Coronavirus is tearing us apart, together

Coronavirus is tearing us apart, together

Pandemics are great equalizers. The coronavirus doesn't discriminate based on your passport, your tax returns, or your political party. It doesn't care how old you are, where you live, or who you voted for in the last election. It just wants to kill you.

And yet, while we are all one humanity from the perspective of the virus, the pandemic – and the responses to it – are opening deep fissures in our societies that may persist even after the wave of infections subsides. Here are a few to watch out for.


Rich vs Poor: In the US, athletes and celebrities are getting preferential access to scarce tests. In Russia, the "one percent" are hoarding ventilators. Mexico's outbreak has been traced to a luxury ski lodge in Colorado. Locals in the Hamptons are angry as wealthy New Yorkers bring the disease "out East." Across the world, the rich and famous not only have vastly better access to care, they are also more shielded from the economic fallout than ordinary folks and the working poor, who don't have the benefit of "teleworking," or who are – at huge risk to themselves – staffing hospitals, grocery stores, delivery services, drugstores, and public infrastructure. The class antagonism will grow.

Local vs National: In many countries, but particularly ones with federalized political systems, there is tension between national governments that should be leading coordinated responses to the pandemic, and the local officials on the front lines, often coping with scarce resources. This is even more of an issue in countries where the initial national-level response has been slow—Brazil, the United States, Mexico, or the Czech Republic, for example.

Democrats vs Republicans: In the United States, everything is polarized, even a pandemic. The latest polling shows that Democrats – more concentrated in the urban centers that have been hit hardest so far – are far more concerned about the virus' spread than Republicans, though the gap is closing. A month ago nearly half of Republicans said they weren't concerned – now only about a quarter say that. Only 5 percent of Democrats say they aren't worried.

US vs China: The world's two largest economies have their differences, but where the global threat of coronavirus might have been a practical opportunity to work together to save the planet, Beijing and Washington have instead sniped at each other about the origins of the disease, kicked out each other's journalists, and limited their cooperation on searches for a vaccine.

Globalists v Tribalists: Some people see the COVID-19 crisis as an overdue wake-up call for more global coordination and unity. Others see it as a confirmation of their sense that globalization had gone too far, and that a future of higher walls and less economic integration is a safer and healthier one.

When it's all over, whose view will prevail, and where?

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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