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What the US has learned these last four years

Flags at the US National Mall represent the people who are unable to travel for Joe Biden's presidential inauguration in Washington. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

It wasn't pretty, but we made it to Inauguration Day. These last four years have taught the US a lot about itself — so what have we learned?

We've learned that when it comes to the continued functioning of US democracy, two institutions have acquitted themselves particularly well. The first is the military — one reason the events of January 6 didn't turn into an actual coup is because the military never wavered in their commitment to the US Constitution, and stayed out of domestic US politics. For four years, the military brass demonstrated the independence of its chain of command, and resisted Trump's pressure to do his domestic political bidding. The one time it didn't — clearing out Lafayette Park so that Trump could stage a photo op — was such a chastening moment that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs apologized even for the perception of impropriety. One shudders to think what would have happened if senior members of the US military were more receptive to Trump's strongman inclinations.

The other institution that deserves praise is the judiciary. As dozens of courts across the country have proved in the interregnum between Election Day and Inauguration Day, the US court system remains free of political interference and intervention, even when the most powerful political figure in the country launches false claims and files frivolous lawsuits designed to muddy the political waters. While Trump's claims of election fraud have indeed succeeded in convincing a segment of the US electorate that Joe Biden didn't win the election legitimately, US courts were having none of it, and remain among the robust political institutions in the United States today.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Trump's stoking of political divisions demoralized a civil service that for generations took pride in being non-partisan — a near-impossibility during the Trump years. It's also further widened already an unworkable political divide in Congress, making it impossible for Congress to rise above the political fray to attend to the business of the people. What's more, Congress has lost much of its ability to act as an effective check on the Executive, one of its most important functions.

Furthermore, for many Americans Trump's assault against accepting electoral defeat forever tarnishes Biden's electoral victory, and possibly the entire electoral process going forward. Social media has been elevated from a sideshow of politics to arguably its most important arena, raising real and difficult questions about freedom of speech, who is responsible for policing these platforms and what responsibilities and limitations political leaders have in using them. And it's fair to say that Trump has changed expectations for the kind of character people will expect in future US presidents, for better and worse.

With Biden assuming office, the US returns to more traditional political leadership. But that doesn't mean the United States will suddenly regain the stature it enjoyed before Trump took office — too much has changed for both the US and the world to suddenly turn back the clock. What has changed most is the depth of the division within US society today. For the last four years, the political dysfunction in the US emanated from the very top; the events of the last few weeks show that the political dysfunction will persist well after Trump's departure from the Oval Office. If Biden hopes to change the world he's inheriting from Trump, he'll need to begin at home.

A century after the rise and destruction of Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood, Greenwood Rising is turning the site of a tragedy into a vibrant community hub, supported by a $1 million grant from Bank of America.

Greenwood, or Black Wall Street, was a thriving community of Black-owned businesses until the race-fueled massacre of 1921 that killed hundreds of Black residents and wiped out the neighborhood's homes and businesses. Nearing the 100th anniversary of this tragedy, focused activity in the neighborhood—including a history center—is bringing to life the spirit of Black Wall Street.

The most ambitious global vaccination drive in history is in motion. Over the past three months, more than 213 million COVID-19 shots have been administered across 95 countries, and the vaccination rate is slowly increasing. At the current rate, around 6.11 million doses are being administered daily.

It's a rare bit of hopeful news after 15 months of collective misery. So where do things stand at the moment, and what's keeping the world from getting to herd immunity faster?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

With protests growing, where does that leave the Myanmar coup?

Well, certainly no feeling on the part of the military that they need to back down under either domestic or international pressure. There's been relatively limited violence, thankfully so far. A few protesters have been killed. They've used tear gas, they've used water cannons, but much less of a crackdown than certainly they're capable of or that we've seen from the Myanmar military historically. That, of course, gives the protesters on the ground more incentive to think that they have success, and they can continue.

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Reducing carbon emissions is good for the planet and good for your lungs, but there's one group of countries that might not be so keen on green: those that rely heavily on oil and gas exports to run their economies. As the rest of the world gets closer to "Net Zero" in the coming decades, these petrostates will be in big trouble unless they diversify their economies — fast. So, how vulnerable are the world's top oil and gas producers to a low-carbon future? We look at how much the 20 most hydrocarbon-dependent nations would stand to lose over the next two decades under what the Carbon Tracker Initiative calls a "low-carbon scenario".

US to release Khashoggi report: The Biden administration's intel chief is expected to release on Thursday a report on the murder of Saudi dissident journalist — and US resident — Jamal Khashoggi. In line with previously reported findings, the assessment will say that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was involved in the plot to kill and dismember Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Aside from a sprinkling of new details, we don't expect much from the report itself, but we are keen to see how it shapes US-Saudi relations under Joe Biden, who has promised to take a harder line with Riyadh over human rights and security issues than his predecessor did. Part of that new approach is that the US president will no longer speak directly to the Crown Prince himself as Trump did — from now on, only his dad, King Salman, gets calls from the White House.
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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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