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.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

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