Essay #1. The coronavirus pandemic is testing all three elements of U.S. leadership.”
We, the world, find ourselves living in an uncertain season marked by an unexpected fragility. We’re chasing down an unruly pandemic and, in its wake, navigating the consequences of an infected global democracy headlined by the fraying of the world’s largest and most symbolic representation – the United States.
The annual “Democracy Perception Index” from Dalia Research revealed in June that the world’s view of the US as the great champion of democratic process has deteriorated in the last year, largely in light of the country’s response to COVID-19. Of the 53 countries surveyed, only two felt the US has handled the pandemic successfully: Japan and the US itself.
It appears, at least in this moment, the resulting effect is a global trending away from decentralization and back toward a geopolitical, pre-Cold War dynamic of us and them.
Like humans are wired to do, our survival instincts are in overdrive. We spend many waking hours thinking, worrying and strategizing about how to combat an invisible threat we can’t simply shoo or spin away. And when we’re not consumed with our current defense, we wonder about life as we know it or, perhaps, as it once was. We’re collectively asking, What is the best way forward? Collectively wondering, Is this seismic shift the new normal?
The answers and opinions are aplenty. The real question is where our collective instincts will ultimately lead us.
Will we move together toward a broad solution, not merely to the pandemic that is chipping away at our lives and livelihoods, but ultimately to the problems this pandemic has shoved into the light? These problems, after all, are the real issues.
Through our actions, one nation at a time, we will collectively decide whether we’re looking to simply return to the way things were (or, more correctly, the way we thought they were) or use this painful pause to learn and grow. The pandemic has trained a spotlight on the fault lines in both national and global collaboration.
We simply don’t work well together. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we act too self-interested – politically, financially, nationally – to see the reasons we must work together. If it takes a catastrophic, global event to show us why collaboration isn’t just a grand ideal, then we still have work to do to apply collaboration as a necessity.
While some nations fared better than others, the notion of positive global momentum feels like a stretch – especially when considering that a once-a-century pandemic, that could have been an extraordinary proving ground for the world’s democratic prowess, has only proven that we aren’t all on the same page where major human progress is concerned.
Don’t blame technology.
While it is perhaps today’s most influential global force, our inability to slow or stop COVID-19 any sooner has not been a technological failure; the waiting game is not the expected result of the world’s rudimentary technological prowess. This isn’t the 1980s. We already possess the wherewithal for a swift solution, at least, one much swifter than we’ve experienced.
The problem – the critical problem – is that our technological competence is fractured both nationally and especially internationally. Together, we have the tools for a solution. We just haven’t figured out how to share them. So, we are left to apply them apart. We aren’t proven to possess a collective willingness to use our aggregated resources for the greatest human good. The pandemic is case in point.
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This term “pandemocracy” that we’ve chosen as the title of our coming book, is an obvious nod to the combination of the words: pandemic and democracy. While it’s a memorable play on words, it’s not the primary reason we coined the term. There is a more hopeful motive.
These illuminated fractures within the national and geopolitical landscape can still be the light at the end of this unprecedented tunnel if we so choose. The latest lessons and the brightest case studies of this year tell us that if we know where to look and what to learn, the pandemic that exposed the major weakness in global democracy could be used to define what we can call a pandemocracy – a global electorate committed to the broadest availability of global knowledge and resources, as a means to meet humanity’s greatest needs and uphold humanity’s highest values.
In our 2018 book, The transHuman Code, we offered readers a picture of the sort of decisions we must make in order to use technology to produce a better humanity instead of using humanity to produce a better technology. Our premise here is the next step in this process, namely, that the pandemic has both shamed the global state of democracy and showed us the way to improve it. And we’re not merely talking about figuring out how to work together more nicely.
As with any societal underpinning, getting global democracy on the right track and closer to where we want it to be is not as simple as an online course in manners and diplomacy. Ultimately, the way forward will require us to understand the story that got the world here in the first place, so utterly unprepared to save ourselves in our greatest hour of need. The antagonists aren’t as obvious as one might think.
Once we understand the whole story, our view forward will be much clearer, including the ways in which we can get there.
In an article for Foreign Affairs, Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi made an important point that sets up a major character in this global drama: “The status of the United States as a global leader over the past seven decades has been built not just on wealth and power but also, and just as important, on the legitimacy that flows from the United States’ domestic governance, provision of global public goods, and ability and willingness to muster and coordinate a global response to crises. The coronavirus pandemic is testing all three elements of U.S. leadership.”
Campbell and Doshi wrote this in mid-March of this year. “So far,” they concluded, “Washington is failing the test.” From our current view, one doesn’t have to stretch her neck to see that the concluding point could be updated to past tense. Washington failed the test, at least, if you ask 124,000 people from 53 different countries, as did Dalia Research for their Democracy Perception Index we mentioned at the outset. It should be noted that not every country on the list agreed with this assessment. Two felt otherwise: Japan and the US itself.
But we’re not talking about a moment in time here. We’re talking about what got us here in the first place. For the preeminent democracy to lose the faith of many countries, it had to at first have earned their faith. Permit us to skip the American history lesson to simply state that the democracy on which America was built was rightfully given its preeminent standing in the global consciousness.