

The response to the COVID-19 coronavirus has been draconian. With the lunar year vacation looming at the end of January, China shut down travel out of the city of Wuhan on January 23rd (and severely restricted entry as well), soon extending to the wider province of Hubei, with a population of 58 million people.

Commerce and public outings in much of the rest of the China have also dropped markedly with cities like Shanghai looking like ghost towns after the government extending the lunar holiday and people stayed away from malls and other public places.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization finally declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020 after having deferred making such a declaration the week before.

In making the declaration, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the Chinese response and argued against travel and trade restrictions with China, raising concerns he was being overly deferential to the Chinese government.

In response, the United States elevated its travel advisory warning citizens not to travel there and said it would deny entry to foreign nationals who recently visited China. On January 31, three American air carriers — American, Delta, and United suspended all flights to China temporarily, with some airlines cancelling all flights to China and Hong Kong through the end of April.

Should a PHEIC been declared earlier? Has it had an impact?

Continue reading
Share

The Coronavirus: Global Health is High Politics

Even if you don’t study global health, you’ve probably been following the coronavirus outbreak in China with a mix of dread and fascination. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower Chinese doctor, who himself succumbed to the virus riveted the world. His death was mourned in China, even as the government initially censored conversations about his passing.

The Chinese government’s problematic response has created one of the most significant political challenges the Xi Jinping government has faced. Today, the heads of the Communist party in Hubei province and the city of Wuhan, the epicenter for the virus, were both fired.

This episode reminds us that global health is high politics. The stakes of a global outbreak for international relations, the global economy, and trade are enormous, independent of the impact on human lives. The nearly 1500 who have already died is a major tragedy, and we do not know if things are finally getting better.

This week, just as some analysts thought new cases had peaked, the Chinese government widened the definition to include suspected cases, since the diagnostic techniques for verifying infections have often produced false negatives, showing no infection even when people are symptomatic and ultimately do have the virus.

I’ve been hoping to have a roundtable on the topic on the Duck from global health experts, but many of the top folks I reached out to are just overwhelmed. If you are interested, do send me a note, as we would love to hear from you.

Here are the questions I posed, which I’m going to try and answer in a series of posts. This first post is mostly background on what I’ve learned about the coronavirus, but I ultimately hope to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you make of the WHO’s decision to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)? Too late? Impact? 
  2. What do you make of various quarantine measures and airline flight cancellations to China?
  3. What’s your take on the adequacy of the Chinese response?
  4. What’s needed at this point to prevent this outbreak from becoming worse on the global level?
Continue reading
Share

Actorless Threats

This is a guest post from Morgan D. Bazilian, Director of the Payne Institute, Colorado School of Mines; Andreas Goldthau, Franz Haniel Professor at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, and Research Group Leader at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies; and Kirsten Westphal, a Senior Analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. They tweet at @mbazilian, @goldthau and @kirstenwestpha1.

The age of actorless threats has arrived. Democracies need to re-imagine and re-tool their responses.

This is an age of the “actorless threats”. As Bazilian and Hendrix argued in a recent essay, “Mitigating or adapting to slow-onset, actorless threats like climate change…requires a reimagining of our national security priorities and architecture.” Climate change gives rise to cascading risks of habitat destruction, infectious disease outbreaks or biodiversity loss. These threats have already started to cause loss of life at significant scales. They have added friction to various aspects of geopolitics and the relationship between states and people. And they have put existing systems to their breaking point.

Such threats are not bound to a certain territory, but rather transcend borders and boundaries. They tend to threaten entire societal systems, with important second order effects for political or economic stability. They can be diffuse and long-term in impact. These traits vary between these threats, but these common archetypes often mean that cooperation is the only way to address them successfully. Actorless threats also do not lend themselves easily to specific current government departments or agencies, but rather require cooperation across government. And they are almost certain to become more prominent going forward, rather than less, exacerbating secondary effects.

The idea of non-traditional security threats is not new. Some of the defining terms include their transnational character. They are also typically conducted by non-state actors, rooted in social or cultural issues, and not bound to a specific territory. Non-traditional security threats do not only come with significant costs, which the Stern Report highlighted for the case of climate change already fifteen years ago. Because the global economy is deeply interconnected they also trigger cascading effects into other sectors and states. A well-known example here is a bursting real estate bubble spiraling into an international banking crisis.

Actorless threats display similar features, they are also man-made. Yet, their causality chain is even less traceable, immediate and direct. There also is a lag in time and space with regard to cause and effect. Think about climate change and pandemics. They come with tipping points which elude direct influence and are not gradually controllable. The melting of the permafrost, the slowing down of the jet stream, the spreading of zoonoses and virus mutations are not only transcending borders and boundaries. They transcend habitats, communities and generations. For example, the melting of the permafrost has given rise to the risk of anthrax transmission.

Non-traditional threats have questioned the territory as a principle of political order. New actorless threats go to the heart of our way of life and its underlying paradigms of growth and prosperity. They shake-up the fundaments of modern economies and societies. They relentlessly reveal that mankind has been living beyond planetary boundaries.

Continue reading
Share

Are Women Leaders Better at Fighting COVID?

This is a guest post from Courtney Burns and Leah Windsor. Burns is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bucknell University. She may be reached at cnb006@bucknell.edu.

Windsor is a Research Assistant Professor in the Institute for Intelligent Systems and a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Political Science at The University of Memphis. She may be reached at Leah.Windsor@memphis.edu and on Twitter @leahcwindsor.

Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, worldwide media heralded the leadership of women leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Erna Solberg for their ability to contain the spread of the virus, and the lethality within their countries’ borders. The common belief was that having a woman in charge was the key to reducing mortality from Covid-19.

This perception squares with pervasive gendered stereotypes about women being better caretakers and more compassionate – qualities that should be more important during a time when the world is sick, and quickly getting sicker. Yet this is not entirely the case.

We find that a country’s culture influences how many people within its borders die from Covid-19.

Continue reading
Share

Trump’s Budweiser Putsch

US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives to a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 1, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Emily Holland, an Assistant Professor in the Russia Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College & Hadas Aron, a Faculty Fellow at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU.

This week’s violent takeover of the Capitol Building has fueled the ongoing debate on the future of American democracy. For several years analysts have argued that the United States is undergoing the same process of de-democratization as countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Poland. However, the comparison to European populist de-democratization is misleading. The difference between Trump and European counterparts is that the latter do not rely on post-election violence to hold onto power, instead they rig the system long before the election. This week’s events demonstrate what is at stake for American democracy. Unlike  in European countries, the elimination of checks and balances is not the main concern. The real danger for the United States is out of control anti-system political violence that brings to a boiling point polarization and racial tensions.

Democratic breakdown or decline in places like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Israel, and Poland, has inspired theories on how democracies die, comparing the United States to failing democracies around the world. But in these countries, populist insurrection is far more subtle [and effective] than the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill. Populist leaders have successfully transformed political institutions, concentrated political power, broke down opposition, and dismantled democracy, with little overt violence and often without large-scale election fraud. Trump also attempted these strategies, but mostly failed because of the dispersed power structure of the United States, and his own incompetence.

Continue reading
Share

Why We Should Stop Picking on 2020



The awfulness of 2020 has become one of the year’s most unforgettable cultural memes. But in the current cascade of 2020-bashing let’s not forget what went right this year – and what didn’t go wrong.

It yields perspective to recall that the year began with what appeared to be a national security crisis with Iran. The killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and accidental downing of a civilian airliner set off protests in Iran, sent oil markets plunging, and threatened to destabilize the Middle East. Analysts feared a major regional war among nuclear powers before the year was out. Based on this unpromising start, it is remarkable that in fact 2020 saw the US involved in none of the world’s major armed conflicts, that war did not break out or significantly worsen in the Middle East, and those conflicts underway – in Nagorno-Karabakh, Ethiopia and South Sudan – have thus far been kept largely to a dull roar. Moreover, despite increasing polarization, the US remained resilient against civil war.

Yes, the Trump administration badly mishandled a major health crisis, sunk the economy into a sub-oceanic trench, and rendered American passports largely useless. Even with a modest contagion index and hearteningly high recovery rate, the death toll from COVID-19 now outmatches that of all American wars, with more Americans dying per day of the disease than died on 9/11. And that’s just America: the cost in human life and medical resources worldwide is staggering, and the mental health cost incalculable.

But this moment of worldwide hibernation also gave the Earth a moment to breathe. American high-schoolers were finally able to get enough sleep, reducing rates of teen depression. The world’s peoples conducted a global social experiment in pandemic control that has better prepared it for the next onslaught. Developing nations became poster children for good governance. Faith in the miracle of science and the power of vaccination experienced a renaissance. Americans have rediscovered the outdoors, the power of unstructured learning, the mental health benefits of hobbies and value of simple connections and staycations. They have turned out in huge numbers to local food banks and blood donation centers, filling in where the state has failed and revitalizing neighborhoods and communities. The story of the year is as much one of resilience as of catastrophe.

And as misbegotten as the US government response has been, the passivity of Trump’s response to the pandemic meant America avoided a much worse outcome. For all its flaws, for all the signs it was leading the country toward dictatorship, note the Trump administration did not use that classic authoritarian tool, capitalizing on the pandemic to engage in a massive centralization of executive authority and political crackdown – as might have been predicted by an administration prone toward authoritarianism and political opportunism.

Perhaps this was due to the power of the political resistance: the turnout in the streets at the travel ban and the detention camps, the trolling of Trump’s re-election campaign by youth on Tik-tok, the persistent pushback by the courts. Perhaps it was because the boredom of the lockdowns suddenly allowed an overworked, politically distracted generation both time and inclination to take to the streets en masse, risking their lives to protest racial injustice. In so many ways, Americans demonstrated that Trump could steal democracy only at great cost, and forestalled some of the worst of which a man in his position could be capable. And ultimately, Americans removed Trump by a large margin – repudiating bigotry, corruption and creeping authoritarianism, affirming the constitution and principles on which the republic was founded, and modestly rehabilitating the country in the global gaze.

Perhaps most significantly of all, Americans learned they could quickly and willingly adapt their lifestyle to a national security crisis. For years climate activists have been begging nations to do just that, swimming against a social tide that made it seem inconceivable, even reckless, to quickly and completely stop flying, driving, polluting, consuming and straining economies to their limits. While it remains to be seen how to make this sustainable (and such strategies are contested and the impacts excruciating uneven) Americans like the rest of the world learned they were capable of sacrificing pleasantries in the service of a wider good. Nations have always been able to do this in time of war, but this was the first effort in history to adapt economic and social life so swiftly to a non-military existential crisis. While the extent to which the US has succeeded should not be exaggerated, the extent to which it has managed lends hope to its ability to do the same for other crises.

These aren’t small achievements. They are foundations on which to build. For all the 2020-bashing, it may be that we look back on this year not as a blemish, but as a historic turning point, the year when the human race began to take stock. If 2020 shocked us out of our complacency, gave us time to pause and notice what’s important, and expanded our sense of political possibility at a moment of global uncertainty, this is something to celebrate rather than scorn.   

(cross-posted at Medium)

Share
« Older posts

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑