Citizens look for only one thing when they find themselves facing an unknown, unexpected and dangerous threat: leadership. They want to feel confident that the person who is in charge understands the gravity of the situation, knows what to do to handle it and, most importantly, shares their anxiety. The Greek prime minister did this and more with his address to the nation last week.
Few countries could cope with a coronavirus outbreak, the flaring up of the migration/refugee crisis and Turkey’s mounting aggression. Greece is certainly being put to the test and will continue to do so for some time yet.
On a global scale, though, things are less encouraging. We have every reason, in fact, to tremble at what’s coming. There was a time not so long ago when global threats were dealt with by the US, its partners and international organizations. That America and the West would take the lead was something we took for granted.
Nothing could be further from the truth today. Not only is US President Donald Trump clearly uninterested in such a role; he is doing almost everything within his power to isolate his country and diminish its role on the international stage. Instead of seizing the initiative, he is punishing the Europeans by banning flights. Instead of building alliances, Trump is building walls around America.
Europe is also looking small right now. Its new leadership appears unable to tame its irresistible attraction for PR and actually manage a crisis of this magnitude. It has not even been able to appoint a person who will be in charge of all things related to the pandemic.
What is impressive is how countries like China are filling the vacuum left by the West. When Italy asked for medical supplies it was Beijing that responded at once. The US was nowhere to be seen.
There is a prevalent feeling that the coronavirus crisis signals a deeper problem. Some believe that it signals the gradual decline of globalization and the start of more obstacles and fences being erected between states across the world. Others think that it is changing the shape of the world, without America at its center. There are also those who hope that the Covid-19 crisis will lead to Trump’s defeat.
Either way, we are experiencing something unprecedented. We are also experiencing the paradox of having a strong sense of leadership within but none without.