New Values for Political Systems in ‘Times of Crises’
Political systems have faced a series of challenges that have reshaped relations between states and citizens. As stated in the “End of History” by Francis Fukuyama, liberal thought had come to dominate the global order. However, this system was challenged after September 11, 2001, because the terrorist attacks not only promoted chaos as an alternative, in parallel, it involved an advance by the state over citizens’ freedoms. Subsequently, China’s growth as a commercial and political competitor of the United States, rekindled geopolitical disputes, especially regions that had remained traditional “backyards.” Likewise, Russia has also returned to the geopolitical chessboard especially in the Middle East and Ukraine. The changing relationships between these entities have fostered domestic changes between citizen and state.
The liberal and welfare order crises, along with the search for alternatives to globalization, resulted in the emergence of a new left and right movements. Both trends stirred the gears of the state institutions, increasing their presence on the daily evolution of the citizenry. From this, we have observed how in recent years populist leaders took control of the helm of countries such as Brazil, the United States, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, among others, promising the simplification of political events through strengthening national rhetoric and the sidelines of the international order.
Under this scenario, the COVID-19 emergency has come to deepen the political systems’ challenges because it accelerates history- as Richard Haas mentioned in “The Pandemic Will Accelerate History Rather Than Reshape It” and represents a black swan for political leaders, that means, an event not foreseen in the short term.
The Traditional Answers Limitations
In a recent public statement, French President Emmanuel Macron highlighted “many certainties and beliefs will disappear. Many things that we thought impossible are happening.” With this phrase, he summed up the world leaders’ feelings about the impact of COVID-19 over social and political systems.
Government responses to this emergency ranged from strengthening populism or giving a new chance to political centrism, especially, considering its pragmatic nature or emphasizing restraints in times of crisis. On one side of the spectrum are leaders Donald Trump and Bolsonaro who were strongly criticized for delegitimizing the COVID-19 pandemic, both allowing themselves to enter the category of “disaster populism”- a definition provided by Victor Beltri in a column published in Excelsior Mexico. Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, united all the government forces under his figure in order to mitigate the catastrophic effects that the pandemic caused in Italy. In parallel, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou is successfully emerging from his first months in the presidential office by managing the crisis cautiously.
Despite the triumph of centrism over populism, both political models expose internal and external complications to attend social needs. For example, bureaucracies affect one’s access to different aid programs (such as happened in Argentina with the Emergency Family Income), while they also reveal issues for leaders who seek to build bridges with opposition parties but have to deal with public statements, political internal conflicts, and lack of legitimacy.
On the other hand, leaders’ public appearances have generated more headaches than solutions especially due to the lack of consensus regarding the disease and the impact it has on frightened citizens. Leaders have frequently made confusing statements, such as Donald Trump’s recommendations on disinfection, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s contradictions regarding social distancing, and the definition of “little flu” given by Jair Bolsonaro in reference to the coronavirus.
In this context, these represent partial responses to a black swan. They are efforts to use tools from the past to fix current economical and social problems caused by COVID-19. Despite the relevance of experience, we must consider the fact that history is dynamic and political systems must also be dynamic.
New Values: Agile, Coherent and Dynamic
Defining the new political scenario is a difficult task, yet this crisis has demonstrated the values and characteristics that governments should embody whilst mitigating crises. States must be agile, coherent, and dynamic at the time of dealing with the crisis of such magnitude. They must have the agility to give prompt responses to social needs, including unemployment, poverty, and crisis in the social structure. Moreover, governments should be coherent. Coherence means that authorities must avoid public conflicts between one another, such as those regarding ministerial interests and bureaucratic issues. Consequently, both values will guarantee the third one, which is dynamism. Dynamism would reduce the gap between social needs and political orders.
Finally, the COVID-19 emergency represents an atypical phenomenon in daily life. Therefore, like a black swan, it will demand new governance criteria, forcing the state structure into the spotlight. Agility, cohesion, and dynamism in times of crisis, nevertheless, will provide an opportunity to those political leaders that define themselves as architects of moderation and it will weaken populist governments.