America's inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic may have shocked the rest of the world and perhaps even dimmed the allure of its model, at least in the minds of some. The killing of an African-American man, George Floyd, in police custody exposed the bitter political divisions that already exist in the country. Furthermore, the pandemic left economic devastation in its wake.
There might be a feeling of schadenfreude among some critics of the US, while many others will be pondering on the implications of the country’s current problems for the international community.
The world is, therefore, keeping an eye on the presidential election in November. Some observers believe that Donald Trump will be re-elected, even though polling numbers show Mr Trump lagging behind his opponent, Joe Biden. The President could enjoy a resurgence in September and October based on two factors: probable recovery of the US economy and Democratic rival Mr Biden's weaknesses as a candidate.
Anticipating a shift in the wind, many Democrats are hoping that by naming a female African-American running mate, Mr Biden would secure the minority vote. They will also be intent on underscoring the dysfunctional state of the country under Mr Trump.
This race is one that is being closely watched around the world, especially by the country's supposed adversaries.
I am given to understand that Russia would prefer to have Mr Trump back in the White House because Moscow enjoys fair to middling relations with the current administration. There might also be concerns that Mr Biden would be tougher on Russia, just as Hillary Clinton, fellow Democrat and 2016 presidential candidate, was expected to be had she won.
China is holding its cards close to its chest. It is not clear which candidate Beijing prefers, even though Mr Trump's rhetoric regarding the superpower has been confrontational.
For its part, Iran is hoping for Mr Trump's defeat, given his decision to impose, and even expand, sanctions on Tehran. Recent punitive measures targeting more than 50 oil tankers, especially those operating between Venezuela and Iran, have led to discussions among the regime's generals about launching another "tanker war", like the one we witnessed last year.
All this could translate to even greater unrest in many parts of the world until the election is over, especially because resolutions to many an international conflict will be put on hold until the end of the year. The bigger problem is that in the intervening period, we could see great instability not just on the geopolitical and economic fronts but also in the personal lives of many.
In such circumstances, it has come to my notice that individuals around the world are turning to arts, culture and education to restore balance to their lives. But how do politics, economics and culture overlap in the human experience even as individuals seek to find reassurance in a world struggling to deal with disease, unemployment and unrest?
The sixth e-policy circle of the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi tried to tackle this question in a session titled Stability redefined: Who authors the future?
Prof Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Saint Petersburg Hermitage Museum, said the world is in a state of division – a trend that would continue beyond the pandemic as nations retreat in order to tend to their wounds, while people distance themselves from one another. Prof Piotrovsky argued that culture might already offer a "cure" to the effects of such isolation.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, for example, the Hermitage Museum used to receive five million visitors every year. In the space of just two months since the outbreak, the number swelled up to 34 million – all of them virtual. Another example is that of Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, which has remotely delivered lessons to 7,000 students even as efforts are under way to develop its courses to suit a post-coronavirus world.
These trends are encouraging because it shows that people and institutions are thinking creatively and, in the process, trying to reinvent themselves.
Of course, it is also true that there is a yearning to return to normality. To be sure, some things will never change. As pointed out by Noura Al Kaabi, UAE’s Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, humans will never lose the urge to use their five senses and to keep in touch with their surroundings. But the question that arises is whether we will go back to our flawed ways of living as well. Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki said we should not miss the opportunity to reform existing systems many of which have been built on the foundations of corruption, greed, over-consumption and disregard for nature. This is, perhaps, where our politics will play an important role.
French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem expressed hope that our awareness of the fragility of those systems would lead us to capitalise on the solidarity that we have witnessed during these difficult times, and turn this experience into something positive over the long term.
It is fascinating, therefore, to imagine what the world might look like in the distant future. But one thing is for sure: changes are already under way in how we live our lives – whatever may be the result of the US election, although that outcome could perhaps have a bearing on the pace and direction of these changes.
Raghida Dergham is the founder and executive chairwoman of the Beirut Institute