The High Price of Populism to the World

When historians look back on the tragedy that hit the world in 2020, they’ll say that countries were shut down because they didn’t close their borders. And they’ll ask why.

It won’t be easy to understand why Western powers, seasoned in containing the domino effect of communism, were falling defenseless, one by one, to a virus. Despite the fact that the country it originated in raised the alarm and provided credible solutions to stop it. It won’t be easy for them to understand why a global threat did not generate a global response. How it was possible that Western powers didn’t come together to protect themselves?

It will be difficult for historians to understand why they didn’t simultaneously stop flights coming in from China. How it was possible that, in the United States alone, 243,000 passengers arrived from China after they knew about the coronavirus epidemic? It will seem unbelievable that this was happening while China had already stopped transport to and from certain parts of the country, and, in particular, Wuhan. They won’t understand why, despite the high number of cases reported in China, countries strongly interlinked with them didn’t think that they too would suffer an outbreak. That they had learned nothing from viruses like the swine flu that hospitalized 274,304 people and killed 12,469 in just one year in the United States alone. That they hadn’t heeded the warnings from the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who in 2015 pointed out the risk of viruses becoming deadlier and the lack of global preparation. Nor had they listened to the most powerful man in the world in 2014, Barack Obama, who called on Congress to take measures to anticipate and control a pandemic he predicted could happen within five years.

Historians will find various reasons and will surely recognize the importance of two of them, which are closely related: The rejection of scientific evidence and the absence of global leadership. The conservative branch of the government currently in power in the richest and most influential country in the world does not recognize global warming and is in the process of dismantling one of the most fundamental pillars of Western society—respect for science as the most important factor for the progression of humanity. It has turned the devaluation of scientific evidence into a tool, as useful as it is accepted for the political act of populism, which has seen a global rise in recent years.

The world has found itself with a total absence of leadership ever since U.S. populism arrived to uproot the nearly 80-year tradition of the country’s heavy involvement in world affairs and the concept that strong international alliances were modern society’s best possible protection against authoritarian enemies prone to war and systematic crises which, due to globalization, are affecting increasing numbers of countries.

We’re at the stage of blaming China, whose secretive authoritarianism may prove to be the original culprit. But historians are bound to find that responsibility for the tragedy outside of China is shared by certain people, obsessed with building walls against the world, who instead made it more chaotic and insecure.

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