There are growing signs that the coronavirus pandemic will radically alter the geo-political map of the world. The governors, prime ministers, premiers, chief ministers, and administrators of sub-national governments have been almost unanimous in decrying the lack of support from central governments during the current Covid-19 crisis. Not least among these have been the governors of the American states of New York, Michigan, Washington, and other states and U.S. territories.
Welcome to the international empire of “Pandemia.” This unstructured alliance of disbelievers in public health, skeptics of scientific proof, practitioners of fascist ideology, and bloviators about any subject minus the ones at hand have ensured that a deadly pandemic became an international scourge. Rather than pooling the resources of their nations with those of others, these cartoonish politicians decided to, at first, discount the threat; then, manipulate the numbers of infected persons in their countries; followed by hoarding precious medical supplies and resources and, in the case of Donald Trump, tighten sanctions on nations trying to deal with the virus at home and abroad. Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba discovered that the United States, far from being generous during a global health crisis, would use sanctions to increase the pandemic’s death count in the sanctions-targeted nations.
In two federal republics, the United States and Brazil, led by two extreme-rightwing Presidents, Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, respectively, the central governments demonstrated an initial and continued failure to take Covid-19 seriously. By waiting until the pandemic was already weighing heavily on state governments, the two presidents, rather than taking strong federal action, decided to engage in a ridiculous blame game in both shedding off federal responsibility and forcing state governors into roles best suited to the national governments.
When Trump appointed his New York/New Jersey “kosher nostra”-mobbed up son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to chair a “shadow” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) task force charged with building up a national stockpile of ventilators, personal protection equipment (PPE), and Covid-19 test kits. Kushner publicly stated at a White House press briefing that the federal medical stockpile was not meant for the states, even though the United States solely consists of states. Who would ultimately receive the federal stockpile over which Kushner maintained his control? Kushner granted himself sole authority to distribute the equipment and supplies. To where? Israel, where the prime minister was a personal friend of Kushner and his family? The New York/New Jersey regional black market, where Baruch Feldheim, Yuriy Borukhov, Maisey Khovasov, and Michael Borukhov were arrested for hoarding masks and other medical supplies and gouging buyers? These are the types of criminals Trump and Kushner have been dealing with throughout their entire lives. As if they were dealoing with organized crime syndicates, governors were alerted to numerous attempts by FEMA and Kushner, using Gestapo-like tactics, to intercept PPEs pre-ordered by the states.
Colorado’s Democratic Governor, Jared Polis, revealed that FEMA “swept up” 500 ventilators that were already purchased by the state of Colorado. Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker decried the Kushner team’s confiscation of three million masks ordered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Acting entirely outside of their scope and doing the bidding of Trump “capo” and Attorney General William Barr, authorized the FBI to question the chief physician at Baystate Health in Massachusetts about the purpose of two semi-trucks, disguised as food-service vehicles, hauling badly-needed PPEs to Massachusetts hospitals. Even after the FBI stood down, FEMA attempted to seize the equipment. Similar FEMA seizures and attempted seizures were reported from Florida, California, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska, and Texas.
Illinois Democratic Governor J. B. Pritzker said his state’s order of millions of masks and gloves from China via secret chartered flights had to be kept confidential because he feared that FEMA would attempt to seize the cargo prior to it leaving China or upon its arrival in the United States. Another highly secret operation, dubbed “Operation Enduring Friendship” by Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan, saw his Korean-American wife, Yumi Hogan, negotiate a shipment of 500,000 test kits in a chartered Korean Air Boeing 777 aircraft that flew the cargo from South Korea’s LabGenomics company to an isolated tarmac at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. The Hogans were on hand to personally welcome the secret flight. It was Maryland’s First Lady who negotiated the deal through the auspices of South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Soo Hyuk and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Like the mafia extortionists they attempt to portray, Trump and Kushner were livid at both Hogan and Pritzker for working around the White House’s hoarding scheme.
It was unprecedented for governors to be forced to engage in their own foreign efforts to obtain needed medical supplies and the transformation of states into quasi-independent entities hearkened back to the pre-U.S. Constitution days of the Articles of Confederation, a loose-knit federation in which states had wide authority over international commerce and finance.
Democratic members of the U.S. Congress questioned the motive of Kushner in “circumventing protocols that ensure all states’ requests are handled appropriately.” However, Kushner, as seen by his own and his family’s past well-known and concisely reported unethical business practices, was obviously engaging in hoarding and using the powers of FEMA, the Homeland Security Department, the FBI, and Barr to enforce international and interstate stockpiling conduits for his own dubious purposes.
Trump’s partner-in-malfeasance, Bolsonaro, also tangled with Brazil’s state governors, many of whom issued stay-at-home orders and closures of businesses and other venues. On several occasions, Bolsonaro ventured out of the presidential palace and mingled with anti-lockdown protesters and violated social distancing regulations. Like Trump, Bolsonaro criticized lockdown orders issued by state governors and upheld by the Supreme Court. He even coughed in the close presence of others and was seen wiping his nose prior to shaking hands with an elderly woman. In a mirror image of Trump supporters descending on state capitals and demanding the resignation of U.S. state governors, Bolsonaro protesters turned out in Sao Paulo and demanded that Governor Joao Doria also resign over his shelter-in-place orders. Making matters worse, Bolsonaro fired his Health Minister, Luiz Mandetta, who was popular with the governors in guiding them in their lockdown policies.
Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Wilson Witzel, a one-time ally of Bolsonaro, simply ignored the president and continued to impose his own strict social isolation orders. Witzel also warned Bolsonaro that his actions could land him before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Just as Trump found willing dupes in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to ease up on social distancing, so, too, did Bolsonaro in his Bolsonarista allies, Rondônia Governor Marcos Rocha and Roraima Governor Antonio Denarium.
Although the United Kingdom is not a federation per se, it is a nation composed of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the latter three having their own degrees of self-government. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially took a lackadaisical approach to Covid-19, even skipping five emergency “Cobra” intelligence, emergency services, and military meetings on the issue. On January 24, Johnson’s Health Minister, Matt Hancock, claimed that Covid’s threat to the UK public was low, even though intelligence shared by the World Health Organization from China and other affected countries indicated otherwise. Regional and local governments in the UK were left to deal with the public health emergency on their own. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was not even invited to the first Cobra meetings on the virus threat. Without any strong leadership from Number 10 Downing Street left the governments of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, crown dependencies, and local English councils to deal with the pandemic as if the UK government did not even exist.
In some countries that would benefit by a devolution of central power to provincial governments, heavy-handed tactics by central governments saw requests for large-scale social restrictions rejected. This resulted in outrage and possible future demands for great self-determination in the Indonesian regions and cities of Palangka Raya, Rote Ndao Regency, Mimika Regency, Fakfak Regency, Sorong, and Bolaang Mongondow Regency in the already secessionist restive provinces of West Papua, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and East Nusa Tenggara.
Some Mexican state governors were infuriated by leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s slow start in providing guidance to the states on necessary actions to take to combat the virus. The governors of the states of Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, and Sinaloa issued their own lockdown orders in the absence of any firm direction from the central government.
Federal and quasi-federal systems where the national governments worked closely with the leaders of constituent states and provinces and chose not to pick fights with them – Australia, Canada, Argentina, and India — will survive Covid-19 intact. However, for the United States, Brazil, and the United Kingdom, the outlook for federalism is not so bright.
It was the abject inability and incompetence of governments led by dogmatic and ideological conservatives and right-wingers to deal with any emergency, let alone an unprecedented pandemic, that was on display for the entire world. Protecting the security and safety of the people is the most important duty of any government and Trump, Bolsonaro, and Johnson proved that they were utterly incapable of doing so and thus failed in their most solemn responsibilities.