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Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (Images: AAP)

The two cities most symbolic of the “free world” are not very free right now. At the start of an historic week for the West, its two key capitals are under a state of emergency.

Both London and Washington DC have imposed this drastic step not because of a coordinated terror attack from foreign extremists or a sudden natural disaster. These capitals are in this state because the heads of the government in both nations have failed in their basic duty to protect their citizens.

This abject failure has arisen from the absolute incompetence and bloody-mindedness of two men who are not leaders and have proven unfit for public office despite winning popular support in democratic elections.

They could not have done it all themselves of course. The usual checks and balances of Western democracies have failed miserably as craven ministers and ideological government members enabled the buffoons at the top. They have been aided and abetted by dangerously partisan media companies like Fox and News Corp and weak social media companies like Twitter and Facebook.

In Washington DC what should have been a celebration of the end of the worst presidency in US history is instead a smaller, sombre affair. Incredibly, the raging pandemic killing thousands each day is not the biggest threat to the inauguration this week; it is the threat of armed violence and further insurrection.

Government buildings are closed as tens of thousands of National Guard troops are deployed. Their job: to ensure a peaceful transition of power in a city that more resembles a banana republic fearful of a military coup.

Across the Atlantic, the situation is only marginally better as London’s state of emergency is all about the pandemic. Thousands are dying each day there too as ambulances, now driven by firefighters drafted to help, are turned away from hospitals that are overflowing with COVID patients.

The city is in a belated lockdown after Mayor Sadiq Khan admitted the virus is now “out of control”. This came after months of cowardice and lies from the paralysed Conservative government.

Adding to the UK malaise is the debacle of Brexit, which finally happened at the end of the year and is already proving the Remainers right. Businesses are fuming as bureaucracy with Europe has only worsened and it is dawning on the nation that the much-heralded EU exit deal is another economic disaster.

But that’s for later, for those who can make it through the current health crisis.

Meanwhile, here in Australia our biggest worry is for how long a group of privileged professional tennis players will have to stay in their five-star hotels.

It’s a first-world problem compared with those of the emerging third-world capitals of London and Washington.