Since reports of a novel coronavirus outbreak in China emerged around the new year, the lion’s share of attention has focused on immediate efforts to contain and respond to the pathogen that has now infected millions around the world and killed nearly 300,000 people, according to official counts. As the initial wave crests in many countries, observers are debating how the pandemic might reshape the world order, including prospects for international cooperation. Some anticipate accelerated U.S. decline and the advent of a more multipolar world. Others predict a deepening authoritarian turn worldwide, with an emboldened China atop the global standings.
The future of the world order is not preordained, but one thing seems certain. The arc of history will depend heavily on whether the post-coronavirus United States embraces constructive internationalism or clings to its current, disastrous course under President Donald Trump.
In his first three years in office, prior to COVID-19, Trump undercut America’s global influence by abdicating U.S. global leadership, marginalizing international institutions and adopting a cynical, transactional and exploitative approach to global affairs. America’s unilateral and flailing response to the coronavirus has reinforced this image of the United States a malignant and hapless former hegemon. Abroad, the sinews binding America to its closest partners, already stretched thin, are at the breaking point. Europeans are moving from sorrow to resignation that the United States is incapable of looking beyond narrow self-interest.