Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yasushi Tomiyama

【#676】Prepare for Leaderless Post-Corona World

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2020.04.30 (Thu)

April 27, 2020

While the world devotes itself to fighting against the novel coronavirus pandemic, how the United States would change after posting the largest coronavirus infection and death toll is set to decisively influence the future international situation. There are two points to consider. One is what impact the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S. would exert on the presidential election only six months away. The other is whether the U.S. would come back as the world’s leader after the election.

November election outcome remains in the balance

In U.S. national polls, former Democratic Vice President Joseph Biden has consistently maintained his lead over Republican President Donald Trump. Real Clear Politics polling averages show Biden now leading Trump by around 6 percentage points. This is not a small gap.

Trump is fighting an uphill battle also in the rust belt (Midwest and other states where manufacturing has declined) that he won to secure his victory in the last presidential election. Trump trails Biden in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to RCP polling averages.

When Trump began a daily White House briefing to demonstrate his leadership in dealing with the coronavirus in mid-March, his approval ratings rose temporarily. However, as job losers increased due to economic slowdown while the daily death toll rise failed to show sign of falling, American voters grew unenthusiastic for the president from early April. In a Pew Research Center poll, 65% of respondents say Trump was too slow to take major steps to address the coronavirus infection in the initial phase.

Meanwhile, Biden has also been lackluster, failing to receive much boost from the coronavirus epidemic. Being forced to refrain from stepping up his election campaigns amid the fear of spreading the coronavirus, he has managed to contact voters through virtual rallies using cameras set up at his home. Economic conditions just before the November 3 voting day may determine whether independents, who have the key to election results, vote for Trump or Biden.

U.S. leadership may be unlikely

In dealing with the coronavirus, Trump has rather enhanced his “America First” approach, belittling international cooperation. In a typical case, the president unilaterally declared a ban on entry from Europe without consulting with European allies. He has shown no sign of easing his America Firstism if reelected.

In contrast, Biden has vowed to take leadership in uniting the free world and cooperate with allies and friends in standing against rising China and other authoritarian regimes.

The U.S. was able to lead the international community after World War II thanks to its dominant military, economic and political powers. The age when the U.S. was the only superpower has been over on the rise of such countries as China. Even before Trump won the last presidential election, American politicians and citizens indicated their inward-looking attitude, giving top priority to addressing domestic issues. The U.S. is unlikely to come back as a global leader only by electing Biden as president.

Japanese ruling and opposition camp politicians should be prepared to see the world continuing to lack U.S. leadership for the time being and seriously explore the path for Japan to survive in the international community. They could not afford to resume political wrangling if Japan puts the coronavirus under control in the not-so-distant future.

Yasushi Tomiyama is a senior research fellow and Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a former foreign news editor and bureau chief in Washington, D.C., London and Bangkok for the Jiji Press.