COVID-19 will usher in a world where insecurity and unpredictability constitute the new normal. Everything that was relevant and present before COVID will be there afterwards, except intensified and accelerated.
My thesis about modern politics is that the key political challenge today is the technological revolution, the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. And politics has been slow to catch up.
The effect of COVID-19 will be to accelerate this revolution. Companies will digitalize faster; innovation will be spurred by the necessity of finding new ways of working and cutting cost. Many things will not go back to the way they were.
The impact of this, along with the huge hangover bill for dealing with the virus and the loss of economic activity, will be to produce a lot of hardship with the burden falling often on the most vulnerable.
Pre-existing injustices will seem even more unacceptable, releasing pent-up anger and possibly even social unrest. So governments will struggle. Populists will have plenty to play with. And social divisions will become more raw. It will require political leadership which can analyze, understand, explain and point the way.
This is not a lost art. It has been a feature of the crisis that the governments who have handled it best have been those prioritizing evidence, sound policy, collaborative engagement and creative innovation. We can only hope this is the politics which emerges from the COVID nightmare.
But it will be heavily contested. The U.S.-China relationship will continue to deteriorate, and the global community will have to decide how to find space to cooperate with China, as well as competing with it and — when necessary — confronting it. Europe and the U.K. will play an important role in shaping U.S. policy.
Global coordination remains objectively rational. Yet the absence of it during the crisis has been truly shocking. And damaging. Think how much faster we would have been to develop things like rapid on the spot tests if the world had come together and worked together.
This vacuum is especially concerning as the developing world faces agonizing choices as a consequence of COVID. Helping them is a matter of enlightened self-interest. I pray we recognize it.
I have always been an optimist. For the first time in my political life, however, I am doubtful. Still hopeful but troubled.