- Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer says in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump been a profound failure in two ways.
- First, the president has been a communications disaster and provided false hope that led to a later start in social distancing. Second, he says the US did not accept the World Health Organization tests under Trump’s watch and our tests did not work and we couldn’t get them into people’s hands fast enough.
- Bremmer credits Trump for smartly shutting down travel to China early.
- Bremmer says Trump did a good job with the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, which according to Bremmer has been one of the best economic responses of any country in the world.
- However, Trump has been a failure in terms of a total lack of international leadership, according to Bremmer.
- Bremmer says the Chinese are playing more of a role on the humanitarian side and American allies may be more aligned with China after this is over.
- Bremmer calls this our first G-Zero crisis. He uses the term G-Zero, which is also the name of his media company, to mean the absence of global leadership.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
United States foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer is the president of the Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He spoke to Business Insider’s Sara Silverstein about how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the presidential election and relations between the US and China and the rest of the world once the crisis is over. Following is a transcript of the video.
Sara Silverstein: Ian, at the beginning of every year, you put out the top risks for the world. This year, things have changed really quickly very early in the year, and you have amended your top risks. What has changed?
Ian Bremmer: We’ve updated them. I wouldn’t say we’ve amended them, in the sense that the report is still the report. But 23 years we’ve been around, we’ve never done this outside of January. But we’ve never had a crisis of this scale. Not 9/11, not 2008. This is the biggest we’ve had to deal with since World War II. And I wanted to kind of reflect that to people.
So what’s changed? The big things that have changed, first of all, is the unwinding of globalization, which was already starting at the beginning of 2020. With the technology decoupling between the US and China, is expanding and deepening quite a bit… on supply chain, on manufacturing, on the fact that with response to a great recession, you’re going to see a lot of people shaving off a lot of costs. And they’re much more interested in doing that away from home, because unemployment in your home country is going to be spiking and you need to show that you’re doing something for your own citizens. Plus “just-in-time” supply chain looks dangerous when you’ve got these sudden shocks that shut it down. So you move to “just-in-case” supply chain.
All of that implies that not just in big tech, but down into manufacturing and services, you get a big unwind. That’s a big thing we were talking about in the top risk piece that’s expanded significantly.
US-China relations also, becoming more tense on the back of that. We’ve certainly seen that in the level of disinformation and the propaganda at both sides. I mean, we barely talk about it. But the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, all of the journals have been kicked out of China. Including Macau and Hong Kong, and that goes against the basic law of governance in those places. Hong Kong was a big deal last year. China’s squeezing a lot harder right now, and the Americans are not going to be happy about that. Right? That’s growing.
On the other side, risks that are… And of course, risks like hits to stability in Latin America, stability in Turkey, stability in the Shia Crescent. Clearly, with oil prices under 20 bucks, and with a massive crash in both supply and consumer demand, you’re going to have a much greater pressure on those risks.
Most of these top risks from the beginning of the year have become exacerbated, have become more dangerous. The two that are actually reduced, which is interesting, one is about climate. Have you even talked about climate in the last three weeks? I mean, this year at the beginning of the year, it was all about Greta Thunberg, who is now by the way, in quarantine. It was all about Trump going to plant a trillion trees. I mean, the COP 26 meeting coming up in the UK is going to be delayed. I don’t think they’ve announced that yet, but they certainly aren’t going to hold it. There’s much more concern about the safety of your family than there is about what’s happening to polar bears or the emissions coming from the planet. That certainly is something you’re pushing off down the road.
And also, the techlash, the backlash against tech companies and big CEOs and all the rest. These companies are the companies that we now are relying on for communication that we’re doing right now. For the knowledge economy that is working, even though people aren’t actually in their offices. For Amazon to buy anything, and not necessarily be exposed in a grocery store or a big-box retailer or anything else. Most of them are shut down, anyway. The likelihood we’re going to talk about… Remember, Elizabeth Warren was saying we should break them up. No one is talking about that right now. We’re talking about, these companies are saviors.
Now, that’s a really good thing for those companies and that sector right now. They’re going to be swimming in a ton of cash. But medium and longterm, we need to understand just how much power those companies are going to have, just how much data they’re going to have. And how much we’re going to want them to have even more data to do the contact tracing to watch where people are that are asymptomatic or are symptomatic, but we don’t necessarily have them mandatory in quarantine because the United States isn’t an authoritarian state like it is in China. Those are all things that I think are going to become very interesting questions going forward.
Silverstein: One thing that we’re not hearing a ton about is the election, but we’re hearing a lot from Trump. It seems like this is definitely going to impact the election. I understand why we’re not talking about it a ton, but I would love to get your insight as far as how this might play out, or how it could impact the upcoming presidential election.
Bremmer: Yeah. I’ll tell you, one of the things I’ve been glad about both cable news and social media the last week, you really haven’t seen a lot of talk about the election, and appropriately so. I mean, this is a time when you need to take politics and try to put them in the backdrop. There’s still been massive craziness about, “I hate Trump.” “I love Trump.” And all the rest. There’s not much ‘rally around the flag’ effect. But at least, we don’t have that heatedness of opposition politics in the midst of an election that… it’s in November. We need the next couple of months to deal with this outbreak, and to try to do everything possible to save some lives in this country. Having said that, right now, Trump’s approval ratings are 46%. It’s the highest he’s been since he was inaugurated. That is not a surprise to me at all.
A $2 trillion stimulus passed in short order, representing 10% of the US GDP. By far, the largest. Just in context, 2008, 2009 total stimulus together… 5% of US GDP. This is massive. He’s going to get credit for that. He’s the President. He’s doing his press conferences every day. For him, this is all about him. He’s dominating the news. Of course, the media cycle. Biden’s in his house, not able to do rallies. Right? Not able to say very much. No one’s really picking him up.
So I’m not surprised Trump’s up to 46%. We’re seeing similar pops in approval ratings in other countries, where those leaders are being seen as quick and out there, like South Korea. But also, France. Also, Italy. Even places where they aren’t necessarily handling it really well, but they are being seen as being leaders. Right? Now, the point is, that’s not likely to last.
What we do know as we think about the election is, not only is Trump going to have to face some responsibility for the markets and the economy tanking, unemployment’s shooting up. You can say, “Well, it’s not fair.” Because I mean, he’s not responsible for coronavirus, true. But it’s not fair that he got the massive bull market on the back of 2016 election. But he got credit for it, and his approval ratings moved on the back of that. That’s going to happen. And of course, the elections are going to have to be changed. Turnout’s going to be lower. We’re not going to have herd immunity by November. We’re not going to have 60% of the population that will have been infected by then.
We also won’t have a vaccine by then. So people aren’t going to turn out in the same numbers, which means you’re going to have electronic voting, vote by mail. You’ve got to pay for it. You’ve got to put it in place, state by state. Some are Republican states, some are Democratic states. That’s going to be politicized. It will be seen to be de-legitimized. On top of that, Biden, who is going to be the nominee, was the reason you had the impeachment process, because Trump tried to get investigations going against him. That’s not going away, either. Now, that’s not going to happen soon. But as you look ahead to the election, all of these issues are likely to de-legitimize the actual process.
Silverstein: Two separate questions. How do you rate Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic? And then also, the fiscal and monetary stimulus that the government has put out?
Bremmer: Well, I don’t know that you can really decouple those things. I mean, Trump’s response is both the media response, his communications response. It’s his healthcare response. It’s his travel response. Right?
Let me tell you what I think about Trump on all of this. If you want to criticize Trump, the two things that you should criticize him for is that he has been a communications disaster and has provided a lot of false hope that probably led to a later response, particularly in red states in social distancing, than we need. And people are going to die because of that. That’s a profound negligent leadership point. Right? Trump constantly in sales mode, “This is going to go away. It’s going to be a miracle. It’s not going to be a big deal.” Obviously, something that hurt the country.
Secondarily, under his watch, the United States did not accept the World Health Organization tests. Our tests did not work. We were unable to get them in the hands of enough people fast. As a consequence, we did not have knowledge of the extent of the spread of this virus across metropolitan areas in many states in the United States. Also, putting us on the back foot. So in those two ways, Trump has been a profound failure.
He’s also been a failure in terms of the lack of international leadership. Right? That outside of the United States, what the hell have we done? Right? I mean, the Europeans condemned the fact that Trump put travel restrictions in place without telling them first. They found out on CNN. We should never have in this kind of crisis, a response from our allies like that. It should never happen. Our aid on average, $4 million to a country. Right? We’re doing virtually nothing. The Chinese are doing vastly more. A lot of their masks don’t even work. They’re responsible for the damn crisis to begin with, by covering it up. And yet, they’re doing better with a lot of our allies, because we’re not there internationally.
So those are the three ways that we’ve really failed, and Trump has really done a bad job. Now, how has Trump done a good job? Well, number one, Trump did shut down travel to China early, and he did it despite the fact that the Chinese were really unhappy about that. And that was really important to do because you had millions of Chinese coming to the United States, and they were infected. Right? A lot of them were vectors, and we didn’t have any information on that. We needed to shut that down, so good for us.
Also, the fiscal response and the monetary response that Trump signed… and Mnuchin, his administration worked with Nancy Pelosi. Massive. Covers almost the entire economy, and it is relief. It’s not stimulus, it’s relief. It is emergency relief. It’s desperately needed. It will keep the economy functioning for a minimum of three months, which we need because Congress is going home and they’re probably not coming back until June. Right? I don’t care what they say. That’s the reality. These are people that are older, many of them have preexisting conditions. They should not be all together working on legislation in the next couple months. So I’m really glad we have one of the best economic responses, policies, across the board, of almost any country in the world. That’s impressive.
And Trump is now working late, but important to really get the private sector moving in order to get our healthcare systems surging. In other words, now that they are focused on it, definitely, you are seeing every effort by the American government to get resources in place, get ventilators in place, get personal protective equipment in place, which I hope will get us to where we need so we don’t have the Italy type overwhelming our system.
Because the difference between Anthony Fauci’s 100,000, 200,000 people dead and a million people dead, are not the cases. The difference is, our healthcare system has to work. Because if it doesn’t work and it gets overwhelmed and we have to triage people to get in ICU care, you will have a mortality rate that is 5 to 10 times higher than what we will experience anyway. That’s unthinkable. It’s just unthinkable.
Silverstein: When you’re looking at the US and China, what is the relationship between the US and China going to look like once all of this passes. And as you mentioned from an international perspective, how are people going to view the US and China that’s different than how they’re viewing us now, or did?
Bremmer: Yeah. I mean, I think that there are a few things we can… two things we can definitely say about that, and one that we can’t yet say. We can definitely say that the US and Chinese economies will be much more decoupled. We will be less reliant on them. Therefore, we will be less interested in them winning. Right? I mean, when we are trading a lot, we don’t want to hit them on trade because it hurts us. Right? When we’re really interdependent, then we think of them as too big to fail. When we start decoupling, then suddenly the potential for much worse relations goes up. Right? Because you’re not as interlinked, you’re not as codependent. That’s going to happen.
Secondly, a lot of American allies are going to be more aligned with the Chinese after this is over. The fact that the Chinese economy is going to be fully back up and running by early May, while the Americans and Europeans are still taking it on the chin and lots of it is shut down. The fact that the Chinese are playing more of a leadership role on the humanitarian side and they are critical for the medical supply chain, which the Americans can rebuild. But a lot of other countries can’t themselves, it’s too expensive. The economies are too small. All of that implies that many, many countries are going to align more towards China, much more towards China, than they were before.
They’ll hedge. They won’t listen to us when we say, ‘don’t work with Huawei.’ They won’t listen to us when we say, ‘don’t join Belt and Road.’ We’re not going to do the marginal planning. That’s definite as well. Those are two things that are going to happen.
The thing that we don’t know yet is whether the US and China will emerge from this crisis in a cold war. Trump so far, he was saying China virus, China virus. But then he talked to Xi Jinping last week and he said, “Okay, no more China virus. Now we’ll call it coronavirus.” Right? Even though his Secretary of State not only still calls it Wuhan virus, but they couldn’t actually get an agreed document from the G7 Summit because no allies would go along with Pompeo to call it… not one ally, to call it the Wuhan virus.
So the administration is pushing towards a more cold-war footing. Trump isn’t. But Trump isn’t with 46% approval ratings, and feeling like he can get through this. In two months’ time, if his approval ratings are 30% and he feels like he can’t get through this, I assure you, he’s going to be blaming the Chinese a lot more. I worry about that. I worry about what the US-China relations would look like if we decide they’re not actually living up to the phase one trade deal. They’re certainly not going to buy $200 billion of American agriculture this year when they are going to struggle to make 4% growth. What happens if Trump decides he’s going to blame them for that, and he blames them for the fake information and the propaganda? And ultimately for this virus, which is a zoonotic virus that came from bats and pangolins in Wuhan. Right? And they didn’t tell us about it. They wouldn’t let the US CDC in. They wouldn’t let thew WHO in. That’s a problem, right?
The potential that all of that together creates a war footing between the two countries that really does… it puts us in a cold war. But with the country that militarily, is not particularly a threat. But economically and technologically, truly is. I think that’s an open question at this point.
Silverstein: And you named your media company GZERO Media. I’ve heard you talk about recently, about what you really mean by GZERO, and how it relates to what’s happening right now. Can you walk us through that?
Bremmer: Yeah. This is our first GZERO crisis, right? And what I mean by GZERO, is an absence of global leadership. The Americans aren’t willing. No other countries are capable.
And think about the last two major crises we had, which were smaller crises. So it should have been easier to respond to. 9/11, right? The United States, the Americans come together. Our allies support us. And even the Russians open up bases in Central Asia, so we can all engage in a war against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Afghanistan. Right?
After 2008, the Americans come together. Bush and the Obama administration, TARP one, TARP two, bail out Detroit. And we organized the first-ever G20 Summit at the head of state level, and it works. Right? Back in April, in London. Not only our allies supporting the American league, but the Chinese too.
Now we are in 2020, by far the worst of those three crises. A truly global crisis, right? It’s an alien virus. It doesn’t even come from human beings. It comes from another species. Right? So if there’s ever a time that we were going to need to respond as a world, as humanity, to a crisis, this would be the one.
So if there’s ever a time that we were going to need to respond as a world, as humanity, to a crisis, this would be the one.
Not even close. I mean, Trump’s at 46%. Bush after 9/11, was at 92%, that’s double. You tell me Trump’s going to hit 90s, 80s, 70s? There’s no fricking way. Right? The country’s not coming together. The allies aren’t coming together. The Europeans are condemning us. Right? And the Chinese are actively promoting an alternative model, while they’re propagandizing to say the Americans are responsible. It’s astonishing to see how dangerous it is to have a major crisis in a GZERO world, and that’s where we are right now.
Silverstein: Is there anything that you would like to see, as far as people coordinating? Is it the stimulus packages or is it the leadership?
Bremmer: It’s not the stimulus packages at all. In fact, I think that frankly, in the developed countries, even though there’s no coordination, they’re largely doing the same things. The technocratic, in response. The central bankers of course, are politically independent, that’s not a problem.
We do need coordination for emerging market support, because we’re doing 10% of GDP that can leverage up to 25% of GDP, with loans. The emerging markets on average, are going to do 1% of GDP. You talk to the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank, they do not have the ability to help these guys with emergency support, with loans, with other packages that are going to allow them to really ensure that their economies will function. That’s a real problem. We need much more international coordination on that. But the single thing we truly need international coordination on, is a single set of standards and data to respond to this crisis.
We are still not getting asymptomatic case data from China. They’re collecting it, but they’re not sharing it. They’re not making it public. We don’t know. So when people say we have the most cases out there, that’s probably not true. The Chinese probably have more cases, but we don’t know. We can’t track it. But they actually have the longest experience and largest data set, so we could really use that. The Americans, the Chinese, the Europeans.
We all need to be working together in tracking a global virus, and in combating a global virus. We need a single supply chain around that. We need the ability for a global organization to buy and distribute the critical medical equipment and material to ensure that everyone has it that needs it. I mean, you can’t have Italy that falls apart, and Germany right next door doing just fine. That’s a governance problem. It isn’t a virus problem. Right? That’s what’s happening.
Not only is it happening globally, even in the United States. I’m watching county by county. In Florida, you’ve got one beach that’s completely empty. And right next door, literally this weekend, you’ve got thousands of people on the beach. That’s insanity. And not only are those people going to contract the virus and pass it on, but it also means that we’re going to have to be under lockdown for a longer period of time. You’re going to have rolling lockdowns. You open up, you have to close it again, like in Tokyo. Tokyo is probably going to have to close again. Why? Because there hasn’t been an effective response, internationally. That’s the point.