In whose hands are we?

The challenge is of planetary dimensions and it will be years before the bill can be paid. That, not to mention those who have remained and will remain on the road, the impossible gap that they leave behind them. In this scenario, world leaders, those who are called to get us out of the quagmire, face the health and economic emergency without a single command or magic formulas that allow us to tackle a situation that has surpassed everyone. Three months after the pandemic led to the confinement of millions of people in China and one after the European airspace was closed, the rulers have tried all kinds of measures to control the spread of the virus, from some that fall into grotesque to others that have been successful and that, without exception, they go through firmness in the early stages of the threat. All are being watched with a magnifying glass, not to mention those who are immersed in electoral processes. In this breeding ground, populism grows by leaps and bounds and often does so in inverse proportion to the credit scientists receive. Are our leaders ready to return us to normality, to manage the fear that shakes society to its foundations? Whose hands are we in?

When in Asia they built hospitals in a week with the consequent condescending smile of the West, the Chinese citizens closed their groceries and shops of everything to a hundred worried about our hesitations when facing the pandemic. Ángel Castañeira, Professor of Democratic Leadership and Governance at ESADE Identify three models when talking about responsiveness. A disciplinary one, typical of authoritarian regimes like China, but also of Taiwan or South Korea. Another Darwinian, wielded in the early stages of the crisis by the United States or the United Kingdom, willing to focus on the economy and let the virus pay homage to it, thus raising the level of immunity, regardless of the cost that this would have in human lives and for the health system. The runaway course of events has brought them both back to reality. And the last would be that of uncoordination, “where most Western leaders enter.” The conclusion is disturbing, since those who have most effectively faced the pandemic are those countries that have had no qualms about resorting to extreme confinement and ‘big data’ to control the evolution of their citizens.

If something has shown the disease is that there are no universal recipes. Starting with confinement, but neither in sanitary, economic or educational matters. Castañeira speaks of three important elements that must define every good leader when facing, as the Chinese say, “interesting times.” First, a contextual intelligence, «something like knowing how to read the game well, transmitting clearly what the situation is, trying not to generate more alarm than necessary, but with a point of urgency, to mobilize the population. Accepting reality –the expert points out– does not mean approving it, but it is the starting point of any therapy ». But Castañeira goes further, he talks about executive intelligence, or the ability to act and do it quickly. «Asians are ahead of us here, because they already had experience with SARS or avian influenza and consequently ‘trained’ their population ». In Italy or Spain, the reaction was late, but it was even more so in the United States and the United Kingdom, which at first denied the evidence and lost precious days to stop the pandemic. The third element is emotional intelligence, essential to transmit resilience –’Don’t be afraid ‘,’ We will get out of it ‘- and combat the uncertainty and fear that grips citizens.

Fear management

Thus, the playing field is divided between those who have known how to anticipate and those who are in tow, overcome by events; between what happened in Taiwan, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand or Norway –countries headed by women– and what happened in the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico or Brazil. For Jordi Rodríguez Virgili, professor of Political Communication at the University of Navarra, the leader is that person who helps a country to establish and achieve common objectives, capable of generating confidence and serving as inspiration to others; to move an entire community, from the private sector to the public, to citizens, companies … “It is important that the ruler first give, then ask, and lastly demand. In other words, exemplaryness is essential, and it must go hand in hand with competence and honesty ».

If as you affirm Ángel Gabilondo, Professor of Metaphysics at Complutense, leadership is also “fear management”, the model definitely does not seem within everyone’s reach. Leadership, he says, is courage, “but not understood as foolishly going in any direction, but rather as the courage to dare to seek and unite other wills, which are what give you strength.” The coronavirus, he adds, “will change everything, also the way of doing politics, which is not only a power struggle, but the resolution of problems of citizens with citizens. Anything that distracts us from that is losing perspective, not having understood anything.

Sociologist Alain Touraine says that we live in a world without leaders. Daniel Innerarity, Professor of Political Philosophy, believes that what is lacking are not people, but institutions with a commonly accepted recognition. And he gives as an example the United Nations or the World Health Organization, the latter “With a ridiculous budget, a much questioned legitimacy, partly captured by the Chinese and at the expense of the pharmaceutical companies that finance it”. The latest manifestation of that drift comes from the hand of Trump, whose reelection is in danger and needs to find guilty. It has frozen funds for the organization for not having raised the alarm earlier and fed up, he says, with its efforts focused on China.

Innerarity also warns about an important aspect, this time behind closed doors. “The European Union does not have health powers because we have not given them, contrary to what we did with the economic ones.” It is the States and not the leaders, he continues, who are facing the crisis“And that is part of the problem, since a threat of this magnitude should have had a global and not individualized response in its prevention and management.” And he gives as an example the closing of national borders, “not very useful when the ones that really count are the domestic borders, those that confine us at home.”

Cracks in Europe

In the judgment of José Luis Barreiro Rivas, professor of Political Science at the University of Santiago, the pandemic is exposing the cracks in the European Union. «We have the political class that we have built. Take a look at Salvini, threatening a year ago to pull out of the euro if Italy was not allowed to do with its economy as it pleased. And now that same country hopes that it will be Europe that fixes its problems. You cannot shoot the debt and then make someone else responsible for what you spend. If 12 years ago, with the previous crisis, we had worked to create a European Treasury and Budget, of course we could talk about mutualising the debt. But not now. And that is not a lack of solidarity, it is common sense ».

Covid has established a paradigm shift in many ways. It is the first time that heads of government tell people that we are at war and send them home to ‘fight’. «Our leaders have made a diagnostic error, possibly because they are facing an unprecedented reality. If we want people to obey, to assume something as unusual as seclusion, the most useful recourse is to appeal to military logic, to fear, “says Innerarity.

The pandemic is also highlighting the successful management that some women have made of the crisis, although in this regard no one seems willing to go further. «A greater degree of sensitivity towards the suffering, the vulnerable? “All the philosophies that address the ethics of care have been developed by women,” Castañeira recalls, “but I would not dare establish from there that they manage better or worse than men.” “I tend to think that there are no female attributes, or very few, and that stereotypes abound,” says Innerarity. Of the same opinion is the political scientist Carmen Beatriz Fernández, for whom “chance is not causality”. He is more concerned with “knowing how we are going to get out of this and in what situation the health system is going to be, research”, always subject to cuts. Or democracy, “Besieged by populists and authoritarian leaders, who are taking advantage to curtail rights and liberties with the excuse of the Covid”.

“Also the economy.” Nobel laureate Finn Kydlan says that the key to getting ahead is in conserving human capital, that what has happened to us is not an earthquake or roads will have to be rebuilt, and that what must be ensured are the financial instruments necessary for the liquidity to all. “Think of a bar, how to keep the friendly bartender and the cook who knows how to make croquettes like no one else”. In other words, retain the ‘know how’. Because even if you don’t believe it, this will also happen. It just takes someone to take note.


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