End of an era?- Rafia Zakaria


IT seemed that the age of Trump would never end. In January and February and most of March, the American economy was running strong. The stock market was reaching new highs everyday. It appeared then that a second term for Donald Trump was all but assured. Until March 13, 2020, the virus was not an American problem, and in the president’s own words it would die off, take care of itself, be resolved by April at the latest.

Even when Trump was proffering these lies and offering up hydroxychloroquine as a magic cure, polls showed that the American people trusted him, felt that he would take care of whatever the virus was about to serve up. Standing next to the flag in the initial press conferences of the White House task force, he seemed presidential.

That moment is long gone. The US leads the world in the number of Covid-19 deaths. The curve, many joke darkly, has only been fattened. Even as cases have dropped in earlier hotspots like New York City, they are reaching new highs in south-western states, Arizona, Texas, California and Florida. The situation is so bad in Florida that the Republican National Convention, which Trump had moved from North Carolina to Jacksonville, had to be cancelled. With so many freezer trucks parked outside hospitals for the new Covid-19 dead, a celebration of Trump’s three and a half years, the pomp and circumstance of balloon drops and fireworks, would not have the intended impact.

The last time the president tried to have a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, people did not show up and portions of the event, touted by his own campaign managers as one that would see over a million participants, had to be cancelled.

It may still be too early to say it’s over for Trump, but it is beginning to look like that. Average polls of registered voters nationally show Democratic nominee and former vice president Joe Biden leading by almost 10 percentage points. In battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, the margin is closer but Biden still is the front runner.

The depressing poll numbers have already had an impact on the campaign. Not long after the Tulsa rally, Trump replaced his campaign director Brad Parscale, who had boasted of a data-driven campaign that would demolish his opponent. Though Parscale remains on Trump’s re-election team as his senior adviser for data and digital operations, it no longer appears as though there is a strategy. Instead, a deflated Trump has taken to holding press conferences in the White House’s Rose Garden, where he forces the socially distanced and masked White House Press Corps to listen to his campaign rants.

The only way Trump could possibly rescue his chances is if there was a vaccine. The prospect of an end to this extended pain of the pandemic would buoy the spirits of the entire world and especially Americans who have seen the largest number of deaths. In a press conference meant to address the crisis Trump allowed his desperation for the vaccine to be visible. He touted that the vaccine would soon be available and that contracts were being entered into to ensure that the vaccine could be distributed. Unwilling to let go of the cure he touted months ago (and that has been proven ineffective), he continued to push hydroxychloroquine. The FDA has rescinded permission for the drug to be used for purposes other than the ones for which it had been approved.

Many around the world, including those in Pakistan, will welcome a new administration in the White House. At the same time, those in Pakistan’s policy circles must question what that will mean for the region. Trump’s erratic foreign policy has provided some respite from the general meddling of the US. If the Trump era is over and Joe Biden moves into the White House, there could well be a return to that time of constant accusations against Pakistan for failing to do this or that. Aid, either provided directly or though the World Bank or some other transnational agency, will be on the table and likely hard to resist.

In the three years that have just passed, the world has gotten used to an international system that does not include the US. International institutions have languished, their funding in question. Countries like Pakistan and similar states need to develop a concerted theoretical and policy basis for the increase in sovereignty that they have enjoyed in the absence of a global hegemon that has spent decades meddling in local issues and dictating national policies in several areas.

In the aftermath of the Trump presidency, the revitalisation of international institutions should be a priority, but this moment is one in which countries like Pakistan can demand that these institutions not be used as fronts for meddling. We can celebrate the possibility of a world without President Trump, but first we have to make our own arrangements for what follows.