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The post-pandemic era: A transition to a multipolar world order

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The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the world, including the balance of power between states. There is no doubt of that, but the question is, how?

The United States has been, without any doubt, the world’s leading superpower of the last century, following the glorious victory of the Second World War and after defeating their only rival superpower, the Soviet Union, at the end of the Cold War. The presidency of Bill Clinton in the ‘90s perhaps represented the peak of their power and the establishment of a new unipolar order – with the United States as the undeniable hegemon.

The terror attacks of 9/11 signaled a turning point in world history. President Bush’s aggressive response in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq demonstrated the United States could no longer rely merely on soft power to maintain its hegemonic position – it had to use hard power to do so.

During this time, the inexorable rise of China as an economic and military powerhouse wasn’t being properly evaluated in Washington D.C., considering the Bush administration’s special focus on the Middle East.

When Obama came to office, his administration realised that China was a reality that could no longer be ignored. Competing against China would have had drastic economic repercussions, and for this reason this period was characterized by increased trade between the two superpowers, agreements and the prospect of prosperity for both. In practice, Obama tried to maintain the privileged position of the United States on the world stage by taking multilateral actions together with historical allies and new potential partners, instead of seeing them as a threat. It was 2009 and there was no longer a unipolar world order on the horizon.

The election of President Trump in 2016 turned this situation upside down. “America First” was on the one hand the valid recognition the United States was no longer the sole superpower, and on the other hand it constituted a rant against evidence, a child’s cry on the international stage. Trump’s aggressive use of soft power had no other effect than accelerating the prospect of a multipolar world, with the United States and China as the main superpowers, with Russia and the European Union standing a step behind.

During the past month however, an even greater international earthquake put everything under discussion, the Covid-19 pandemic. It started in China, as we all know, but it is having a devastating effect on the United States, compared to other countries. Trump’s self-praise does not disguise the fact that his administration has demonstrated inability and incompetence in understanding the problem, and in providing timely and valid solutions.

Whether Trump or his political opponent Joe Biden will be elected in 2020 won’t change the fact that the economic depression caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will shape a new role for the United States – and a new world order – at the end of all of this.

China has been hit hard by the pandemic, not only in terms of human loss, but also in terms of trade. Closed borders and limited business don’t favour the Chinese economy, which is largely based on exports. The role of China could be further damaged over the next months if the international community starts to condemn their initial response to the virus. Trump’s move to withdraw funding for the World Health Organisation, and his failed shift in discourse attempting to rebrand SARS-CoV-2 as the “China virus” suggests China may however win this battle of rhetoric against the United States.

The United States, as we are beginning to understand, will be damaged from every direction. The pandemic highlighted social divisions within the country, exacerbated pre-existing racial problems, and further underlined the incompetence of the political class and the irrelevance of the scientific community when it comes to directing national policies. While the economy is finally restarting, the pandemic is producing drastic changes for Americans, revealing a vulnerable society with many people losing their jobs at an unprecedented speed.

The international image of the main world’s superpower – and its soft power – have been deteriorating at an alarming pace. If the pandemic will expose the incompetence of populist, far right movements that have been growing in influence over the past decade, the international support for Trump’s presidency will further decrease – leaving the United States completely isolated.

This will indirectly have an impact on American hard power, with military operations that are less supported by international allies – who may increasingly prevent the use of their bases and ground for American or NATO operations. The pandemic is actually already having a direct effect on American military operations: as borders are closed and states are in lockdown, international military training has been suspended, and operations have been reduced.

All in all, this could provide China with a tremendous advantage in military terms, strengthening its position in the South China Sea at the expense of the United States. In practice China may catch up from a military, economic and logistic point of view, while growing its influence on the world stage. It is however unlikely that China will become a new hegemon on the world stage, predominantly because the United States is still a military powerhouse, and their influence may return if the Democrats find their way back to the White House.

The European Union (EU) will also play a major role in the post pandemic era. If the EU will be successful in learning from its mistakes and becoming a better connected political and economic society, it may become the world’s new moral superpower – perhaps with a joint military that will become over time less dependent on Washington D.C. This may be a historical occasion for the EU, as both the United States and Russia, who oppose the European project (as they fear Brussels might dictate their international policies), are distracted by their fight against Covid-19.

It is not yet crystal clear how Russia will manage the Covid-19 pandemic, with its growing number of cases and deaths. However, while Americans have struggled to impose their political will in Syria and Turkey, Russia is a growing power on the world stage, and has gained vast influence in the Middle Eastover the past decade.

We can therefore envision the establishment of a multipolar world order, with a weakened position occupied by the United States and a stronger one occupied by China. Russia will be there too, hoping to catch up. The EU may have its chance to take a step forward and define its own fate. In this context, international organisations may finally become more independent from the influence of individual countries, and their voices may be raised – more frequently at least – for the good of the world.

A multipolar world is more dangerous than a unipolar one – many competing players introduce more variables for states to consider, increasing the instability of the whole system. As Prof. Anthony Pahnke pointed out, the new world order may look as it did in the 1930s, and we all know how this ended. However, multipolarity also means countries may be freer to choose their own policies, and ultimately to increase the quality of life of their citizens. It may also mean that, although fragile, the equilibrium of international relations may be more durable. It is better for the world to have multiple potential threats, instead of one, as states may ultimately realise they are better off with policies of multilateral agreement and collaboration, rather than competition.

Federico Germani is a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He studied International Relations at the University of London and he is the founder and director of Culturico. He can be reached on Twitter @fedgermani

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The 4 groups of Senate Republicans that will decide Trump’s impeachment trial

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With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing back the Trump impeachment trial to mid-February to make sure things cool down, Senate Republicans’ positions on the vote are far from crystallized yet. Here are the four groups of Senate Republicans, according to views and likely vote. The numbers and composition of these four groups will decide Trump’s future political faith. Which group Mitch McConnell chooses to position himself in will also be a deciding factor in the unusual and curious impeachment trial of a former US president no longer sitting in office.

Group 1: The Willing Executioners

There surely are those in the Republican Party such as Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Ben Sasse who cannot wait to give that Yea and the final boot to disgraced former President Trump, and will do that with joy and relief. Both the Utah Senator and the Nebraska Senator may be vying for the leadership spot in the Republican Party themselves but that is not the whole story. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska openly said “I want him out.” This group is unlikely to reach as many as 17 Senators, however, needed for the two thirds Senate majority to convict Trump.

Group 2: The Never Give up on Trumpers

There are also those Republican Senators who will stick with Trump through thick and thin until the end – some out of conviction, but most as someone who cannot afford to alienate the Trump supporter base in their state – a supporter base which is still as strong. 

At least 21 Republican Senators are strongly opposed to voting to convict former President Trump, as reported by Newsweek. They realize that doing so would be a political suicide. Republican voters, on the whole, are unified in their belief that the presidential elections were not fair and Joe Biden did not win legitimately, with 68% of Republican voters holding the belief that the elections were “rigged”. The majority of the Republican Party constituents are Never Give up on Trumpers themselves.

Among them are Senators Cruz and Hawley. Both will fight at all cost a vote which certifies as incitement to violence and insurrection the same rhetoric they both themselves used to incite the Trump crowd. Cruz and Hawley will try to avoid at all cost the legal certification of the same rhetoric as criminal in order to avoid their own removal under the 14th Amendment, as argued already by Senator Manchin and many others.

Senator Ron Johnson even called upon Biden and Pelosi to choose between the Trump impeachment trial and the Biden new cabinet confirmation. Group 2 will fight fierce over the next weeks and you will recognize them by the public rhetoric.

Group 3: I’d really like to but I can’t be on the record for convincing a President of my own party

Then there is a large group of Republican Senators – maybe the largest – who would really like to give that Yea vote and leave Trump behind but they do not wish to go on the record as having voted to convict a US President from their own party. Some of these Senators will share their intention to vote Yea in private or off the record with the media, but when push comes to shove and the final vote, they will be hesitant and in the end will vote Nay. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida falls under Group 3.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is also the illustration of the average Republican Senator right now – someone who said that Trump committed “impeachable offenses” but who is not sure about convicting him through trial, so that probably means a Nay. 

The BBC quoted a New York Time’s estimate from mid-January that as many as 20 Republican Senators are open to voting to convict Trump, but it should be recalled that in the first Trump impeachment trial in 2020, several Republican Senators also shared in private and off the record that they would be willing to convict. After so much discussion, calculations and prognosis, in the end, it was only Senator Mitt Romney who broke ranks on only one of the two impeachment articles, and voted to convict.

The Capitol events, of course, are incomparable to the Ukraine impeachment saga, but it should be accounted for that the trial vote will likely take place sometime in March 2021, or two months after the Capitol events, when most of the tension and high emotion would have subsided and much of American society will be oriented towards “moving forward”. Group 3 will host the majority of Senate Republicans who in the end will decide to let it go. Most of the 21 Republican Senators who already expressed their opposition to convicting Trump actually belong to Group 3 and not Group 2 Never Give up on Trumpers.

Group 4: I am a Never Give up on Trumper but I really want to look like Group 3

And finally, there is the most interesting group of Republican Senators who are secretly a Never Give up on Trumpers but would like to be perceived as belonging to the hesitant and deliberative Group 3 – willing and outraged but unwilling to go all the way on the record to eliminate a former Republican President.

Senator Ted Cruz might move into Group 4 in terms of rhetoric. Never Give up on Trumpers will vote Nay willingly but will try to present themselves as conflicted Group 3 politicians doing it for different reasons.

Which group Mitch McConnel chooses will be the decisive factor in aligning the Senate Republican votes. McConnel himself seems to be a Group 3 Senator who, in the end, is unlikely to rally the rest of the Senators to convict Trump even though McConnel would really like Trump out of the Republican Party, once and for all. The very fact that McConnel is not in a hurry and is in fact extending the cool-off period places him in Group 3. 

Yea voters don’t need time to think about it and look at things. It took House Democrats exactly three days to get it over and done with. McConnel is quoted as willing to give time to “both sides to properly prepare”, allowing former president Trump enjoy due process. But Trump’s legal team will notice quickly that there is not much to prepare for, as they won’t find plenty of legal precedent in the jurisprudence on American Presidents’ incitement to violent insurrection for stopping the democratic certification process on an opponent who is the democratically elected President.

McConnel himself has said that he is “undecided” and that speaks volumes. He is a Group 3 Senate Republican, and with that, Group 3 will describe the mainstream Senate Republicans’ position in the impeachment trial. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set 8 February as the start of the impeachment trial, pushing earlier McConnel’s time frame. This is when it all starts.

It is my prediction that when all is said and done, there won’t be as many as 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict former President Trump. Trump will walk away, but not without the political damage he has incurred himself and has also left in American political life.

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Two Ways that Trump Spread Covid-19 in U.S.

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

1. Encouraging infected workers to continue working even if it infects others:

On 12 May 2020, two hundred and twenty five labor organizations signed a letter to Antonin Scalia’s son Eugene Scalia who was Donald Trump’s appointed Secretary of Labor, and it urged his Department to change its policies “that address the standards that apply under the federal U[nemployment] I[insurance] law to determine when workers remain eligible for regular state UI or P[andemic] U[nemployment] A[ssistance] if they leave work or refuse to work due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.” In more-common language, an economist Jared Bernstein headlined in the Washington Post six days later on May 18th, “The Labor Department is forcing workers back to jobs that could make them sick” and he explained that Scalia’s Department “has issued guidance that virtually ignores health risks and encourages employers to report workers who refuse job offers [while unemployed] so their unemployment payments can be taken away. The agency is busy urging employers to snitch on ‘claimants that have turned down suitable work.’” Trump’s Labor Department ignored the labor-organizations’ letter. Then, a barista headlined at Huffpost on 22 January 2021, “I Work In A Coffee Shop In Montana. Anti-Maskers Have Made My Job Hell.” She complained that the many customers who refused to wear masks were causing her to fear working there — she was blaming those customers, but not Trump. However, Trump and his Labor Secretary were responsible and simply didn’t care about the safety of workers, such as her, and were instead encouraging employers to force these workers to stay on the job, though doing so endangered themselves and their co-workers. Millions of infected workers were infecting others because not to would cause them to become fired and could ultimately force them into homelessness. Maybe the billionaires who funded Trump’s political career profited from such exploitation of their employees, but nationally this policy helped to increase the spreading of Covid-19. Also: since so many of those bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees are Blacks and Hispanics, etc., this Trump policy helped to cause the drastically higher infection-rates that have been reported among such groups.

2. Refusing to deal with the pandemic on a national basis:

On 15 July 2020, the Washington Post headlined “As the coronavirus crisis spins out of control, Trump issues directives — but still no clear plan” and reported that, “health professionals have urged the White House to offer a disciplined and unified national message to help people who are fatigued more than five months into the crisis and resistant to changing social behaviors, such as wearing masks and keeping a distance from others. Trump, for instance, refused to be seen publicly wearing a mask until last weekend, when he sported one during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ‘You can get a really strong and eloquent governor who can help at the state level, but it does seem like we need some more national messaging around the fact that for many people, this is the most adversity they’ve faced in their life,’ said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.” Every country (such as China, Vietnam, Venezuela, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and Finland) that has been far more successful than America is at having a low number of Covid-19 cases (and deaths) per million residents has dealt with the pandemic on a national and not merely local basis, but all of the worst-performing countries (such as America, which now is at 76,407 “Tot Cases/1M pop”) have not.

It therefore also stands to reason that 

which ranks all 50 states according to how high is the number of Covid-19 infections per million inhabitants, shows (and links to the data proving) that “In 2016, the top 17 [most Covid-infected states] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump.” The correlation of high Covid-infection-rate with Trump-voting was astoundingly high. Trump, it seems, gave the high-infection-rate states what they had wanted. But what he gave to America is the highest Covid-19 infection-rate of any nation that has at least 11 million population. It is the 7th-highest Covid-19 infection-rate among all 219 reporting nations. Trump’s policies produced the type of results that had been expected by well-informed people around the world.

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A Most Unusual Inaugural

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President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden enter the inauguration platform during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes worldly glory, which seems an apt phrase for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20th, and earlier  Donald J. Trump departed the White House quietly for Florida — his last ride on Air Force One as president — leaving behind a generous and gracious letter for Biden.  So it is described by Joe Biden himself.  Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first president not to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, who remained inside the Capitol building because of poor health while his successor Warren G. Harding was installed.

It was a most unusual inauguration this time.  There were no crowds on the lawns outside; instead row upon row of American flags representing them.  The official attendees all wore masks and included three former Presidents (Obama, the younger Bush and Clinton).  President Carter, who is in his 90s and frail, sent his apologies. 

The usual late breakfast before the ceremony and the lunch afterwards were also cancelled — one cannot eat with a mask in place!  No evening inaugural balls either.  These were sometimes so many that the new president and his lady could only spend a few minutes at each.  In their stead, there was a virtual inaugural celebration hosted by Tom Hanks the actor.  It consisted mostly of pop-singers who supported Biden plus a disappointing rendering of Amazing Grace by Yo-Yo Ma on his cello. 

Biden’s first act was to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of Trump’s policies.  He announced the U.S. would not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and would continue to contribute to it.  On climate change a complete policy reversal now means the U.S. will abide by the Paris climate accord.   

Biden’s other executive orders totalling 15 responded to the coronavirus crisis with the goal of giving 100 million vaccine shots by the end of April.  He proposes to establish vaccine centers at stadiums and community facilities and also plans to speed up production of the supplies required for making vaccines.

The U.S. now has lost 406,000 lives (and counting) from COVID-19.  That number is noted to be greater than U.S. deaths during WW2.  The virus has so far infected 24.5 million people.  However, the problem is more complicated than simply inoculating everyone.

Swedish authorities report that 23 people, mostly elderly and having other health issues, have died after being given the Pfizer vaccine.  Its side effects apparently can be severe and mimic the disease itself.  Thus given a choice, one would prefer the Moderna vaccine.  

Old age is a poignant sight to behold.  Biden the ex high school football star now having difficulty lifting his feet to walk.  Very gamely, he even tried a jog or two to say a quick hello to bystanders during his short walk to the White House.  We wish him well and hope for a successful presidential term.  Thirty-six years as senator and eight years as vice-president certainly make him one of the most experienced to sit in the White House Oval Office.   Good luck Mr. President!  

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