Bryan Series: Political analyst Ian Bremmer discusses COVID-19 and international politics

Ian Bremmer is a political scientist and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm.

Ian Bremmer is a political scientist and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm.

Nonpartisan political scientist and global-risk expert Ian Bremmer, also the founder of the political risk consulting firm, Eurasia, spoke at the Guilford College Bryan Series on Jan. 14. He reflected on how COVID-19 and political turmoil in 2020 has affected the international political landscape and what this suggests for the future of the United States. 

Bremmer, who started his discussion by introducing his dog, Moose, sat front and center in a dark office space, while attendees watched him through the computer screen. He began with the topic of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he described as the worst global crisis he has seen in his lifetime. He stated that politicization of the virus in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil led to COVID-19 policy failure as it created a lack of trust and coordination. Bremmer also suggested that this year’s focus will shift from the health effects of the virus to its economic impact. He expects that the virus’s impact will lead to increased economic inequality both within wealthy countries and less wealthy countries, creating a disparity of allocated resources such as vaccines and medical assets.

Bremmer then transitioned from the effects of COVID-19 to changes in international politics. He explained that geopolitics has become more unstable because of institutional failings, divisions in Europe as shown by Brexit and increasing influence of “alternative architecture,” or models of governance, from countries like China. 

He connected this to how the United States’ role in geopolitics has narrowed. Bremmer stated that the U.S. no longer has the same international leadership or influence because of current political instability. He argues that this departure of leadership has been ignored because the U.S. still has a strong economy, meaning that the country’s success does not rely on it serving as a global role model. 

He sees this as a clear problem, stating: “We came within a hair’s breadth of decapitating the legislative leadership of our country, and I mean that literally, and the economy reached record highs.”

He emphasized that political division and threats to the credibility of democracy have to be addressed, even if they do not negatively affect the economy, so that the country can regain its position of influence. 

“Most of our problems are homegrown, not geopolitical,” Bremmer said.

The growing polarity among political groups has created a divisive culture in which the problems associated with violence and societal oppression result from the chaos ensued by each other instead of what occurs abroad. Bremmer pointed out that focusing on structural race issues in the U.S. is just one of the ways in which our homegrown problems can slowly be addressed. 

History professor Damon Atkins agrees with this statement, stating  “Deeply institutionalized white privilege strikes me as the core of many of our critical homegrown problems.” He emphasizes the need for further recognition of harm inflicted by the United States against marginalized people, saying “We can’t deal with racism until we deal with slavery. We can’t deal with corrosive nationalism until we address our identity as an (ongoing) settler colonial nation. We can’t address environmental crises until we acknowledge the illegitimacy of the theft and commodification of the land through industrial capitalism.”

Professor George Guo responded to Bremmer’s comments about political polarization occurring in the country by stating “we lack identity… Americans don’t have a consensus for where we’re supposed to go. And the politicians divide society, looking for their own interests. They are not looking for general good.”

Bremmer concluded the event on a hopeful note, saying that he was optimistic about where the U.S. is headed because of younger generations of Americans who he believes are more globalized and more aware of the international political landscape. He advised students to read global news and to be discerning readers in order to work together to make informed decisions for a better American future.