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.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

More Show less

Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

More Show less

More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

More Show less

Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal