Terry Sarten

Singer Songwriter

The Great Distraction

For many world leaders, the Coronavirus offers both a distraction from the usual political power games and a massive incentive to get their act together.
The impact of the virus has diverted attention away from the machinations of politics and all the complications of concealing these from their citizens while presenting a huge challenge to their ability to lead in crisis.

This is most noticeable in the USA, UK and Australia where you can almost hear the politician’s sighs of relief as the headlines light up with stories about Covid-19, smothering all coverage of political rorts, skulduggery and various forms of political incompetence.
In Australia the emerging revelations about funding grants being made to marginal seats just prior to the elections is sliding of the media agenda which must be a relief to Scott Morrison and his sidekick Peter Dutton.
In the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston must find this tactical distraction from the ongoing mess that is Brexit. So far, he seems to have little to say about the health crisis. Such situations require a thing called leadership. He may be avoiding the subject because he has no idea what to do?
In the States, President Trump is relying on the fake fact that he knows everything and therefore needs no advice from public health expertise. To create a diversion, he has appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the health response. This means he can distance himself from failure and failure is a possibility as Mike Pence is considered by many to be just as, if not more, incompetent than Trump.
A recent exchange provides an insight into this dynamic. US Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, pointed out that Mike Pence was not the right person to led the response to coronavirus because ‘he does not believe in science’. She added that “He is not a medical doctor. He is not a health expert. He is not qualified nor positioned in any way to protect our public health.” Trump ally Ted Cruz then challenging her expertise and knowledge of such matters. She has an award for microbiology from MIT which did silence some of the criticism but it does spotlight the prevailing distain for ‘experts’ and people who might know stuff.
Here in NZ the potential risks to health have overshadowed the current investigations into party funding, allowing both the leaders of National and NZ First to avoid the topic while the Prime Minister steps up to provide leadership in crisis. Her fronting Scott Morrison on ‘exporting’ their crims to us shows she is not easily distracted.
Covid -19 will be a test of leadership. As noted in China, there has been a powerful undercurrent of dissatisfaction with their leaders linked to the initial attempts to conceal the outbreak from its own people. In Hong Kong, the long running agitation in the streets for democracy have been silenced as large gatherings present an increased risk of contact and infection.
For totalitarian regimes the coronavirus is both a reprieve, as it can use this as a reason to ban public protests but this may become a tipping point. If they fail to lead the response to this new health crisis, they could lose their power to control their populations.
This world-wide health crisis will test the quality of leadership everywhere. It presents a huge political challenge. Leaders will be judged by their people on how it is managed and scorned if they are seen to have failed them.

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