The Self-Defeating Executive Order Against the International Criminal Court Just Security


The argument essentially boils down to the contrarian view that U.S. forces and intelligence personnel can commit atrocity crimes inside any of the 123 states parties of the Rome Statute (including all but one NATO ally, every country of the European Union, all of South America, and much of Africa, East Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean) without accountability before the ICC.

This view is especially precarious because the United States does not contest that those States’ national courts could prosecute U.S. defendants for such atrocity crimes, only that they can’t provide jurisdiction to an international court to handle such cases.

One can imagine those countries are or will be under pressure to applaud the administration’s invocation of the U.S. government’s argument and, despite the impact on their own view of justice and even survival, they also will be under pressure to acquiesce at least as a theoretical matter to any State that’s not party to the ICC committing atrocity crimes on their soil without recourse to international justice.

Source: The Self-Defeating Executive Order Against the International Criminal Court Just Security

Why Immunity to COVID-19 Is So Complicated | Smithsonian Magazine


Antibodies, which the body makes in response to dangerous microbes like SARS-CoV-2, are crucial for defending against disease. Many can glom onto pathogens and subdue them before they have a chance to encounter vulnerable human cells. Antibodies are also evidence: Some COVID-19 tests target these molecules because they show that someone has previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2. (And as previously reported, the possibility of false negatives or false positives, which are more common with some tests than others, can sometimes muddle attempts to pinpoint past infections.)

Even then, while a positive antibody test (also called a serology test) can say a lot about the past, it may not indicate much about a person’s future. Researchers still don’t know if antibodies that recognize SARS-CoV-2 prevent people from catching the virus a second time—or, if they do, how long that protection might last.

Immunity isn’t binary, but a continuum—and having an immune response, like those that can be measured by antibody tests, doesn’t make a person impervious to disease.

Source: Why Immunity to COVID-19 Is So Complicated | Science | Smithsonian Magazine

What the Flynn Case Means for the Future of American Democracy


It may be overshadowed by everything else roiling the United States right now.

But the 82-page legal brief filed Wednesday rebuking the Trump administration for its controversial motion to dismiss federal perjury charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn matters immensely for the future of American democracy.

John Gleeson, a retired federal judge appointed to evaluate the government’s highly unusual move, argued that Justice Department prosecutors tried to conceal the real reasons for dropping the charges against Flynn last month and that its attempt to wipe Flynn’s record clean was a “gross abuse of prosecutorial power.”

There is even more to the argument, though, beyond abuses by the Justice Department under President Donald Trump. In fact, how the Flynn case is ultimately decided will determine how much the separation of powers still holds in America today, or whether the presidency under Trump is no longer bound by the Constitution, if the president can tell the courts what to do.

The outcome of the case would then determine the future trajectory of creeping authoritarianism in the United States—something every diplomat in Washington and in allied countries abroad should be keeping a very close eye on.

Source: What the Flynn Case Means for the Future of American Democracy

Military housing still saddled with mold and maintenance problems, IG report finds | Stripes


Officials for the Defense Department’s inspector general reviewed eight housing-related IG reports issued from 2014 to 2017 for its latest audit released Tuesday. The report stated while progress has been made across a wide variety of concerns, there is still room for service officials to improve the quality of barracks and family housing available on military bases.

In those eight reports, the IG made 110 recommendations and 19 remain open.

Source: Military housing still saddled with mold and maintenance problems, IG report finds – Stripes

DARPA Pursues Program for Lower-Profile Long-Range Communications System | Executive Gov

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched an effort to address the need for long-range communication antennas that emit lower radio frequency signatures compared to the standard larger ones.

DARPA said Tuesday that it wants to use multiple small or mosaic antennas for reduced jamming risks and significant weight, power and cost requirements under the Resilient Networked Distributed Mosaic Communications program.

Source: DARPA Pursues Program for Lower-Profile Long-Range Communications System – Executive Gov

CISA Unveils Strategy to Protect Industrial Control Systems From Hackers | Executive Gov

The Department of Homeland (DHS) Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has launched a strategy to help safeguard industrial control systems from cyber threats, CyberScoop reported Tuesday.

“We’re going to ask more of the ICS community, but we’re also going to deliver more to you,” Christopher Krebs, director of CISA and a 2020 Wash100 Award winner, said Tuesday at a virtual meeting of the ICS Joint Working Group.

Source: CISA Unveils Strategy to Protect Industrial Control Systems From Hackers; Christopher Krebs Quoted – Executive Gov

The World After the Pandemic | Foreign Affairs


Fifteen years ago, after the SARS and H5N1 outbreaks, this magazine ran an article called “Preparing for the Next Pandemic.” Two years later came “Unprepared for a Pandemic,” then others. Cut to 2017, after MERS and Ebola and Zika: “Ready for a Global Pandemic? The Trump Administration May Be Woefully Underprepared.

None of this was prescience. It was conventional wisdom among public health experts. Anybody who didn’t understand the danger just wasn’t paying attention.

Still, even the Cassandras who saw such a crisis coming have been shocked by how poorly it has been handled, as our lead package explains. Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker trace how the failure to prepare was followed by a failure to contain.

More than a century on from 1918, we have proved little better at combating a global pandemic than our great-grandparents were. So much for the march of progress.

Source: The World After the Pandemic | Foreign Affairs

George Floyd Moves the World | Foreign Affairs


The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has thrust the United States into an uncomfortable light, as people around the world have taken to the streets to decry American racism. In Milan, protesters sat with hands around their necks in front of “I can’t breathe” signs, quoting Floyd’s dying words. The phrase was spelled out in candles in Australia. In Dublin, a large crowd, fists in the air, chanted, “No justice, no peace.” Syrians painted a mural of Floyd amid the rubble in Idlib. Black people across the world, said Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, were “shocked and distraught” by Floyd’s killing.

In many places, crowds turned their attention to practices by their own countries. In New Zealand, indigenous people stressed their vulnerability to racial profiling. In Bristol, England, protesters toppled the statue of Edward Colston, a prominent slave trader, and threw it into the harbor. In Belgium, protesters set fire to a statue of King Leopold II. The reaction went beyond a rebuke of racial injustice when Minneapolis police shot foreign reporters with “nonlethal” weapons, leading to criticism from foreign governments about the importance of press freedom.

The global impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks has felt like a shift “as monumental as the Berlin Wall coming down,” wrote the journalist Kim Zetter. But stunning as the reaction was, it was not unfamiliar: global demonstrations in solidarity with American racial protest were common during the U.S. civil rights movement. And as they did then, U.S. foreign policy leaders today have looked at the global response and considered the effect of the crisis on U.S. foreign relations—worrying that the protests and violent police response, coming on top of the United States’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, threaten to undermine American strength in the world. As Richard Haass wrote for Foreign Affairs last week, “The turmoil in the United States, set before the eyes of the world, raises questions about American power.” This message echoes the concern of American diplomats from the civil rights era: failing to live up to the nation’s stated ideals undermines its international influence.

During the civil rights movement, concern over the impact U.S. racism had on the nation’s global image helped reinforce pressure for reforms, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The focus on how the United States was perceived, however, rather than deeper structures of inequality, ultimately limited reform efforts. Race discrimination remained an American feature, undermining rights at home and leaving the United States persistently vulnerable to the charge that its promotion of democracy and human rights abroad was hypocritical.

In 1963, an earlier generation marched around the world in support of racial justice in the United States. That May, police in Birmingham, Alabama, pummeled black high school students who were peacefully marching into the city to protest race discrimination. Shocking photographs of children plastered by fire hoses against buildings and threatened by snarling police dogs appeared in newspapers around the world, reinforcing global criticism of American racism.

Although some reactions reflected Cold War–era geopolitics, condemnation was nearly universal. Both U.S. allies and U.S. adversaries insisted that the United States could not be an effective world leader if it failed to protect the democratic rights of its own citizens. American diplomats in foreign posts cabled Washington about the global outrage and its palpable impact on public opinion.

These events coincided with the very first meeting of the Organization of African Unity. Leaders of newly independent African nations departed from their other business to debate how to react and whether U.S. racial violence was a reason for OAU nations to break relations with Washington. Backing off from a break, they passed a weaker resolution condemning American racism (which the African Union Commission reaffirmed after George Floyd’s murder). But it was enough to make clear that violent attacks on civil rights protesters were a foreign relations problem as well as a matter of domestic justice.

As the civil rights movement kept American injustice in the public eye, aides to President John F. Kennedy argued that progress on civil rights was essential to achieving the administration’s foreign policy goals. The president called on Congress to pass landmark civil rights legislation. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in Senate testimony on legislation, stressed that the impact of racism on U.S. foreign relations was “very grave.” For many foreign policy leaders, civil rights reform was essential to protect the nation’s image in the Cold War competition for the hearts and minds of peoples in newly independent nations.

The Kennedy administration was wary when hundreds of thousands of people planned to march on Washington that August in support of the Civil Rights Act and broader social change. But the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) tried to ensure that the “right” message about the march was heard around the world. In U.S. propaganda, the march was a symbol of progress, an example of black American political participation, and the realization of American democratic ideals.

U.S. government information programs could not, however, contain the meaning of the march as it quickly became a global event. James Baldwin and other black Americans in Paris planned a petition drive in support of the march. Along with the musicians Hazel Scott, Memphis Slim, Mezz Mezzrow, Mae Mercer, and some hundred others, they walked from the American Church in Paris to the U.S. embassy to deliver a scroll of signatures in support of the March on Washington a week before the event. Baldwin then joined 200,000 others on August 28 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Like today’s Black Lives Matter protests, the March on Washington spawned solidarity marches in many countries. Over 1,200 marched on the U.S. consulate in Amsterdam. The mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, led 2,500 demonstrators. These actions were not all celebratory. A small, informal group protested at the U.S. embassy in Ghana carrying signs with slogans like “America, Africa Is Watching You” and “Stop Genocide in America and South Africa.”

The U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, expected a crowd of critical demonstrators. Officials planned together with local police, who took precautions, the counselor for political affairs reported, “not only to see that the ‘demonstration’ stayed entirely within peaceful bounds but even more to reduce the whole affair to minimal proportions.” About 200 police were stationed around the embassy. The show of force had the intended effect: only 13 protesters showed up, which pleased the embassy. They wore signs with slogans like “Remember Negroes Also Built America,” “Down With the Ku Klux Klan,” and “Medgar Evers Did Not Die in Vain,” referring to the murdered civil rights leader. Police allowed just two protesters to approach the embassy to deliver a petition from African liberation groups. American racism “fills us with anger,” the petition said, for the United States promoted freedom and democracy, “but these have only been on paper and never practiced.”

At the March on Washington itself, Martin Luther King, Jr., not only spoke upliftingly of the “dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He also emphasized the “bad check” the country gave its black citizens in a nation “still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” U.S. information programming tried to soften the edges of the march, spinning it as an example of democracy in action.

But facts on the ground continually hampered U.S. government efforts to shape the story for foreign audiences. Just over two weeks after the March on Washington, a bomb exploded in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young black girls. The international press condemned the “slaughter of innocents,” and U.S. embassies were flooded with petitions. A Nigerian government leader sent a check to the families and objected to the “increasing brutalities and bestialities” that black Americans suffered. The bombing erased the positive impact of the march on world opinion. In Cameroon, a government official invited to a screening of a USIA film on the March on Washington asked: “Don’t you have a film of the church dynamiting, too?”

Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which barred race discrimination by private employers and by federal fund recipients such as universities, was an important step forward—one celebrated by the foreign press and touted by the USIA and Voice of America as evidence that the United States protected rights of nonwhite peoples and that democracy was superior to Soviet communism. Yet racist attacks continued, and protests consumed American cities in the aftermath of King’s assassination in 1968. Racism remained endemic, even if formal legal change made American propaganda easier to write.

By the end of the decade, race discrimination was less frequently at the top of foreign press highlights in presidential daily briefings. This was not because the problems were solved, however. There was simply a new focus of foreign criticism: the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Although the impact of American racism on the nation’s diplomacy was widely recognized during the Cold War, most officials and foreign policy elites regarded discrimination as an aberration, a temporary failing of an inherently just system of government that would gradually be overcome. Changes from slavery to freedom appeared to be evidence of “progress,” and the story in public diplomacy programming was that democracy had made this racial progress possible. The persistence of U.S. racism—evidenced most recently by the nonchalance of Officer Derek Chauvin, hands in his pockets with his knee on Floyd’s neck as he died—eviscerates this hopeful narrative.

The racism crisis in the United States today is not one slip among others that makes the nation look weak in the eyes of the world. Racism is a central and enduring American characteristic, as the critical race theorist Derrick Bell insisted long ago. Calling it out, as have millions of Americans in the past week, does not undermine the nation by revealing its well-known failings to the rest of the world. The world has known of these failings for centuries. Instead, the protests are a first step toward redress. As other nations are challenged about their own legacies of injustice, a serious U.S. reform effort could be an example of strength worth emulating.

Source: George Floyd Moves the World | Foreign Affairs

Francis Fukuyama on the Pandemic and Political Order


Major crises have major consequences, usually unforeseen. The Great Depression spurred isolationism, nationalism, fascism, and World War II—but also led to the New Deal, the rise of the United States as a global superpower, and eventually decolonization. The 9/11 attacks produced two failed American interventions, the rise of Iran, and new forms of Islamic radicalism. The 2008 financial crisis generated a surge in antiestablishment populism that replaced leaders across the globe. Future historians will trace comparably large effects to the current coronavirus pandemic; the challenge is figuring them out ahead of time.

It is already clear why some countries have done better than others in dealing with the crisis so far, and there is every reason to think those trends will continue. It is not a matter of regime type. Some democracies have performed well, but others have not, and the same is true for autocracies. The factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively, limiting the damage they have suffered. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable.

The more that is learned about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the more it seems the crisis will be protracted, measured in years rather than quarters. The virus appears less deadly than feared, but very contagious and often transmitted asymptomatically. Ebola is highly lethal but hard to catch; victims die quickly, before they can pass it on. COVID-19 is the opposite, which means that people tend not to take it as seriously as they should, and so it has, and will continue to, spread widely across the globe, causing vast numbers of deaths. There will be no moment when countries will be able to declare victory over the disease; rather, economies will open up slowly and tentatively, with progress slowed by subsequent waves of infections. Hopes for a V-shaped recovery appear wildly optimistic. More likely is an L with a long tail curving upward or a series of Ws. The world economy will not go back to anything like its pre-COVID state anytime soon.

The more that is learned about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the more it seems the crisis will be protracted, measured in years rather than quarters. The virus appears less deadly than feared, but very contagious and often transmitted asymptomatically. Ebola is highly lethal but hard to catch; victims die quickly, before they can pass it on. COVID-19 is the opposite, which means that people tend not to take it as seriously as they should, and so it has, and will continue to, spread widely across the globe, causing vast numbers of deaths. There will be no moment when countries will be able to declare victory over the disease; rather, economies will open up slowly and tentatively, with progress slowed by subsequent waves of infections. Hopes for a V-shaped recovery appear wildly optimistic. More likely is an L with a long tail curving upward or a series of Ws. The world economy will not go back to anything like its pre-COVID state anytime soon.

The political consequences could be even more significant. Populations can be summoned to heroic acts of collective self-sacrifice for a while, but not forever. A lingering epidemic combined with deep job losses, a prolonged recession, and an unprecedented debt burden will inevitably create tensions that turn into a political backlash—but against whom is as yet unclear.

The global distribution of power will continue to shift eastward, since East Asia has done better at managing the situation than Europe or the United States. Even though the pandemic originated in China and Beijing initially covered it up and allowed it to spread, China will benefit from the crisis, at least in relative terms. As it happened, other governments at first performed poorly and tried to cover it up, too, more visibly and with even deadlier consequences for their citizens. And at least Beijing has been able to regain control of the situation and is moving on to the next challenge, getting its economy back up to speed quickly and sustainably.

The United States, in contrast, has bungled its response badly and seen its prestige slip enormously. The country has vast potential state capacity and had built an impressive track record over previous epidemiological crises, but its current highly polarized society and incompetent leader blocked the state from functioning effectively. The president stoked division rather than promoting unity, politicized the distribution of aid, pushed responsibility onto governors for making key decisions while encouraging protests against them for protecting public health, and attacked international institutions rather than galvanizing them. The world can watch TV, too, and has stood by in amazement, with China quick to make the comparison clear.

Over the years to come, the pandemic could lead to the United States’ relative decline, the continued erosion of the liberal international order, and a resurgence of fascism around the globe. It could also lead to a rebirth of liberal democracy, a system that has confounded skeptics many times, showing remarkable powers of resilience and renewal. Elements of both visions will emerge, in different places. Unfortunately, unless current trends change dramatically, the general forecast is gloomy.

Pessimistic outcomes are easy to imagine. Nationalism, isolationism, xenophobia, and attacks on the liberal world order have been increasing for years, and that trend will only be accelerated by the pandemic. Governments in Hungary and the Philippines have used the crisis to give themselves emergency powers, moving them still further away from democracy. Many other countries, including China, El Salvador, and Uganda, have taken similar measures. Barriers to the movement of people have appeared everywhere, including within the heart of Europe; rather than cooperate constructively for their common benefit, countries have turned inward, bickered with one another, and made their rivals political scapegoats for their own failures.

The rise of nationalism will increase the possibility of international conflict. Leaders may see fights with foreigners as useful domestic political distractions, or they may be tempted by the weakness or preoccupation of their opponents and take advantage of the pandemic to destabilize favorite targets or create new facts on the ground. Still, given the continued stabilizing force of nuclear weapons and the common challenges facing all major players, international turbulence is less likely than domestic turbulence.

Poor countries with crowded cities and weak public health systems will be hit hard. Not just social distancing but even simple hygiene such as hand washing is extremely difficult in countries where many citizens have no regular access to clean water. And governments have often made matters worse rather than better—whether by design, by inciting communal tensions and undermining social cohesion, or by simple incompetence. India, for example, increased its vulnerability by declaring a sudden nationwide shutdown without thinking through the consequences for the tens of millions of migrant laborers who crowd into every large city. Many went to their rural homes, spreading the disease throughout the country; once the government reversed its position and began to restrict movement, a large number found themselves trapped in cities without work, shelter, or care.

Displacement caused by climate change was already a slow-moving crisis brewing in the global South. The pandemic will compound its effects, bringing large populations in developing countries ever closer to the edge of subsistence. And the crisis has crushed the hopes of hundreds of millions of people in poor countries who have been the beneficiaries of two decades of sustained economic growth. Popular outrage will grow, and dashing citizens’ rising expectations is ultimately a classic recipe for revolution. The desperate will seek to migrate, demagogic leaders will exploit the situation to seize power, corrupt politicians will take the opportunity to steal what they can, and many governments will clamp down or collapse. A new wave of attempted migration from the global South to the North, meanwhile, would be met with even less sympathy and more resistance this time around, since migrants could be accused more credibly now of bringing disease and chaos.

Finally, the appearances of so-called black swans are by definition unpredictable but increasingly likely the further out one looks. Past pandemics have fostered apocalyptic visions, cults, and new religions growing up around the extreme anxieties caused by prolonged hardship. Fascism, in fact, could be seen as one such cult, emerging from the violence and dislocation engendered by World War I and its aftermath. Conspiracy theories used to flourish in places such as the Middle East, where ordinary people were disempowered and felt they lacked agency. Today, they have spread widely throughout rich countries, as well, thanks in part to a fractured media environment caused by the Internet and social media, and sustained suffering is likely to provide rich material for populist demagogues to exploit.

Nevertheless, just as the Great Depression not only produced fascism but also reinvigorated liberal democracy, so the pandemic may produce some positive political outcomes, too. It has often taken just such a huge external shock to break sclerotic political systems out of their stasis and create the conditions for long-overdue structural reform, and that pattern is likely to play out again, at least in some places.

The practical realities of handling the pandemic favor professionalism and expertise; demagoguery and incompetence are readily exposed. This should ultimately create a beneficial selection effect, rewarding politicians and governments that do well and penalizing those that do poorly. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who has steadily hollowed out his country’s democratic institutions in recent years, tried to bluff his way through the crisis and is now floundering and presiding over a health disaster. Russia’s Vladimir Putin tried to play down the importance of the pandemic at first, then claimed that Russia had it under control, and will have to change his tune yet again as COVID-19 spreads throughout the country. Putin’s legitimacy was already weakening before the crisis, and that process may have accelerated.

The pandemic has shone a bright light on existing institutions everywhere, revealing their inadequacies and weaknesses. The gap between the rich and the poor, both people and countries, has been deepened by the crisis and will increase further during a prolonged economic stagnation. But along with the problems, the crisis has also revealed government’s ability to provide solutions, drawing on collective resources in the process. A lingering sense of “alone together” could boost social solidarity and drive the development of more generous social protections down the road, just as the common national sufferings of World War I and the Depression stimulated the growth of welfare states in the 1920s and 1930s.

This might put to rest the extreme forms of neoliberalism, the free-market ideology pioneered by University of Chicago economists such as Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, and George Stigler. During the 1980s, the Chicago school provided intellectual justification for the policies of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who considered large, intrusive government to be an obstacle to economic growth and human progress. At the time, there were good reasons to cut back many forms of government ownership and regulation. But the arguments hardened into a libertarian religion, embedding hostility to state action in a generation of conservative intellectuals, particularly in the United States.

Given the importance of strong state action to slow the pandemic, it will be hard to argue, as Reagan did in his first inaugural address, that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Nor will anybody be able to make a plausible case that the private sector and philanthropy can substitute for a competent state during a national emergency. In April, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, announced that he would contribute $1 billion to COVID-19 relief, an extraordinary act of charity. That same month, the U.S. Congress appropriated $2.3 trillion to sustain businesses and individuals hurt by the pandemic. Antistatism may linger among the lockdown protesters, but polls suggest that a large majority of Americans trust the advice of government medical experts in dealing with the crisis. This could increase support for government interventions to address other major social problems.

And the crisis may ultimately spur renewed international cooperation. While national leaders play the blame game, scientists and public health officials around the world are deepening their networks and connections. If the breakdown of international cooperation leads to disaster and is judged a failure, the era after that could see a renewed commitment to working multilaterally to advance common interests.

The pandemic has been a global political stress test. Countries with capable, legitimate governments will come through relatively well and may embrace reforms that make them even stronger and more resilient, thus facilitating their future outperformance. Countries with weak state capacity or poor leadership will be in trouble, set for stagnation, if not impoverishment and instability. The problem is that the second group greatly outnumbers the first.

Unfortunately, the stress test has been so hard that very few are likely to pass. To handle the initial stages of the crisis successfully, countries needed not only capable states and adequate resources but also a great deal of social consensus and competent leaders who inspired trust. This need was met by South Korea, which delegated management of the epidemic to a professional health bureaucracy, and by Angela Merkel’s Germany. Far more common have been governments that have fallen short in one way or another. And since the rest of the crisis will also be hard to manage, these national trends are likely to continue, making broader optimism difficult.

Another reason for pessimism is that the positive scenarios assume some sort of rational public discourse and social learning. Yet the link between technocratic expertise and public policy is weaker today than in the past, when elites held more power. The democratization of authority spurred by the digital revolution has flattened cognitive hierarchies along with other hierarchies, and political decision-making is now driven by often weaponized babble. That is hardly an ideal environment for constructive, collective self-examination, and some polities may remain irrational longer than they can remain solvent.

The biggest variable is the United States. It was the country’s singular misfortune to have the most incompetent and divisive leader in its modern history at the helm when the crisis hit, and his mode of governance did not change under pressure. Having spent his term at war with the state he heads, he was unable to deploy it effectively when the situation demanded. Having judged that his political fortunes were best served by confrontation and rancor rather than national unity, he has used the crisis to pick fights and increase social cleavages. American underperformance during the pandemic has several causes, but the most significant has been a national leader who has failed to lead.

If the president is given a second term in November, the chances for a broader resurgence of democracy or of the liberal international order will drop. Whatever the election result, however, the United States’ deep polarization is likely to remain. Holding an election during a pandemic will be tough, and there will be incentives for the disgruntled losers to challenge its legitimacy. Even should the Democrats take the White House and both houses of Congress, they would inherit a country on its knees. Demands for action will meet mountains of debt and die-hard resistance from a rump opposition. National and international institutions will be weak and reeling after years of abuse, and it will take years to rebuild them—if it is still possible at all.

With the most urgent and tragic phase of the crisis past, the world is moving into a long, depressing slog. It will come out of it eventually, some parts faster than others. Violent global convulsions are unlikely, and democracy, capitalism, and the United States have all proved capable of transformation and adaptation before. But they will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat once again.

Source: Francis Fukuyama on the Pandemic and Political Order