Sep 14th 2020

The Armageddon Election

by James J.Zogby

 

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

During the weeks of uncertainty that followed the 2000 presidential election, as the tension grew amongst supporters of George W. Bush and Al Gore, my brother John Zogby conducted a poll to see how Democrats and Republicans were viewing the contested vote. Responses to one question, in particular, caught our attention.

John asked Republican voters if they would view Gore as a legitimate president should he be declared the victor. The reverse was asked of Democratic voters. The answers were disconcerting. Twenty-one percent of Democrats said they would not see Bush as legitimate. More disturbing were the 67% of Republicans who said they would not see Al Gore as a legitimate president.

That year, John coined the now often used term “Armageddon election” to describe feelings of both sides as they considered the consequences of that presidential contest. When we were discussing this last week, John joked that we’ve dredged up Armageddon to describe every election since 2000. While all of those contests have been both critically important and deeply fractious, there can be no doubt that the 2020 matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is the real Armageddon election of our lifetime.

With every passing day it becomes clearer that we are in for a long and rocky ride between now and November. More troubling than the difficulties we will encounter along the way is what may occur after election day. There is legitimate fear that our very democracy, already compromised by hyper-partisanship, may be at risk.

More than just belonging to two opposing parties, we have become two countries comprised of distinct constituencies, each of whom see the world with radically different eyes. Polls show this divide not only on issues like race, gender equality, immigration, and the role of government. The differences are more fundamental with two wildly divergent views of the very idea of America – its history and its future. At times it feels as though the two camps are not only seeing different realities, but speaking different languages.


This is not merely a partisan divide. It’s demographic. One side is dominated by older White voters, a disproportionately large number of whom are “born again” fundamentalist Christians. They are also more male and more rural. The other is largely comprised of more educated and urban voters, young people, and Blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

One side sees promise in recapturing the lost glory of a romanticized past, and​, feeling threatened by the “foreignness” of newcomers​, seek​s to deny entry to those who are seen as “different.” The other thrives on America’s diversity, feels comforted by the notion of integration, and is unafraid of change.

These two distinct worldviews were on display at last month’s Democratic and Republican conventions. Both parties used their week-long “made for television” infomercials to define America as they saw it and to project the America they hoped to create. Both also made crystal clear the dangerous consequences that would result if the other side were to win.

As described by Fintan O’Toole, in a brilliant New York Review of Books piece, the Democratic convention portrayed the stark choice in this election as an “existential struggle” between good and evil, light and darkness – between ending the racial divide, bringing about economic justice, celebrating diversity, and creating a sense of common purpose, or exacerbating social tension and division, and sinking deeper into the muck of hatred, anger, and chaos.

The choices for Republicans were equally existential. They were spelled out by Donald Trump Jr. when he described this election as being between “church, work, and school” and “rioting, looting, and vandalism. In this Republican view, Democrats are portrayed as being captive of extremist socialist forces, manipulated by “people in the dark shadows,” seeking to promote social unrest, weaken police forces, and destroy the middle-class “life-style,” by building housing in White suburbs for poorer people of color.

For Republicans, victory is seen as necessary to save White America – its culture, values, and way of life. And the slogan “Make America Great Again” is understood not so much a vision of the future as it is a last ditch effort to salvage the lost glory of a fictional past.

For Democrats, victory is seen as essential to protect America from incivility, racial hatred, and a dangerous drift toward authoritarian rule.

So for both sides, the stakes are not only high, they are polar opposites. It is if they are saying “should the other side win, all is lost” – it will be “the end of the world” or Armageddon.

More ominous still, President Trump has used Twitter to promote conspiracy theories about dark, shadowy wealthy people working to undermine his presidency and the country. In a recent interview, he declared, without evidence, that he had heard reports of a plane-load of men in dark uniforms, whom he described as “looters, anarchists, rioters...looking to cause trouble.” And, he has taken to retweeting or paraphrasing conspiracy-oriented messages from QAnon – the cult-like group which originated the “​Pizzagate” conspiracy that a Washington pizza restaurant was serving a​s a front for a child sex-slave operation run by the Clintons.

As worrisome, are the president’s increasingly frequent charges that this election will be marred by voter fraud. He has repeatedly claimed that the only way he can lose is if the vote were “rigged” against him. A recent poll shows that already one-third of both Democrats and Republicans are expressing serious concern about the legitimacy of the vote. And he has suggested that in the case of a rigged election his supporters may need to rise up to defend themselves and his presidency from the looters, rioters, and chaos-makers seeking to unravel our country.

In the past few months, we have seen signs of where this might take us. When several states announced strict measures to control the spread of the novel Coronavirus, Trump urged his supporters to storm state capitols to defend their freedom against “lockdowns.” Because he added “defend the Second Amendment,” some demonstrators came armed with semi-automatic weapons of war.

In mid-summer, there was a national mobilization of mostly peaceful protests against the all-too-frequent police shootings of Black ​Americans. In some cities, these demonstrations devolved into sporadic violent looting and vandalism. Sometimes these incidents were spontaneous, in other cases they appeared to be egged on ​by left​- or right​-wing extremists, seeking to create further unrest. This played into the president’s hands. He defended the police and derided the Democratic city and state officials whom he described as “weak.” Once again, we witnessed the appearance of armed White counter-protesters and we heard the president embrace these paramilitary elements as “Great Patriots.”

In response to the violence, Biden issued a balanced denunciation saying, “I want a safe America. Safe from Covid, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops...safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

For its part, the Trump campaign said, “No one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America...[He will] surrender America and its citizens to the violent left-wing mob...and abolish the American Way of Life.”

All of this serving as evidence of a deeper and more dangerous polarization in American society.

After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime.

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More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently declared that aggression and expansionism have never been in the Chinese nation’s “genes.” It is almost astonishing that he managed to say it with a straight face. Aggression and expansionism obviously are not genetic traits, but they have defined President Xi Jinping’s tenure. Xi, who in some ways has taken up the expansionist mantle of Mao Zedong, is attempting to implement a modern version of the tributary system that Chinese emperors used to establish authority over vassal states: submit to the emperor, and reap the benefits of peace and trade with the empire."
Sep 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seventy-five years ago, the prestige of the United States and the United Kingdom could not have been higher. They had defeated imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and they did so in the name of freedom and democracy. True, their ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union, had different ideas about these fine ideals, and did most of the fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Still, the English-speaking victors shaped the post-war order in large parts of the world. The basic principles of this order had been laid down in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in 1941 by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland."
Sep 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime."
Sep 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Huawei case is a harbinger of a world in which national security, privacy, and economics will interact in complicated ways. Global governance and multilateralism will often fail, for both good and bad reasons. The best we can expect is a regulatory patchwork, based on clear ground rules that help empower countries to pursue their core national interests without exporting their problems to others. Either we design this patchwork ourselves, or we will end up, willy-nilly, with a messy, less efficient, and more dangerous version."
Sep 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s footprint in global foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased notably since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. That served to bring Chinese overseas FDI closer to a level that one would expect, based on the country’s weight in the global economy. China accounted for about 12% of global cross-border mergers and acquisitions and 9% of announced greenfield FDI projects between 2013 and 2018. Chinese overseas FDI rose from $10 billion in 2005 (0.5% of Chinese GDP) to nearly $180 billion in 2017 (1.5% of GDP). Likewise, annual construction contracts awarded to Chinese companies increased from $10 billion in 2005 to more than $100 billion in 2017."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Emergence and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have created and still creating health issues, economic challenges, political crises and social conflicts around the world. These challenges and conflicts lead the international community to re-evaluate global governance and international structures, which is based on the second world-war and post-cold war. The pandemic will emerge a new era of international society that will not be similar to the pre-Corona world."
Aug 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Russia has changed, and has been changing, since its beginnings in ancient Muscovy to its current condition as Putin’s realm. Some general features appear in much of Russian history. Most of its rulers have been authoritarian—but so, too, were most of England’s, France’s, and Germany’s. Many of its political and intellectual elites have considered Russia a special civilization deserving a place in the sun—but just as many have not, wanting to transform Russia into a Western state with Western values. Many Russians have been enamored of their country, but even more have probably damned it for destroying them and their children. What, then, is Russia? It is, and has always been, many, oftentimes contradictory, things—sometimes coexisting, sometimes getting the upper hand, always shifting, always eluding simplistic analysis. But, and this needs to be emphasized, the same holds true for every other country in the world."
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Double dips – defined simply as a decline in quarterly real GDP following a temporary rebound – have occurred in eight of the 11 recessions since the end of World War II. .............Financial markets aren’t the least bit worried about a relapse, owing largely to unprecedented monetary easing, which has evoked the time-honored maxim: “don’t fight the Fed.” Added comfort comes from equally unprecedented fiscal relief aimed at mitigating the pandemic-related shock to businesses and households.......This could be wishful thinking."
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACTS: "There is no question that the re-election of President Donald Trump would endanger both the US and the world. Moreover, there is ample reason to fear that a close election could drive the US into a deep, prolonged constitutional crisis, and perhaps into civil violence.........One can only hope that the election will produce a decisive winner both in the Electoral College and in the popular vote. Yet, even then, tallying the final result may take time, owing to the massive increase in mail-in voting that is expected. Every ballot that has a postmark of November 2 or 3 (depending on the state) will be considered valid, which means that the final result will not be known until after Election Day. During that window of uncertainty, either or both campaigns may try to claim victory based on the current vote count. In any case, there is no chance that Trump will wait graciously in the Oval Office for days or weeks to receive the final tally. In interviews, he has already issued vague statements suggesting that he will not leave the White House if he loses; indeed, he seems to be actively preparing for such a scenario. If he follows through, the world’s leading superpower will find itself facing a protracted – and perhaps intractable – constitutional crisis.
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "the European Union is a community of values as much as an economic and trade bloc. But the behavior of member states such as Poland and Hungary has called into question their commitment to liberal democracy. Above all, in the US, President Donald Trump is widely criticized, even by lifelong Republicans, for not respecting or understanding the US constitution and the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Does Trump even believe in democracy? Does he want all Americans to vote in November, regardless of race or party affiliation, or only those who will support him? And will he accept the election result if it goes against him? "
Aug 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The fundamental difference in values between the West and China will remain indefinitely, and it is here that the West must draw the line. Any concession that entails a sacrifice of fundamental principles, for example in cultural matters, must be rejected. If this values-based approach results in economic disadvantages, so be it. By the same token, the West should abandon the conceit that it can push, force, or cajole China to become a democracy wrought in its own image. "
Aug 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is light years ahead of most of the rest of the world in deploying digital payment technology. Alipay or WeChat Pay apps are all that is necessary to accomplish almost anything that requires a payment in China; the country is largely already making paper money obsolete. "
Aug 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seven hundred fifty billion euros is less than 5% of the stock of US government debt held by the public. It’s a drop in the bucket, in other words. And a drop does not a liquid market in safe assets make. Even if this really is Europe’s “Hamiltonian moment,” ramping up EU issuance by a factor of 20 will take decades. "
Aug 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "But the race is not over. In the 2016 election, prices moved the most in the two months just before the election. Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in prediction markets throughout the campaign and was seen as favourite only on election day – showing that the underdog can recover. So despite Trump’s poor position now, he might still regain some ground."
Aug 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "Last year, in the midst of the country-wide protests against corruption, I was honored by a Lebanese humanitarian organization. I began my remarks paraphrasing Kahlil Gibran’s poem “You have your Lebanon, I have my Lebanon.” Like Gibran, I love the Lebanese people, their poetry, art, song, and love of life. I love their generous and welcoming spirit. I also love what Lebanon has given to the world – especially its gifted people. And I love the sheer beauty of the country – its majestic snow-capped mountains and its pristine seascapes. And, like Gibran, I do not love Lebanon’s petty bickering politicians who lead because of an accident of birth. Nor can I embrace the country’s system of sectarian privilege and the corruption that is endemic to the political-economic regime that has squeezed Lebanon dry to the benefit of their chosen ones. And I reject the armed militias, whether they be Christian, Muslim, or secular that in the past and in the present continue to torment those who challenge their dominance. I told the audience that the Lebanon I loved was in the streets making their voices heard demanding fundamental reform – an end to sectarianism, corrupt feudal elites, and rule by force of arms."
Aug 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is time for the world’s governments and companies to wake up. Beijing’s reach is wide and deep. It is taking advantage of the West’s openness – and gaps and inconsistencies in our data protection protocols - to acquire information on all of us. The hacks on Anthem, Equifax, Marriott, and the US government are good examples of how they have already done so. American and Western companies need to take a hard look at the costs and benefits associated with operating in China and continuing to have Chinese partners. Those partners must comply with these Laws. American and Western companies that continue to operate with them may unwittingly well be aiding and abetting the Chinese government."
Aug 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "James Murdoch is not the most obvious candidate for editorial heroism. His route to resigning from the News Corp board because of “disagreements over certain editorial content” has been circuitous and colourful."
Aug 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Say what you will about the slippery slope the US government has been on since Trump came to power, America has a rich history of promoting creative thought, running head-first into particularly uncomfortable subjects, and encouraging robust debate internally and among its allies and partners. Once Trump leaves the scene, America is sure to be perceived as having briefly lost its senses and will come charging back into the mainstream of global thought, debate, and engagement. China has entered the global arena crippled by its own ideology. Ultimately, the US is better equipped to lead the world. It knows that, and so does most of the rest of the world. Someone had better tell Beijing."
Jul 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Chinese government has for years argued that its ‘nine-dash line’ of sovereignty over the entire Sea is based on centuries of maritime history, and that China’s claim is air tight. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has even asserted that ample historical documents and literature demonstrate that China was “the first country to discover, name, develop and exercise continuous, effective jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands”. "
Jul 23rd 2020
EXTRACTS: "Like many, I have long been critical of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union as a dysfunctional currency area. Notwithstanding a strong political commitment to European unification as the antidote to a century of war and devastating bloodshed, there was always a critical leg missing from the EMU stool: fiscal union. Not anymore. The historic agreement reached on July 21 on a €750 billion ($868 billion) European Union recovery fund, dubbed Next Generation EU, changes that.................Unlike the United States, which appears to be squandering the opportunities presented by the epic COVID-19 crisis, Europe has risen to the occasion – and not for the first time."