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Ironies, dysfunction and distressing trends

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2020 is a watershed in many ways, COVID-19, mayhem on a global scale in health, economies, widespread protests and geo-political shifts. These disturbing trends play out within a background of a plethora of ironies verging on the perverse. Dysfunctions in major powers and global institutions have been highlighted and indeed have exacerbated the problems. Post 2020 in many ways heralds some distressing trends. COVID-19 has spread around the world like wildfire, reaching all corners, because of the failure of early warning systems, lack of suitable equipment, inadequate health infrastructures, inappropriate policies and political and underlying socio-economic issues; in short this is systems failure, with the most devastating impact in countries where dysfunctions are most acute. While much progress has been made in the country, China, where it started and in many other countries, there have been renewed spikes in many of them and COVID-19 will be with us until a vaccine is found. The mayhem in the world owes a lot to the dysfunctions in the two super-powers who are key drivers in global affairs, namely, the USA and China.

The US as a result of its political dysfunctions elected a leader, Trump, who is totally unqualified in terms of experience, intellect, strategic vision and temperament for the role of US president and the global leadership that role has traditionally bestowed on its holder in addressing the myriad of issues we face. The opaque political and decision making process in China has been found wanting in dealing with Covid-19 and other global issues this new kid in the global super-power space faces.

The European Union the largest economic unit has yet to translate its clout into the portent and cohesive political force to play its rightful role on global issues. Developments in other power centres cast dark clouds in in the world. The effects of the virus on economies around the world has been devastating, with lock downs resulting in severe reductions in production, employment and trade everywhere; in the US the latest decline in quarterly GDP, 33%, was the worst in that country’s history. China’s ground-breaking 30-year economic growth has taken a huge hit and Europe which had just about recovered from the great recession has been severely damaged, posting huge declines in its GDP.

While these health and economic ravages have been playing out all over the world, the senseless murder of a Black man in America ignited calls for end long simmering racial injustice that have resulted in protests all over America and among supporters world-wide. And then there is the heightened global tension between China and the US, which had been playing out ever since Trump took office but which he is using to divert attention from his failures in dealing with the pandemic, a collapsing economy and poll numbers.

Thrown into this smorgasbord is China’s power-grab in Hong Kong, revoking the territory’s autonomy, notably its independent judiciary.In these turbulent times, the ironies are striking, foremost of which is the fact that the US, the most powerful country is the hardest hit by COVID-19, accounting for a quarter of Covid-19 infections and the largest number of deaths even though it accounts for only 4% of the world’s population. This record on COVID-19 is particularly striking given the fact that the US not only spends the highest amount on health in absolute terms but also the highest level on health as a percentage of its total economy (GDP) among leading economies.

Trump’s mantra that he is the best person to fix the economy has been debunked. Trump, who came to power to assert the US’s hegemony has seriously weakened the country’s brand and in fact made the US into a laughing stock, because of his disastrous handling of COVID-19 and a myriad of other blunders; nobody would have imagined that a US leader would go in front of the world and suggest injecting disinfectant as a cure for COVID-19. Perversely, in the middle of the pandemic, he is leading efforts to dismantle Obamacare, the healthcare system set up by Obama which extended healthcare to millions and, is now needed by the millions thrown out of work by the pandemic. The country is wracked with widespread protests and political ultra-partisanship, caused or fuelled by Trump and his enablers in his party.

He has bungled the Black Lives matter protests, sending federal law enforcement officials into cities to prevent lawful and primarily peaceful protests, despite the objection of local and state officials. He has strongly opposed efforts to dismantle relics of the confederacy, an unpopular position among the majority of Americans who object to symbols glorifying slavery; throughout his reign he has taken actions and made statements considered racists, stoking racial divisions.

On the international front, he has had a fractious relationship with allies and has been led by the nose by Russia. Trump, the wannabe strongman took no action when informed that Russia had paid bounties for the killing of American soldiers and did not even raise the issue in a recent conversation with the Russian president.

This is in sharp contrast to his bellicose actions and statements towards China. While Tump’s America is not a failed state, it is a failed super-power in terms of its domestic woes and failed global leadership. China which should have been the main beneficiary of Trump’s blunders has failed to rise to the occasion.

Much of the world still blames the country for the way it handled the outbreak of the pandemic and have been critical of its cosy relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO) which gave China a pass rather than being more assertive and critical of the country in its handling of COVID-19.

China’s continued aggressive stance on territorial issues in the South China Sea, altercations with India in the Himalayas and the power grab in Honk Kong have raised concerns in many countries and seriously hindered its long standing objective of bringing Taiwan under its control. The budding super-power has therefore failed to make use of the opportunity offered by an inept American administration. At a time when it could have earned kudos as Mr Nice in the face of Mr Incompetent/Nasty (Trump) it has squandered that opportunity.

As the country’s leverage grows in leaps and bounds in all areas, it has not developed the robust debate within its governing structure to deal with new complex issues.

The coterie of cadres with absolute authority that was adequate in a weak and isolated country has not coped with the demands of an emerging super-power COVID-19 highlighted the lack of effective control by WHO – it relies on reports by national governments – in pinpointing outbreaks and launching remedial actions. That deficiency combined with a very interconnected world resulted in a very fast spread of the virus rather than the rapid dissemination of information to curb its spread.

A global pandemic in an increasingly interconnected world arrived at a time when the new super-power with tentacles around the globe failed to act because its opaque decision making process was at variance with its new role, combined with its myopic nationalism; when the institution that should play a crucial role, the WHO, proved ineffective as a global early warning beacon; at a time when the most powerful country, the USA, is ruled by an inept president, who is hostile to transnational organisations, cooperation and instead is hell bent on destroying such organisations and picks a fight with the budding super-power where the disease originated from, a very toxic scenario; Trump constantly refers to COVID-19 as the “China virus”. This is indeed global systems failure on a monumental scale.
To be continued tomorrow
Rogers, a principal consultant at Media and Event Management (MEMO), wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.


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