More than 120 people tuned in on Friday, May 1, for the final program of six Schar School webinars called “Understanding and Surviving a Pandemic.”
The week consisted of Schar School experts, policymakers, and leaders from all sectors coming together to discuss the pandemic and inform future policy. The final webinar, “Crisis and Power-Grabbing: Government Expansion of Power During the Pandemic,” featured Schar School Associate Professor and U.S. legislative politics expert Jennifer Victor, Professor and European governance expert Janine Wedel, and Associate Professor and Director of the Middle East and Islamic Studies program Bassam Haddad. It was hosted by Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on human life,” said Haddad, setting the tone. “But something important has been lost in the shuffle: How governments have taken advantage of this crisis to expand their power.”
Bassam gave examples of foreign governments using the pandemic to crack down on freedoms, including press freedoms in China, Iran, and Iraq; dismantling protests and daily demonstrations in Algeria and Lebanon; and other instances of power grabbing in Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and South Korea.
“We were already in this period of antisystem and antiestablishment backlash,” said Wedel, who studies corruption. She described how the backlash has been fueled by the exposure of U.S. health insurance policies and the lack of oversight over new funds. “A $55 million contract for N95 masks went to a company in bankruptcy,” she pointed out.
Victor discussed the human response to the lack of uniformed policy. “Any time you’re going to provide people with other services and protections, it is going to come in conflict with civil liberties and civil rights,” she said. “The U.S. was slow to make big policy responses to the pandemic, and as that occurred, states really stepped up.
“This has created a dissonance in American politics,” she said.
“The willingness of people to gain their security from the local level has resulted in heterogeneity in responses,” she explained. “Politics is largely done at the national level, whereas now, we are facing a crisis that is much more localized. There is almost dissonance where Americans are being reintroduced to localized government.”
View the discussion here.