The world order as we knew it is disintegrating. Countries are cutting links with the World Health Organisation and other international bodies. They are revoking old armament agreements. Donald Trump announced his intention to use the US army on the streets of his own cities; China talks about a possible military invasion of Taiwan; Valdimir Putin says that Russia may use nuclear arms even if it’s attacked by conventional arms.
In this situation, nationalist populists were expected to seize the opportunity of the Covid-19 pandemic and change their countries into isolated fiefdoms directed against foreign enemies. But it didn’t work. Their bravados instead turned into a display of blatant impotence and incompetence.
Let’s take the three big authoritarian populists. As Angela Dewan put it: “Trump, Putin and Bolsonaro find their populist playbooks are no match for coronavirus.” (And, for that matter, neither is Boris Johnson’s, as he too plays a populist card.) “The coronavirus pandemic could have been a moment of glory for the world’s populist leaders. This is a period of heightened fear and anxiety – emotions that typically allow them to thrive. Instead, some populists are finding themselves powerless against the outbreaks ravaging their countries. The US, Russia and Brazil now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, and as their death tolls continue to rise, their economies are taking devastating blows.”
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