Just a month ago, experts were predicting that the American economy would be slow to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment remains at record highs, but, as the country begins to reopen, federal policies that have bolstered small businesses and bailed out big ones seem to have helped avoid another Great Depression. John Cassidy joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss how good news about the economy complicates Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump.
We are approaching a potential inflection point of political and economic instability that may have dire social consequences. While many among us who haven’t left our homes in weeks to months are beginning to see this time as one that calls for solidarity, there has also been a rise in extremist sentiment, on both the left and the right. Much, though not all, of this radicalization is occurring online, and it is being heightened by continued isolation and the echo chamber of social and other media.
Extremist groups are using the pandemic to increase radicalization in two ways, namely accelerationism—or adding fuel to the fire that is burning down society—and pushing their own narratives of societal collapse. The latter is the more nefarious, since it intentionally misinterprets political and economic responses to the global pandemic as being in support of their extremist ideologies.
Both in the United States and abroad, populist and nativist movements have gained greater stronghold in national politics, even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke onto the world stage. President Trump’s “America First” campaign of de-globalization and Brexit were not products of the pandemic, yet the pandemic has made many of their policies, such as border closings, common political practice. Closing borders to stop contagion is easily transformed to build a wall to stop diseased immigrants. Similarly, even when countries are still using international networks to supply goods and medical resources, such as personal protective equipment, the stakes are much higher to source needed goods, making economic competition turn into political tension. Radicalizing rhetoric will focus on the criticism made against countries while ignoring the fact that those countries are still trading with each other.
Again, in many cases, it is not the political or economic decisions themselves that stem from nativist or populist sentiment. Oftentimes, political leaders are trying to save their countries from public health crises and economic depression. It is the cherry picking of information and misinterpreting the motivations of political and economic policies to support extremist agendas.
The reason why radicalization can be successful during this crisis is not only due to people spending more time on the internet. The narratives seem coherent when people constantly hear how people are getting sick, losing their jobs, and finding food supply chains disrupted. Though populist movements on the left and right seemed to be losing political support across Europe before the pandemic, down does not mean out. Many social and economic vulnerabilities, such as growing income inequality, job disruption, and the erosion of civic communities, that fuel political extremism have not been abated.
Political instability in the United States and Europe seem to be very similar. Both the United States and Europe look like they are going through a process of devolution, where power is being transferred from a more centralized authority to a more regional one. Yet the reasons for the change in political dynamics and resultant instability is very different for each. In the former, the increase in gubernatorial recognition and leadership is based on the president’s purposeful loosening of the bonds of the federal system. For the latter, it is because the European Union is first and foremost an economic and not a political union, even if it does entail political ties.
This may be the first time in a long time that the American public can name governors in their own states, let alone states they don’t live in. In the Midwest, in the Northeast Corridor and on the West Coast, governors are forming regional coalitions to coordinate efforts in response to the pandemic, since they do not see any leadership on the national level. Yet before forming coalitions, states competed for medical resources in ways akin to independent countries.
In Europe, where previously there was a push towards greater consolidation of the European Union—both economic and political—recently there has been an about face. Only a little while ago President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel called for global cooperation; today France and Germany have hoarded face masks and critical medical gear, and disrupted food supply chains. Exasperated by the lack of EU assistance, Italy’s permanent representative to the EU, Carlo Callendra recently commented, “Why do we want to stay in the EU? It is useless.” President of the European Council, Charles Michel, in a letter to the people of Spain on March 25, wrote, “Europe stands by your side in full solidarity, and we will spare no effort to help you–and all EU countries.” However, EU member countries, Germany, Austria and Holland have been reticent about supporting other member states financially, through corona bonds or otherwise.
While the pandemic, economic downturn, and lack of political stability are prime ingredients to create a “perfect storm” of radicalization, extremist politics is not inevitable. Yet that also does not mean that leaders should not be wary of how their policies—and even personal actions—can be misconstrued and politicized in deleterious ways. They should also be highly aware that many of the economic and political decisions they must make today—while necessary to save the world from viral contagion—have further social alienation as a consequence.
To hinder radicalizing narratives from taking hold of political discourse, which may start at the fringes but can creep towards the center if not checked, leaders must work to build civil society along with their economies. Civil society is not the domain of either politics or business yet it influences both. It is the space where individuals can build trust through interconnectedness and the exercise of shared values. Because it allows people to develop informal bonds that are not grounded in financial contracts or political ideology, but is increased through a sense of physical and financial safety, it can serve to mollify tensions in times of political or economic disruption. In a word, civil society is the grease that spins the wheels of democracy.
Civil society in general has been suffering a slow death for decades, ever since bowling alleys lost popularity and online chat rooms became the place where people met. This will be a big lift for leaders to undertake. However, now, in this global crisis, people are ready to come back together. Time alone has demonstrated to all of us the need to be among others.
Moreover, the shared experience of loss–personal and financial—gives people familiarity with each other’s plight and more empathy for another’s struggle. Also, because people are working and living at home, there are less distractions even amidst the chaos of trying to work and homeschool children in the same room. Time with family is teaching us how to voice differences without creating dividing lines. Neighbors helping each other out—while keeping appropriate social distance—is extending interconnectedness that is not contingent on party lines.
If political and business leaders can join with social leaders to increase social capital, they may find themselves not only providing their respective countries with much needed voices to flatten the current curve of political anxiety, they might also demonstrate the leadership that the world needs right now.
Liberals' ability to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny plays into system of 'image politics,' critics say – National Post
OTTAWA — The Liberal government has avoided months of parliamentary scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead using televised daily briefings with the prime minister to further its system of “image politics,” an expert in democratic process says.
The Liberals and New Democratic Party agreed earlier this week to suspend parliamentary proceedings until September 21, equipping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a “tremendous amount of power over the summer,” said Kathy Brock, professor at Queen’s University.
The decision comes after Trudeau has for months appeared in the House of Commons on a limited basis, instead using his daily briefings outside Rideau Cottage to announce major new spending measures and take questions from the media.
He for sure prefers the Rideau Cottage model
“This government is very focused on messaging and image politics and that meant that it wanted to respond to the needs of Canadians when the pandemic came up,” said Brock, who has served in various advisory roles to all three major political parties over the last 30 years.
“But when they started to face criticism for not acting as quickly as possible, the prime minister turned to the easiest tool, which is having briefings with the media outside Rideau Cottage,” she said.
The approach has been met with criticism by opposition parties and parliamentary experts, who say politicians have not had adequate time to press the Trudeau government on some of its largest spending measures, which now top an estimated $150 billion. They also say the government overreached in an earlier attempt to equip itself with the authority to tax, spend and loan money with almost no parliamentary oversight for nearly two years, well beyond the expected timeframe of the pandemic.
Other observers point out that Parliament would typically rise for the summer months regardless, and that “hybrid” forms of Question Period, which include virtual questions and answer sessions, have continued for the past few months.
“The cut-off in June is not an aberration,” said Lori Turnbull, professor of political science at Dalhousie University. However, she questioned “why there’s such a desire” to close off access to other forms of scrutiny, like private members bills or written questions to Parliament.
Turnbull, like others, has been surprised by the Liberals’ ability to secure the support of opposition parties to restrict in-person sittings of Commons.
“Sometimes I forget that this is a minority government,” she said, “It’s incredible what this government has done. We usually see more push and pull between the opposition and the government.”
The NDP has faced criticism for making an agreement with the Liberal party to suspend Parliament because it allows for the government to sidestep proper scrutiny.
NDP House leader Peter Julian pushed back against those claims in an interview Thursday, saying the deal secured four sitting days in the House of Commons during the summer — a provision that other parties were not pushing for.
“There’s been a lot of exaggeration,” Julian said.
Sometimes I forget that this is a minority government
The NDP opposed a Conservative proposal that would have had regular in-person sittings in the Commons well into June, in which a select group of roughly 50 people would attend in order to maintain social distancing measures. The proposal would have allowed Parliament to exert its full powers before summer break, but Julian argued it would have needlessly excluded the majority of MPs in Canada.
“I think it’s a very Ottawa-centric interpretation,” he said.
A spokesperson for Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez reiterated that all parties agreed to the March 13 motion to suspend Parliament until April 20. The agreement with the NDP allows for the continuation of a special COVID-19 committee that meets several times a week, but is not afforded the regular powers of the House.
“We believe it is a responsible plan that ensures accountability and transparency, and respects public health advice,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.
Candice Bergen, Conservative House leader, said there has been a push for months by the Liberal government to avoid regular parliamentary sittings. MPs in recent weeks had been sitting in-person on a limited basis once a week.
“I was clear with Pablo that we felt Parliament needed to resume,” Bergen said. “But that was clearly not what the government wanted and they found a dance partner in the NDP.”
She said Trudeau has instead opted to convey the Liberals approach to COVID-19 through the televised briefings at his official residence, where media ask daily questions.
“He for sure prefers the Rideau Cottage model,” Bergen said, adding that media “is not a substitute for the official Opposition.”
Brock, at Queen’s University, said the Rideau Cottage meetings give Trudeau more time to craft his own message on a daily basis, unimpeded, while taking only a select number of questions from journalists.
“It certainly operates in the Liberals’ favour, because they’re receiving media attention and it seems very positive because they’re responding to a crisis,” she said. “But it means that they aren’t getting tough questions to the same extent on other, lesser known files.”
A Guide to the Economics and Politics of the Coronavirus Recovery – The New Yorker
Keep Politics Out of Reopening Houses of Worship – The New York Times
More from our inbox:
To the Editor:
Re “Firing Salvo in Culture Wars, Trump Wants Churches Open” (front page, May 23):
Last Friday was not the first time we have witnessed a politician attempting to ingratiate himself with faith communities. Through the years, leaders from both major political parties have sought the support of houses of worship in their electoral campaigns.
Certainly those of us who devote our lives to religious leadership would like to consider our work “essential.” And we eagerly await the day when we can welcome our congregants back to their spiritual homes. While we can pray to God anywhere at any time alone or with others, and while the internet has provided a viable and meaningful vehicle for gathering our members in this time of physical distancing, nothing could ever replace the power of in-person congregational worship.
But religious communities must not become political pawns for a president seeking to placate his evangelical base. In Judaism, the saving of life supersedes all other religious responsibilities. The decision whether or not to reopen houses of worship belongs in the hands of local authorities alone, guided by health concerns, not political ones.
Joshua M. Davidson
The writer is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.
To the Editor:
The cynicism of President Trump’s call to governors to open the churches is staggering. I am a Catholic who attends Mass every day. I have always loved the ritual of the Mass, and I rejoice and celebrate as I gather with friends old and new who enrich my life. I will return joyfully to my church when our governor deems it safe to do so, not when it is politically expedient for our president.
John T. Dillon
West Caldwell, N.J.
To the Editor:
President Trump asks all governors to immediately open up churches and allow in-person worship — without testing. Yet everyone who meets with Mr. Trump must first be tested.
So, what’s good for the gander ain’t good for the goose. If he truly believes that in-person worship is safe, let’s see him go to these churches (or restaurants or theaters) without testing — and let’s see him mingle with the folks not wearing masks.
Marc R. Stanley
Which Is the Better Bridge: The Brooklyn or the George Washington?
To the Editor:
Re “The Star of the City Sells Itself,” by Michael Kimmelman (Critic’s Notebook, Arts pages, May 7):
OK, the Brooklyn Bridge is wholly in New York City and joins two of its boroughs. And it was something of an engineering achievement. Book after book has been written about it; it appears in a wealth of movies.
But the great bridge in the New York area is the George Washington.
When I sought to read a book on the George, I discovered that there were none. Participating in a symposium at Columbia University on American icons, and listening to others drone on about the Brooklyn, I asked “What about the George?” There was complete silence. Then one participant said, to almost universal laughter, “But look where it goes,” the suggestion being that since the George crosses to New Jersey, it couldn’t possibly be important.
The George is also the gateway to Interstate 80, on which one may travel in a straight line to San Francisco. New Yorkers think of themselves as sophisticated compared with New Jerseyans, but they can often be decidedly parochial.
Michael Aaron Rockland
The writer is the author of “The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel” and a professor of American studies at Rutgers.
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