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How coronavirus is remaking democratic politics – Financial Times

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The state is back. Long live globalisation. Coronavirus is remaking democratic politics. The paths out of the crisis will present liberal democracies with a choice between authoritarian nationalism and an open global order founded on co-operation between states.

Watching nations seal their borders and governments assume draconian powers to combat Covid-19, the temptation is to expect the worse. Compare the shambling performances of US president Donald Trump and the informed statesmanship of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, and you can see reasons for optimism. Competence shines through at moments of crisis.

For politicians, everything but coronavirus is now trivial. Right or left, whatever their election platforms, pledges or governing programmes, the present generation of political leaders will be judged on their handling of the pandemic. One or two may slip through, but emergencies on this scale do not leave many hiding places for bluffers and hucksters.

The return of government to centre stage marks the close of an era in which power and responsibility migrated from states to markets. The response to the pandemic has seen democratic leaders assume powers unprecedented outside wartime. The pandemic was a consequence neither of globalisation or capitalism. But it has exposed the limitations of unfettered markets — witness the competitive bidding for scarce resources in the US healthcare system.

The crisis has made a bonfire of other orthodoxies. To watch governments throw trillions of dollars into the fight to prevent economic collapse is to appreciate just how absurd was the preoccupation of recent decades with balanced budgets, public deficits and debt-to-GDP ratios. Of course, governments must set sustainable limits for spending and borrowing, but the era of fiscal fundamentalism has passed.

The eventual bill for the defeat of coronavirus will be colossal. At some point the debts will have to be repaid. With luck, however, the context will be a rational discussion and rebalancing of the respective responsibilities of government, private business and citizens.

The financial crash of 2008 proved a lost opportunity for change. The result was rising public discontent and the spread of angry populisms of right and left. Coronavirus leaves no room for a second hesitation. Voters across most advanced democracies are paying a price in weak healthcare systems for ideological devotion to small-state, low-tax economics. Liberal markets have a long-term future only if they rest on political consent.

The easy conclusion is that the pandemic will prove to be a gift to the populists and a prelude to a lurch towards authoritarian nationalism. The return of the state can be held up as proof that the populists were right all along about global elites. Closed borders are the only safeguard against the outside world. The powers that states have now assumed to fight the pandemic fit the public’s preference for security over freedom.

The disinformation campaigns run by Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow promote just such a message. The pandemic is cast as the work of decadent western capitalism — a crisis born of untrammelled globalism and enfeebled western democracy. The relative success of authoritarian regimes in beating the outbreak speaks to their innate superiority over the west’s liberal democracies.

The narrative has a superficial attraction. The draconian shutdowns ordered by China’s president Xi Jinping undoubtedly helped to bring the initial outbreak under control. Beijing is now relaxing the restrictions. The snag is that the same political absolutism provided the incentive for Chinese officials to conceal the earliest cases. As to Russia’s claims of its own success, the jury is still out. And the Republic of Korea has shown how a determined, efficient democracy can suppress the virus.

To the extent that any good can be said to flow from such a deadly catastrophe, it is in the pandemic’s capacity to restore the worth of competence and honesty in democratic politics. Mr Trump’s delusional bluster about how he is defeating the “Chinese” virus is defied daily by the escalation in new cases. It marks out a widening divide between the White House and the state and local authorities — Republican and Democratic alike — that are confronting the pandemic. Polls show Americans giving the president the benefit of the doubt, for now. But the reckoning cannot be delayed indefinitely.

In Europe, political leaders have regained the attention, and where they have shown grip, the confidence of electorates. Straight-talking has worked. Italian prime minister Guiseppe Conte, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel have all won strong public support for harsh measures to suppress the pandemic.

There is nothing inevitable about the restoration of faith in good government. The failure of the European Union to show any real measure of solidarity in supporting Italy’s desperate fight against the virus shows how easy it is even for those who preach internationalism to retreat behind national borders. The compelling logic of enhanced global co-operation is no guarantee of action. And, yes, the pandemic will impose a heavy cost in terms of lost economic output and disrupted trade.

That said, coronavirus promises to open a door to the rehabilitation of government, to a more equitable political and economic settlement, to the restoration of faith in democratic politics and to renewed global co-operation. The question is whether the politicians choose to walk through it.

philip.stephens@ft.com

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The Atlantic Politics Daily: The Social-Distancing Culture War – The Atlantic

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It’s Monday, March 30. More states announced stay-at-home orders, and the White House extended its social distancing guidelines to until at least May.

In today’s newsletter: The social-distancing culture war. Plus: Take a tour of these drive-in movie theaters.

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« TODAY IN POLITICS »

(Ina Jang)

Social distancing is a political act now.

There once was a time at the beginning of this pandemic when public health experts’ call for Americans to limit their public activity and practice rigorous social distancing hadn’t yet been swept up in the language of a culture war.

School closures came quickly across blue and red states, people of all parties quickly dispensed hand-washing advice, and “flatten the curve” seemed like a unifying rallying cry.

That rare slice of unpolarized American life is waning, my colleague McKay Coppins writes:

The consensus didn’t last long. President Trump, having apparently grown impatient with all the quarantines and lockdowns, began last week to call for a quick return to business as usual…[T]he comments set off a familiar sequence—a Democratic backlash, a pile-on in the press, and a rush in MAGA-world to defend the president. As the coronavirus now emerges as another front in the culture war, social distancing has come to be viewed in some quarters as a political act—a way to signal which side you’re on.”

Democratic strongholds—large metropolitan areas—felt the effects of the pandemic first. Now more people are dividing along familiar lines: by party, by geography, by religion, even by individual news outlet (McKay has already reported earlier this month on how the president’s news and social media allies have rallied to defend his distortions.)

Some politicians and pundits have even suggested that older Americans should be willing to risk death to jumpstart the economy. Others have painted the public health response as a move toward socialism and a sign of government overreach.

—Christian Paz

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« SNAPSHOT »

(George Frey / Getty)

The Bills family gets comfortable in the back of their truck, with temperatures in the low 30s, before the movie Onward starts at the Basin Drive In in Mount Pleasant, Utah. The outdoor theater opened early this year, despite frigid temperatures, because the COVID-19 outbreak had closed indoor theaters.

See our photo editor Alan Taylor’s collection of other drive-in moments.

*

« THE CORONAVIRUS READER »

(Chloe Scheffe)

+ The threats of the coronavirus are already a lot for the living. They’re burdening those who work with the dead, too: Undertakers and funeral directors are struggling.

+ The U.S.’s community hospitals will soon face the onslaught of hospitalizations that urban hospitals face, and will have fewer resources with which to treat patients.

+ Social distancing, working from home, and general isolation all lend themselves to warping our understanding of time. Writers have been dealing that suspended state for ages. Here are some tips.

You can keep up with The Atlantic’s most crucial coronavirus coverage here.


*

Today’s newsletter was written by Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to politicsdaily@theatlantic.com.

Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Christian Paz is an editorial fellow at The Atlantic.

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March 30, 2020 What's Next for Timor-Leste's Politics? – The Diplomat

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Since January, Timor-Leste’s politics has been shrouded in uncertainty following the collapse of its previous governing coalition after the failure to pass a budget amid coalition infighting. Though a new government looks set to take office soon, it will face a range of formidable challenges that will need addressing.

While Timor-Leste has made progress towards statebuilding in some areas since its full independence back in 2002 after a painful struggle against colonialism, it still faces significant political and economic challenges as one of the world’s poorest economies and a polity that that has seen eight governments come and go in less than two decades.

Those challenges have continued on over into 2020 as well. In January, the prior government that had been led by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak collapsed after failing to pass a budget, leaving open the possibility of the formation of a new government. And over the past month or so, indications surfaced that a six-party coalition in Timor-Leste led by independence leader and former prime minister Xanana Gusmao has the necessary support to form a new government.

But even if a new government does take office soon – the country’s ninth in less than two decades – Timor-Leste faces some significant challenges ahead. Politically, managing a six-party coalition with a slim majority at just 34 out of 65 parliamentary seats will not be easy, especially given its fragility (currently, the Gusmao-led National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) holds 21 seats; KHUNTO and Democratic Party have five seats each; and three parties have just one seat each). Economically, beyond getting a budget passed, the new government will have to have to contend with short and long-term challenges which include falling energy prices amid a global coronavirus pandemic as well as advancing the Tasi Mane petroleum project, critical given that almost the entirety of government revenue still comes from hydrocarbons.

Of course, that does not mean that these issues are insurmountable. Indeed, for some, Gusmao’s return and the advent of a new government does offer a new opportunity to reset the country’s politics and make progress on the country’s challenges in a more sustainable manner amid what appears to be a more turbulent global outlook. But the key question for Timor-Leste, as ever, is less about whether it can form another government, but whether the country’s leaders can overcome their differences just enough to hold governing coalitions long enough to manage this mix of opportunities and challenges.

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Trump brings his tear-down-your-opponents politics to the coronavirus fight – The Washington Post

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“One of the issues we’re struggling with is the demand increase,” said Ed Pesicka, CEO of the health-care logistics company Owens & Minor. “You know, used an anecdotal example of one hospital in New York that traditionally uses roughly [10,000] to 20,000 masks a week [and is] now using [200,000] to 300,000 masks a week. So you multiply that times the entire U.S., let alone the same demand outside of the U.S.”

Trump seized on that increase to make a point.

“How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? Ten to 20,000 masks to 300,000?” he said. “Even though this is different, something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? . . . Somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see, from a practical standpoint, how that’s possible to go from that to that.”

It’s not terribly complicated. An increase from 10,000 to 300,000 is a thirty-fold increase. Consider the sorts of shifts that might drive that increase: a virus that’s far more contagious than things like the seasonal flu, and a flood of patients pulling in health-care workers from throughout the hospital. The former shift means that protective equipment needs to be worn and changed more often. The latter means that more people need to wear it. That thirty-fold increase is the far end of the scale. Pesicka also talked about an increase from 20,000 to 200,000 — a jump only a third the size.

Later, after criticizing New York state for warehousing ventilators instead of distributing them immediately to hospitals, Trump revisited Pesicka’s comments, claiming that “the biggest man in the business is, like, shocked” at the increase — a sentiment that Pesicka did not express in his public comments.

Trump’s suggestion that the masks were being purloined quickly gained attention, prompting his campaign to go into damage-control mode. It focused on a statement from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) from March 6.

“There have been thefts of medical equipment and masks from hospitals, believe it or not. Not just people taking a couple or three. I mean actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. He added that he has asked the state police to investigate marketplaces that are selling masks and “playing into this, exploiting anxiety.”

One campaign staffer also pointed to an article in which a doctor reported “thefts of respirator masks and other essential protective equipment in lobbies and other high-traffic areas.”

All of this distracts — intentionally — from Pesicka’s main point: the need for protective equipment is surging and straining the ability of manufacturers and distributors to provide it. For all of Trump’s touting of how much is being done, which continued during a lengthy interview on “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning, it’s nonetheless obvious that the resources were not on hand to meet the surging needs of hospitals across the country.

The Trump campaign has repeatedly cited Post reporting indicating that the national stockpile of medical supplies was not replenished after a surge in need in 2009, ignoring that three of the subsequent years were ones when Trump was president. Trump’s comments Sunday were probably driven in part by a Post report that an early-February request for $2 billion in funding to replenish the strategic stockpile was slashed to $500 million at the end of the month, a 75 percent cut.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that New York hospitals are losing 10 percent of their masks to theft. There’s no evidence that the scale of whatever losses are still occurring is that dramatic, but let’s just say it is. Does that change that there is a dire shortage of masks and a need for more? Does that reduce the number of masks that are needed? Should the federal government instead provide only the 10,000 or 20,000 that hospitals used to get?

Trump has repeatedly suggested that there is somehow something suspect about New York’s requests in particular. Perhaps he sincerely thinks there is, given the way in which some enrichment schemes in the city have historically worked. But his insistence to Fox News’s Sean Hannity that New York was requesting more ventilators than it needed last week — as well as his arguments on Fox on Monday that the state did not buy ventilators that were available when they were for sale in 2015 (and when the coronavirus at the center of the pandemic likely did not exist), that the state is not distributing ventilators (because it’s waiting to see where they’re needed) and that New York hospitals are allowing masks to be stolen by the thousands — all have a main focus: shifting blame away from himself and onto Cuomo and others.

This is a political strategy. It’s one that served him well in the 2016 general election campaign, focusing negative attention on Hillary Clinton and helping suppress enthusiasm for her candidacy. His victory that year can be attributed to people who didn’t like either major-party candidate, a group he won by double digits, including in the three states that gave him his electoral vote margin. Here, again, he is offering America another focus of its frustration.

For his base of support, it’s icing; most don’t need his redirection in order to stay loyal. For everyone else, though, it introduces a conversation about where points of failure exist that are not centered in the White House. His campaign officials respond to questions about Trump’s comments about the 300,000 masks as though they are incensed that the president’s claims should be treated with skepticism or were not obviously true. In reality, they and Trump are thrilled to have the conversation be one in which they can equate Cuomo’s narrow, old comments with Trump’s sweeping, new ones — and one in which masks being swiped from a hospital lobby in Boston is a reason that New York doesn’t have the masks it needs now.

Both on Sunday and in his interview Monday morning, Trump spoke about how the virus has affected a hospital in Queens, near where he grew up. It’s hard not to live in the area, as Trump did for most of his life, and not be affected by the obvious strains and fear that New Yorkers are experiencing.

For a president focused on winning reelection in seven months, though, it’s also hard to resist trying to figure out which opponent needs to be scapegoated to make yourself look better by comparison.

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