BERLIN — Welcome to politics darkest hour.
If the coronavirus outbreak has taught us anything beyond the necessity of careful hygiene, its that the first victim of a pandemic is leadership.
At no time in the past 75 years has the world been in more need of a “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” moment; and at no time have global leaders so utterly failed to deliver.
From Beijing to Brussels, from Rome to Washington, London and beyond, politicians havent just failed to rise to the occasion, theyve engaged in a dangerous game of parsing, obfuscation and reality-denial that has cost lives and delayed a resolute response.
Even though virologists have been warning for weeks that the outbreak could explode, political leaders, particularly in the West, did little to halt its advance.
“Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time” — Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister
Like the virus itself, which scientists have traced to the Chinese city of Wuhan (and leaders there denied and downplayed for weeks), the prevailing political strategy for confronting the crisis was Made in China.
Few may have expected inspired leadership from U.S. President Donald Trump, who dismissed the coronavirus as a Democratic “hoax” and just days ago predicted it would disappear “like a miracle.” Even so, his fumbling of a national address on the emergency, followed by his trademark blame-shifting for his governments lack of preparedness (“I dont take responsibility at all”), will be remembered as a low point in American political leadership.
Solidarity with allies? Think again. Trump followed up his ban on Europeans traveling to the U.S. (a decision he announced without even making a courtesy phone call to EU leaders beforehand) with an attempt to reportedly buy a vaccine-maker out from under the Germans noses, aiming to guarantee Americans are first in line for the corona shot the firm is developing.
The irony is that the Trump administration previously opted not to use the German-developed coronavirus test endorsed by the World Health Organization, choosing instead to develop its own version, which has proved unreliable. The decision has created massive delays in testing in the U.S., allowing the “foreign virus,” as Trump calls it, to spread unabated. South Korea tests more people per day than the U.S. has in total in the weeks since the outbreak began. The fiasco didnt stop Trump from falsely claiming last week that “testing has been going very smooth.”
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago earlier in March | Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
While Trump gets the most attention for his corona bungling, hes hardly alone. Brazilian strongman Jair Bolsonaro, who met the American president last week in Florida, characterized the coronavirus panic as a media-fueled “fantasy.” A day later, his press secretary tested positive.
If theres one leader who should recognize the historic gravitas of the moment and rise to it with stirring rhetoric matched by action, its the man who modeled his political career on Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson.
Instead of offering “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” however, Johnson has sounded more like the Grim Reaper.
“Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time,” he said in a televised address on Friday, insisting that his government has “a clear plan.”
Trouble is, the strategy underlying that plan, dubbed “herd immunity,” appears to have unnerved more people than it has reassured, fueling fears that Johnson has no plan at all.
“The realization has struck No. 10 that Britain has lost control of Covid-19, but it should at least look as though it is doing something,” the Sunday Times concluded.
What about Angela Merkel? After all, crisis is the German leaders speciality. From the financial implosion of 2008 to the refugee crisis of 2015, Merkel has thrived in times of peril.
“I make a decision about when and where I address an issue according to the circumstances and the facts” — Angela Merkel, German chancellor
The German chancellor, revered by some as the “leader of the free world,” left management of the pandemic to her youthful health minister, Jens Spahn.
She only emerged from her corona shell following last Mondays market meltdown and after Italy was forced to impose draconian measures to bring the spread of the virus under control. Asked why it took her so long to engage publicly, Merkel insisted she had been monitoring the crisis from behind the scenes since January.
“I make a decision about when and where I address an issue according to the circumstances and the facts,” she said.
Yet the facts were there for all to see. Truth is, Merkel has been more focused on the refugee influx on Greeces border with Turkey and the crisis in Libya in recent weeks.
Even as Merkel has tried to maintain a sage public demeanor, the governments response to the crisis has been marked by crossed wires and confusion.
Merkels economy minister, Peter Altmaier, repeatedly played down the economic risks posed by coronavirus, saying that he didnt expect it to become “a major burden for the global economy.”
Angela Merkel, right, delegated management of the pandemic to her health minister Jens Spahn, left | Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images
Then reality set in. After a rollercoaster week in the markets, he and Finance Minister Olaf SchoRead More – Source