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Sunday, 21 April 2024
2020: The Year of the Four Crises
James Denseiow

When Joe Biden accepted the Democratic Party nomination as Presidential candidate last week he gave a powerful speech, recognised and praised as such on both sides of the aisle.

While the headlines focused on his narrative of being an ally of the ‘light’ in contrast to the incumbent’s stewardship of ‘darkness’, Biden also set out the magnitude of the challenge that he would face if he were to win the election in November.

He set out the four interlinked crises that the US currently faces; Covid 19 and a public health crisis, an economic crisis with unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, a racial crisis encapsulated by the rise of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and a climate crisis that helps explain the wildfires wrecking havoc in California.

Arguably beneath these four could live several other meta trends in global affairs, whether they be the hardening of political extremes on both the left and the right, a crisis of trust in information and the media, the continuation of protracted conflicts such as those in Syria and Yemen and mass migration and displacement at levels not seem since World War Two.

Only when you see the fully horizon of these issues and how they affect and exacerbate one another can the true scale of the challenge for Biden, who would be the oldest President in US history, if he were to win.

These are,as is often said, ‘unprecedented’ times. Indeed, Bloomberg news has tracked the exponential rise of the word ‘unprecedented’ in 2020 coinciding with the emergence of the Covid crisis. It is one thing to recognise the scale of crisis facing governments, society and business, its another thing to be blinded by the scale of the challenge and hide poor decision making behind the word ‘unprecedented’.

The rise of simultaneous epoch defining crises is in danger of diluting the term and the kind of response it is expected to trigger. Looking at countries like Lebanon the layering of crisis is hyperinflating the course of events, whether its the turnover of governments or the haemorrhaging of the economy.

In the US a potential Biden administration will face the cold hard reality that it is one thing to recognise crisis facing the country and quite another thing to tackle them effectively. Biden is helped by the fact that the incumbent, President Trump, is unable to even recognise the crisis in the first place. In the world according to Trump the economy is prospering, Covid will ‘disappear’, racism isn’t an issue and climate change is a ‘hoax’.

Crucially at least three of the four crises Biden has identified require global, not national, strategies to address them. Already there is concern as Covid 19 treatments emerge that ‘vaccine nationalism’ could define needless competition over collaboration. Ditching the ‘America First’ rhetoric for policies that put American first would again represent a significant departure from the old administration and a reminder of the country’s incredible ability to reinvent itself.

In his acceptance speech Biden explained that this moment is “not only a crisis, it's an enormous opportunity”. This adage, often linked back to a Chinese proverb, may be a cliche but it is certainly the historical truism that major political change happens in moments of flux rather than in periods of settled and predictable events.

There is a seeming paradox running at the heart of the Biden campaign that tests the hypothesis that it will be radical in its approach to these crises. The Economist had a cartoon showing Biden as a train running in the political centre and of course he had eight years of experience at the heart of the Obama administration. Has the Trump Presidency been so norm-shattering that the heart of the Biden message is in fact a return to sensible normality rather than any risky new proposition?

As ever campaigns try to be all things to all people in order to secure victory and so far there has been a unity to the Biden coalition that some didn’t predict. But if you campaign with poetry and govern with prose the expectations of what a Biden administration must ‘step up’ to must be calibrated to the four crises he sets out, not simply bringing normality and order in contrast to Trump’s chaos

by : jamse danselow