The second way in which Covid-19 may mark a transition is a shift away from western democratic leadership of the global system. The performance of the US government during the crisis has been dismal. Basic tasks such as ensuring the availability of masks for health workers who treat the sick have not been performed. Medium-term planning has been conspicuous by its absence. Elementary safety protocols have been ignored in the White House, putting the safety of leaders at risk.
Yet, For all of the Trump administration’s manifest failures, the US has not been a particularly poor performer compared to the rest of the west. The UK, France, Spain, Italy and many others all have Covid-19 death rates per capita well above the US. In contrast, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand all have death rates well under 5 per cent of American levels. The idea that China would be airlifting basic health equipment to the US would have been inconceivable even a year ago.
If the 21st century turns out to be an Asian century as the 20th was an American one, the pandemic may well be remembered as the turning point. We are living through not just dramatic events but what may be well be a hinge in history.