Over the past few weeks it has become evident that covid-19 does not abide by national boundaries, political structures nor social values. Yet, each of the 177 nations impacted seems to have their own political agenda with every public health decision made. An outbreak of this caliber reveals the values and priorities of each society, with the divisive politics of the United States coming under scrutiny. While the pandemic calls for national unity, the response has been one of discordance, in part due to the partisanship of the American government.
A Pew Research Center study released on March 18 found varying beliefs between Democrats and Republicans, with 59% of Democrats - and 33% of Republics - deeming the virus to be a major threat to U.S. citizens. These views oppose those of epidemiologists who have warned that the pandemic could impact millions, regardless of political party or geolocation. This disparity of concern is translated into varying responses from blue cities and states, who are moving more aggressively, while more conservative communities deem this to be a foreign problem. There is evidently a meaningful gap between Democrats and Republicans, being reinforced by the direct response of the United States President.
The current federal response threatens President Trump with the same outcome which undermined predecessors such as George Bush post-Hurricane Katrina or Jimmy Carter with the Iranian hostage crisis: an American realization that cultural and ideological affinity simply is no longer sufficient for a successful presidency. Once again, the Trump administration has taken a minimization approach, one in significant contrast to that of China and Italy. Restrictions are only recently being placed, with partisan beliefs delaying timely and adequate responses. The administration has also used this pandemic to advocate for tighter border control and nationalist policies. In deeming Chinese measures to be “draconian and aggressive”, conservatives are reinforcing an ideological divide on a global scale.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to understand that the balance between individual rights and public safety is an ever-changing equation. Public health methods are universal and regardless of political, economic or cultural structure they hold one purpose: human welfare. The challenge now remains on President Trump to convince the public that his administration is making equitable and just decisions in the short term while preserving economic and medical interests in the long term. Nations must realise that now is time to place politics behind public health, to strengthen economic relations between nations and to provide the right medicine not only for people but the global economy.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has long been a partnership of compromise, yet Monday’s oil price plummet indicates Russia has finally had enough. In order to mitigate oversupply and rebalance the global markets Saudi Arabia called for production cuts, to which Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, has refused to engage with. Calling it “masochism”, Rosneft head Igor Sechin argues that with every production cut Russia is forced to do, portions of market share simply return to American shale oil. However this rapid increase in Russian production has led the value of the Russian Ruble to plummet, with the currency hitting its lowest level in more than four years on Tuesday. However, what is perhaps most concerning is the promptness and aggressiveness of the Saudi Arabian response. Saudi Arabian Aramco vowed on Tuesday to produce 12.3 million barrels of oil per day in April, exceeding company capacity by 300,000 barrels. In a global sense this abundance of oil with unwavering demand has already exemplified the rapid decline in oil prices. Russia chose to compete over compromise, leaving not only the Saudi Arabian market harmed but also the global oil economy. Effects of this price war are seen with the value of US crude oil plummeting 26%, the worst value since 1991, resulting in US shale companies to cut production.
Nevertheless, it seems as though this response from Russia stems from the coercive sanctions policy that America’s booming economy has enabled. Three weeks ago Donald Trump announced sanctions against a subsidiary of Rosneft in response for its support for the Venezuelan Maduro Regime, leading Russian officials and Russian oil to become increasingly unstable. Yet amid all of this loss Igor Sechin seems to have benefited. This conflict has allowed for nationalist Russian rhetoric to popularize, with the intention to penalize the United States regardless of who gets caught in the crossfire. The United States and Russia relationship has been an immensely fragile one and the new OPEC recommendations for production cuts has simply opened the window of opportunity for influential, nationalist officials such as Sechin.
The impact of such oversupply goes beyond the microeconomic lens and holds the potential to devastate global economies. Considering the recent US-China trade war along with COVID-19 impacting imports and exports, the United States remains an extremely vulnerable actor. On the other hand, Russia is relatively well positioned to withstand the impact of falling oil prices with reserved funds in place, however can severely jeopardize long term economic stability. It is imperative to understand that in order to preserve the oil industry as a whole the convenient and compromising nature of OPEC must be restored, otherwise a prolonged war of attenuation could have devastating economic consequences for all involved.