But when America returns to the global stage it will be different. America will be chastened. This crisis hits right at the heart of America’s can-do superpower identity. A younger generation simply does not buy into the notion of American exceptionalism, as their lifetimes have been dominated by the ineptitude of the Iraq War, a massive economic crisis, crushing student debt, unaffordable housing, costly childcare, fear of domestic gun violence, the election of Donald Trump, and now a totally negligent and inept response to a crisis that will kill many of their parents and loved ones. This millennial generation, who are now in their late 20s and 30s, are on the verge of assuming positions of power. This generation underestimates the good America can achieve, as they are dubious of America’s ability to do great things on its own. Yet they also strongly believe in engaging the world and being good global citizens. Thus, more so than ever before in the post-war transatlantic relationship, America will be desperate to not just work with others, but form genuine partnerships.
COVID-19, in this optimistic reading, will therefore discredit America’s populist in chief and usher in a new administration with a mandate for change and a strong desire not just to revive the transatlantic alliance but to forge a stronger partnership.
The fear, however, is that while America may overcome its populists, Europe will not. It is possible then that America and Europe switch places.
Europe’s response to the economic crisis may be inadequate, lack solidarity, and leave considerable room for populist parties to pounce on the fecklessness of the EU. COVID-19 could therefore fuel anti-government and anti-EU sentiment, powering another populist wave, perhaps even taking power in a major European country, such as Italy.
It is impossible to predict COVID-19’s impact. But those who support the transatlantic alliance in Europe need to recognize the stakes and act accordingly.
Copyright: Sarah Silbiger / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP
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