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Quick Take: As global case rate rises, polarization hurts pandemic response

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

First of all, the exploding cases that we're seeing moving from Europe and at least many states in the United States (though certainly not all) towards the developing world is getting you an exploding overall case rate. We've now seen from the World Health Organization yesterday the largest single day tally since the pandemic has begun over 180,000 cases that we know of. Add to that much lower testing rates in the developing world than in the advanced industrial economies and you'll see that we are nowhere close to being on the backside of this first wave of coronavirus. But that doesn't mean that the poorest countries in the world are all a disaster.


What we are seeing is that there are there are poor countries that have done a much better job in responding to the crisis. You don't have to be rich, but you do need to put politics aside and have a leadership that's willing to get the country together. Lead, you know, in a bipartisan way, focusing on expertise, focusing on science, a few of the poorer countries that have actually done a pretty good job of that: Vietnam. Now, in that case, because it's not in any way a democracy: single party rule, authoritarian. And the experience of lots of pandemics that gives them a playbook that they knew how to respond to - MERS, SARS - Southeast Asia has a bunch of that in recent years.

Secondly, Argentina, they're a democracy, but a weak one and a country in massive economic challenges. I mean, major default, debt spiraling through the roof. But a leader that did everything possible to get all of the governors, all of the legislators together, knowing that the response to the pandemic in very early days was going to make or break that country's very weak economy.

Then Greece, which is I mean, of the poor countries, we're talking about probably the most robust democracy, but which has gone through a depression. And in part, the fact that they've been on crisis footing for the last 10 years made it easier for them to pivot to the latest crisis. You know, on top of refugees, on top of massive unemployment, on top of challenging debt, dealing with a major lock down in a pandemic, too. And they've done it fairly well. So there is some good news out there. It's not about: are you a democracy? Are you an authoritarian regime? It's more about: do you have capable governance that is prepared to put politics aside for at least a short period of time to to address effectively this horrible pandemic?

And if you look at some of the countries that now have the largest caseloads: Brazil number one, the United States, number two, India, number three, not leading with science at all, very politicized. The country is more divided on the back of this crisis and makes it a lot harder to respond effectively, at least across the whole country. And, of course, that's what we're seeing in the United States as some states have very effective responses. Some states have very ineffective responses. And compared to Europe, where they put out, you know, all the countries put out fairly consistent advice for, you know, what a incremental end of lockdown would look like - and the local governments responded according to those rules. In the United States the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, puts out their recommendations and most of the states that start opening don't actually pay attention to the recommendations.

They open much more quickly. And a few weeks later, you see explosions of cases in a lot of those states in Florida and Texas and Arizona, in Oklahoma and in others.

Oklahoma, of course, a big deal. That was the big news this weekend, all about the rally, all about President Trump restarting his in-person rallies. It was an embarrassment for the campaign. They claimed that a million had signed up. Many of those people had no intention of supporting the president. It looks like a lot of teenagers and otherwise young folks on TikTok were signing up in the hopes of getting the campaign to say they had these massive numbers and then not actually turning up. It turned out not only did you not have a lot of people inside - 6,200 showing up in a space that could fit 19,000 - but only a few hundred in the outdoor over overflow space (you're supposed to get another forty thousand minimum there). And so Vice President Pence, Trump and others just canceled the outdoor rallies.

Now, look, first of all, is this a big deal? And the answer is no. Does it really matter that Trump doesn't have a lot of people showing up at his rally? No, not particularly, except that this is a president that makes so much of the marketing, about the numbers, who continually exaggerates. That was, of course, the first thing he did when he became president, around the inauguration. So the fact that this was such a big whiff, especially on the back of his own campaign manager, Brad Parscale, I would not be surprised if we see some changes being made maybe at the top inside that campaign. Certainly, a lot of folks in the White House I've been talking to are not very happy with him right now. And just secondly, there's a lot of schadenfreude because so many people out there, the country's so divided. So many people just want to see Trump fail at something particularly that they think will hurt him personally. And this is something he obviously cares a lot about.

I would also say, I mean, if we want to be honest about this, right, 6,200 people inside a facility where almost no one is wearing masks? I mean, less than ten percent of the people that showed up for the rally were actually wearing masks. That's the largest indoor gathering we've seen since the pandemic. It's an extraordinary number of people that are prepared to actually risk not only themselves, but also their families, their loved ones to show up for the president. That's actually a big deal. I don't think it's a smart deal and I'm fairly critical of that. But I mean, it is if you're trying to say: "hey, the president's unpopular."

Actually, he's still at 41 percent on average right now, which is pretty high given everything else happening in the country (lower than he was a couple of weeks ago) and, you know, that's quite something. There aren't many people in the world that could get that kind of group to come together under those circumstances. Now, when I criticize the president for holding the rally the way he did, I've gotten incredibly polarized responses. A number of people are saying: "That's awesome. We're so glad you're calling them out!" And others are saying: "How dare you? You know, look at Black Lives Matter and the millions of people that are out there. And you didn't say anything about them. Well, let's go into this in a couple of minutes because, you know, in a quick post, you can't really talk about it.

First of all, was I critical about the Black Lives Matter protests? The answer is actually yes, which is not an easy thing to do as a white guy. But if we're talking about the pandemic, the pandemic doesn't care. You have large numbers of people that are actually collecting together and yelling slogans. That's a dangerous thing to do in a pandemic. And when I saw no social distancing and when I saw some people out there not wearing masks, I was pretty critical of that and the number of posts. And it disturbs me that a lot of the media coverage refused to talk about that, were very quick to pile on to other sorts of demonstrations for not having social distancing.

And I want to be clear. I'm very sensitive to the importance of the Black Lives Matter issue. I'm supportive of the movement and for people that are marching, given the treatment of the black community in the United States historically and still now. I certainly am not going to downplay the importance of getting large numbers of people to share their voice at this historic time. But I'm also not going to downplay people that were marching before to get back to work during lockdowns, when they're struggling to make ends meet. The economic response from the United States is not adequate for them and the system isn't taking care of them. And of course, that's very different from the people that went to those anti-lockdown demonstrations with a big show of arms and refusing to wear masks because they want to show that they have liberty. And I think that's terribly irresponsible. But it's precisely the divisions inside this country right now that make it so hard for people to recognize each other's common humanity. And how important it is these grievances are real. And the fact that they're not being addressed is precisely why the country is so wealthy and yet so incredibly divided and hostile to each other. I also want to say that division makes it harder to criticize the Trump rally because people will come after you.

But here we have to recognize that he's the President of the United States. He sets the tone. And so, you know, it doesn't take much to tell people: "I want to re-engage with the rally but let's do it outdoors where we haven't had super-spreader incidents and where it's safer. Let's make sure you're wearing masks. I recommend you wear a mask. I'm going to wear a mask. All of my officials and my supporters and the people on camera behind me are going to wear masks because we know that's safer for the country." And he refuses to do that. In fact, the United States right now is the only advanced industrial democracy where wearing a mask has become a political issue, where it's become, for some, a show of patriotism not to wear a mask. And that is incredibly irresponsible, a dangerous thing to do. And part of the reason why many states in the United States right now are indeed seeing explosive growth of cases, not just because we're testing more, but also because you're seeing more transmission. You're seeing more hospitalizations. And I fear that's going to continue. It's a very bad time to have an election. It's a very bad time to have an incredibly divisive president. It's a very bad time to have such a divided constituency. And that's where we are. I wish we had some better news right now. I'll try to see what I can jimmy up over the course of the next few days and hope everyone is doing well and doing your best to avoid people.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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