The impact of the coronavirus on American politics. Online Defense interviews Andrew Spannaus

(To Andrea Cucco)

Attempting to vaguely decipher a country requires many years of experience (preferably in the field). Understand it fully? Maybe not even a lifetime.

In these difficult months there is a lot of news that reaches us every day from overseas. To interpret them correctly, we asked for an interview with Andrew Spannaus, American, director of the Foreign Press Association of Milan and political analyst ( He is still remembered today for predicting Trump's victory in 2016 with the book "Why Vince Trump ".

Trump calls Pandemic a new "Pearl Harbor". Can you explain to the Italians what that name represents in the American unconscious?

For Americans, Pearl Harbor means a moment that radically changes the nation's consciousness, opens its eyes to a threat and mobilizes the population for a single purpose. Despite some initial measures such as blocking flights from China, the Trump administration's response was initially to minimize, as in many other countries.

At some point, however, the president realized not only that the problem was real, but that he could use it to change the political scenario, placing himself as a leader in wartime. However, he followed this approach only partially, on the one hand remaining in the American tradition of leaving many powers to individual states, and on the other getting nervous quickly for the heavy economic effects, which could preclude the possibility of being re-elected. So it is aiming for rapid reopening, but the numbers of the infection continue to grow.

It is not difficult to think that the situation could get worse still.

Vessels affected by the virus quickly turn into terrible infected sponges. How much has the readiness of the US naval power been affected?

The crisis has certainly interrupted the continuity of American military operations, but work is already underway to restart the machine, of course with some restrictions. Military rotation is about to resume and deployments continue in sensitive areas.

I want to hope that nobody thinks of launching provocations in this period, but it is certainly a delicate moment. It is not known how many sailors are infected, and the American Defense has begun to implement a plan to do the tests starting from the most exposed ones.

On the domestic front, there are 62 military personnel in action to assist in the operations to combat COVID-19; on the other hand, hospitals for veterans are among the most affected by the infection.

Will the Pandemic be anything compared to the economic consequences?

The economic consequences are really strong, if we consider that over 30 million people have lost their jobs, and despite the help provided by the federal government, many citizens are on the verge of extreme poverty, due to the precarious structure of the labor market. in the United States.

In this situation, inequalities are accentuated: many companies manage to access public funds, and employees can often work from home; instead those who did the most manual jobs find themselves queuing (sometimes very long) at the food bank. Flexibility means that the crisis is profound, but also that it will be possible to start quickly. In the meantime, disaster for the lower middle class must be avoided.

What tools is the US government responding to?

Congress has already approved $ 3 trillion interventions, which equates to 14% of GDP. It is real money - albeit still insufficient - which is given to small and medium-sized enterprises for non-recourse funds, therefore without charging them with new debts that can mortgage the future. In addition, the debt is actually monetized, that is, the central bank - the Fed - buys government bonds directly, and there will be no need to repay that debt: the interest that the state pays is returned to it, without market mechanisms that will force the government to implement austerity plans.

It remains to be seen whether this approach will be formalized, which would allow massive public interventions to be conceived in other sectors too, but the difference with Europe is clear.

The United States and China have been preparing for military confrontation for many years. It is not a question of "if" but of "when". Will COVID speed up times?

A new Cold War was already approaching, and an attempt at "decoupling" between the two economies, however, not easy given the strong intertwining due to the value chains in the times of globalization. The current crisis will undoubtedly accelerate this process: economically, because the importance of security and economic resilience can no longer be denied, and also at the military level, as the recriminations against China are growing at almost all levels of the American institutions .

The big question is whether it will be possible to manage a relationship rebalancing process - a total decoupling is impossible, at least in the short term - without going to the open confrontation. The key factor is the direct relationship between military institutions, a dialogue that a part of the American intelligence community has cultivated since the beginning of this administration.

Political rhetoric does not necessarily lead to direct confrontation, if there is mutual awareness of the dangers. That said, the arms race is already underway, and new fronts have opened up such as IT infrastructure and space operations.

How do you consider the Italian lockdown? A virtuous model or an example of an obligatory path for initial health resources inadequate to deal with the emergency?

The lockdown was in fact mandatory; then confusion and errors by political authorities are another matter. My biggest criticism is about the lack of clear and courageous communication as needed in times of war. What does it mean to say "no need to swab" when in reality they would be useful, but the problem is that resources are lacking? Same confusion about the masks and also other points. If politics is more honest, clearer, then the population will trust more.

In Lombardy there is a clear problem of territorial health efficiency, and the failure to set up a red zone in Alzano Lombardo was literally fatal, although not all the fault of the regional council; in Veneto things went better, because there were some people with clearer ideas, less influenced by the television theater on the air every day.

Italy is not the black sheep of Europe, given that other countries have reached it and even surpassed it even if leaving later, but there are many lessons to be learned to improve the preparation.

The substantial Italian meekness to the restriction measures does not appear overseas. Is there information about the coronavirus unknown to us or is it simply part of the American character?

In reality two thirds of the American population agrees with the extension of the restrictive measures; those who protest are certainly a minority. But a minority can do a lot, especially when it finds political representation.

There have been moments that bordered on madness - I think of armed protesters who wanted to enter the state parliament of Michigan - but the debate should not be suppressed for this. The situation is not really under control, but if the biggest outbreak was in Iowa, would New York have closed everything? There is room for serious debate about how a differentiated lockdown should be implemented. It is not easy, however, as everything is politicized immediately.

Can we trust a government that does not take sides, if not in words, with the historical ally and is always afraid of displeasing the Chinese one?

Italy wants to maintain its relations in several directions, and this is understandable. The question is what kind of relationships: if an increase in economic exchange is read as a shift in strategic posture - which Beijing would not mind - then tensions with the United States are bound to increase. Already the pressures are felt, and the Government tends to react when they increase in intensity.

There is also an assessment of how the United States is positioned: diplomatic apparatuses do not always accurately reflect the will of the president, and this can be confusing. In any case, for some months now we have seen a gradual opening to the idea of ​​bringing Russia closer to helping the West towards China. We have seen an example of this with Russian aid in Italy, of which the US institutions were aware and informed.

What do Italians in US politics and politicians not understand? 

We must always try to see the world through the eyes of others: American politicians are convinced of doing good, of pursuing the values ​​of our republican tradition, which has important differences compared to that of European countries. We have common roots, but a different political history, which in some also generates a sense of superiority. There is no offense, but to understand the national character.

That said, the most common mistake is superficiality, that is, not looking at the deeper currents (which also happens elsewhere). It is not always easy to remedy, because the news that Italians hear about the US is largely filtered through a few large press outlets, and so we are surprised when something new happens, like the election of Trump.

I try to tell the real situation, to understand that the right-left division often does not explain the real dynamics taking place. Now, for example, while globalization is being reassessed, America must be read with its particular form of nationalism in mind, which in fact is not European.

We have ministers in "infancy" while in November the challenge could be brought to Trump by a nearly eighty-year-old ... Do the Democrats really want to win the elections?

Democratic voters voted - at least in large part - and chose Joe Biden (Photo)evidently not convinced of Bernie Sanders' revolutionary rhetoric. Objectively it is a very risky choice, and it is legitimate to ask whether it was wise for the party leaders to focus on the former vice president, who in addition to being linked to the errors of the establishment in recent decades also shows signs of cognitive decline (not to mention of the sexual harassment scandal he now faces).

Sanders was unable to expand his base, and in my opinion he would have been better off leaving the field to Elizabeth Warren, a progressive with great skills who would have been more capable of pulling behind the party center.

I welcome the provocation of the question: for an important part of democratic institutions it is better to risk losing than to allow the emergence of a left-wing Trump, with positions perhaps even more dangerous for the interests of the centrist establishment today.

Are the numbers on COVID victims declared by China not excessively low (less than 5.000) when compared to the total in the rest of the world (almost 300.000)?

If already in the West almost everyone agrees that the real numbers are higher than those announced, it is difficult to think that this is not the case in China as well, and also in view of Beijing's great attention in managing its image towards the rest of the world.

To clarify the different methods of counting COVID-19 deaths, it is useful to compare the deaths in this period with the average of other years, calculating the so-called "excess deaths". This method has shown an increase of over 500% in Bergamo, and 600% in New York. It would be interesting to see China's numbers if data transparency could be guaranteed.

Andrew Spannaus is an American journalist and political analyst, known for anticipating the populist uprising in the United States and Europe. Founder of the newsletter, which provides geopolitical and macroeconomic analysis to institutions and businesses. He collaborates with Consortium News, Aspenia online, and comments on American policy on RaiNews24 and RSI (Switzerland). He is a lecturer in the Master in Economics and International Politics at ASERI, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart with a seminar on protectionism and free trade in the history of the United States.
Author of the books: Why Vince Trump (June 2016), The revolt of the voters (2017), and Original Sins. Globalization, Populism, and the Six Contradictions Facing the European Union (2019)

Photo: Foreign Press Association of Milan / US Navy / State Police / Presidency of the Council of Ministers / Twitter