The great American experiment in democracy will survive Trump’s best efforts to end it


This op-ed originally appeared in the SCMP on 11/2/20.


Illustration: Craig Stephens

With only days left before the US presidential election, fears are growing of voter intimidation, drawn-out legal challenges to vote counts, and even the potential for political violence. These concerns are usually reserved for struggling democracies around the world, not a country long considered the leader of the free world.

That leadership position has been thrown into question as the US has withdrawn from a number of multilateral engagements and favoured a myopic nationalism rather than the internationalist orientation the country had followed since the end of World War II. There’s a lot more at stake in this election than just who becomes the next president. Democracy itself is on the ballot.

In far too many places, political freedom is an exception rather than the norm. Over the past 14 years, it has been declining according to Freedom House research. The reasons are many, but the results are the same – the rule of law is weakening in high-, medium-, and low-income countries around the world. The US is not immune to this trend.

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How China’s growing power and ambitions are burning the bridges of global cooperation


This op-ed originally appeared in the SCMP on 9/27/20.


Illustration: Craig Stephens

In the past few weeks, China’s decades-long relationship with Europe has taken a significant hit as negotiations stalled over investment and human rights issues. Chinese fighter jets have flown dangerously close to Taiwan. And talks with India over their border dispute have reached a stalemate after the deaths of soldiers on both sides.

Add to this the continued trade war with the United States and a clear trend emerges. At no time since China’s reform and opening up that began over four decades ago has its relations with the world been so strained. Beijing has alienated practically every major power in the Asia-Pacific – JapanAustralia and India – as well as most of Western Europe, Canada and the US all at the same time.

China’s growing ambitions are bumping up against its neighbours with increasing frequency, calling into question attempts by Beijing to establish itself as the leader of a new multilateral order. The backlash to this more aggressive approach has begun, and will only increase if Beijing continues down this path. China will increasingly feel more isolated, not by any grand Washington containment strategy, but by its own policies.

. . . for the full op-ed head to the SCMP (limited free articles).


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America’s Trade Chief Has a Bold New Plan. U.S. Companies, Beware


This op-ed originally appeared in Barron’s on 9/14/20


Anna Moneymaker/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Robert Lighthizer has set out a bold new plan for U.S. trade policy that, if implemented, could effectively end America’s leadership in promoting open, free, and fair trade. In a recent op-ed, the U.S. trade representative railed against the World Trade Organization and trade deals. Some of his themes are familiar; others new. But unless Washington stops trying to make the entire world follow its rules rather than working toward consensus, U.S. companies are going to face tough times abroad. If “America First” continues to mean that America goes it alone, U.S. consumers will eventually feel the pain as well. 

Lighthizer’s new approach to trade policy takes particular aim at bilateral trade deals that he says “discriminate in favor of preferred trading partners.” That’s an odd argument to make considering the administration has pursued new bilateral deals, including one with the United Kingdom that has stalled while London attempts to leave the European Union, and initiated negotiations with Kenya in July. The White House has also relied on a bilateral deal with Japan to gain access for U.S. beef exports. I asked the U.S. trade representative’s office to comment on these inconsistencies and other issues raised by Lighthizer’s op-ed, but they did not respond. 

. . . for the full op-ed head to Barron’s (outside the paywall)


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Right to vote: US must lead by example in presidential election to showcase its democracy


This op-ed originally appeared in the SCMP on 8/31/20.


Illustration: Craig Stephens

It’s not every day that the US Postal Service becomes national, even international, news.Mail delivery has never been a major global foreign policy issue. But in the pandemic year of Covid-19, delivery of mail-in ballots for the November US presidential election has turned into a serious concern. With social distancing still a priority, many voters are expected to avoid going to polling stations and instead rely on mailing their ballots.

The consequences of a botched election go well beyond Washington. Whoever occupies the White House in 2021 will be overseeing the lasting effects of the pandemic, a rapidly accelerating climate change crisis, and shifting great-power geopolitical risks. Even the perception of an illegitimate US election will further erode what’s left of Washington’s global influence.

. . . for the full op-ed head to the SCMP (limited free articles).


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Authoritarian Spin Could Derail the Global Economy


This op-ed originally appeared in Barron’s on 6/30/20


A truth, rarely discussed, about the geopolitical risks posed by authoritarian leaders is that they are especially bad at managing crises. The U.S., Brazil, Russia, and India have the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the world. It is no coincidence that they are led each by populists who practice or at least admire authoritarianism. These leaders’ nativist political instincts have led to disastrous results as the Covid-19 pandemic intensifies and the global economy spirals deeper into recession. Without a scientific breakthrough, this populist wave may intensify as leaders exploit virus-driven outrage and inequity, people struggle to recover, and experts are pushed further to the periphery of policy.

Sergey Guneev/Getty Images

The disparity between authoritarian hubris and expert advice shows up in the data. Taken together, these four countries are home to one-quarter of the world’s population, but nearly 50% of the global coronavirus cases. That shouldn’t be a surprise since coronavirus denial has been front and center of their policies. They have downplayed or outright ignored the dangers of its spread and extolled their own knowledge over the advice of experts—a classic authoritarian move according to researchers who study this phenomenon. 

Early on U.S. President Donald Trump said the virus would simply disappear. He refuses to wear a mask despite his own staff and Secret Service becoming ill and has held rallies in Oklahoma and Arizona, where cases are spiking. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also politicized wearing a mask and held rallies with little regard for the chaos it would cause. Asked about rising infections and deaths, he said, “So what?” And he fired two health ministers who had warned of the crisis. [continued]

. . . For the full commentary head to Barrons (outside the paywall).


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