Namık Tan

(R) Ambassador

March 27, 2020 – New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the National Guard amid the COVID-19 crisis: “this is a rescue mission”. (Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

“The microscope reveals to man his significance, the telescope, his insignificance…”

These words belong to the Canadian born American writer and astrologer Manly P. Hall. 

The dramatic global spread of COVID-19 has mercilessly corroborated this paradox hidden in human duality in a way that the human race is unlikely to ever forget.  

Mankind, confronted with an unfamiliar threat and terrified, is struggling to agree on the right response. But accepting death as a divine fact of life, the human race will overcome this pandemic; refusing to allow a virus control over its future.

It is however inevitable that the fight against SARS-CoV-2 will take time and will bear a high material and psychological cost on humanity. The magnitude of this cost is largely determined by and attributed to the skills and abilities of political leaders. 

After COVID-19: a new political landscape?

It is already widely discussed how the world will change after the pandemic. 

Some believe that liberal democracies have failed to respond adequately to the pandemic arguing for the rise of more authoritarian governing models.

Proponents of this argument refer mostly to the turmoil in the World’s most powerful country, the United States of America. They argue that China, a country with total disregard for all fundamental democratic values, has performed remarkably in defeating the spread of the deadly virus. 

China vs the U.S.

If the information coming out of China is accurate, Chinese authorities, employing very harsh measures, succeeded in curbing the spread of the disease. Unburdened by any form of future accountability, every conceivable measure that the Party deemed appropriate was taken. Without concern for transparancy or global information sharing, China first pursued a very strict denial and censorship policy. And later, still at the early stages of the outbreak, it used its protege, the Director General of the World Health Organization, to conceal from the international community that the pandemic would reach global ramifications. 

In contrast to China, the U.S. has been very transparently ineffective in managing the crisis. The World took note of the clumsiness of President Trump, his administration’s refusal or inability to take cautionary measures and the stories of high-level politicians making financial gains. 

While President Trump turned a deaf ear to urgent policy advice by career bureaucrats, he chose to sneer at the media and the public demanding more transparency. Despite the crisis, he did not hesitate to fire up political polarization and demonize his opponents. He even suggested that all COVID-19 infected states had Governors from the Democratic Party. 

The Presidency of the U.S. isn’t the only American institution that will be remembered for its failures and mistakes during this crisis. Members of Congress also failed before this pandemic challenge. For example, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr committed a crime by selling his shares on the stock market, after receiving a confidential briefing in early February about Covid-19 and learning that the pandemic will shock global markets. 

It wasn’t just Burr who used this privileged information to benefit himself. At least one Democrat and three other Republican Senators also sold off their stock holdings. It deserves to be noted that one of those Senators, Kelly Loeffler, is married to the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. 

And while insider trading is a federal crime, and despite the fact that the press widely reported on it being committed, there is no sign yet that these Members of Congress will ever be investigated.

Sadly things aren’t very different on our side of the Atlantic. EU countries are suffering similar policy failures and mistakes. The failure of leaders across the EU -with Chancellor Merkel being the exception – in managing the crisis did not go unnoticed by the global community. Countries with autocratic regimes like China and Russia sending aid to EU countries such as Italy had further damaged whatever was left of the EU’s reputation.

Democracy or Autocracy?

With the USA and the UK at the forefront, Western Democracies failed the test. And this failure is noticed and being discussed by the global community. On a more positive note, we should expect a process of soul-searching to take place after getting this crisis is finally under control, and certain lessons will be derived. Most, if not all, Western politicians who are responsible for making this crisis worse will not be re-elected and those involved in corruption will, hopefully, be held accountable. Democracies will heal their wounds and come out of this ordeal as more powerful.

The question remains: what will happen in countries with autocratic regimes? Will China be held accountable for hiding information and not timely informing the global community of the virus by December 2019 causing the pandemic to reach unprecedented dimensions? Is the global community going to ask China why she silenced Chinese citizens who were trying to communicate existential information to the world regarding the severity of the Covid-19 threat? Can we even rely on the Chinese claim that the pandemic is now under full control? Will the World ignore China’s efforts to corrupt the WHO? 

The only conclusion that we must draw is that, after defeating the pandemic, it has become imperative to ensure that the global geopolitical order is lead by democratic and pluralistic regimes who operate within the rule of law and respect fundamental freedoms and universal values.