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.

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

More Show less

Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

More Show less

24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recounts how in 2020 she was cropped out of a photo at Davos of her with other white climate activists (like Greta Thunberg) and what it revealed about how people of color and people in developing countries, like those in Africa, are frequently excluded from the climate conversation.

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some fun, intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

First up — what's the Refugee Team?

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the International Olympic Committee created for the first time the Refugee Team to allow those who had fled persecution in their home countries to participate in the Olympics. Up from 10 athletes in 2016, it now has 29 participants across 12 sports from conflict-ridden countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.

A separate team of refugees will also participate at the Paralympics, both of which are managed by the IOC and the UN Refugee Agency.

Iranian-born Kimia Alizadeh, a Germany-based taekwondo champion, narrowly missed out on bronze this week, which would have been the Refugee Team's first ever Olympic medal. Follow the team here.

Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

More Show less

7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal