Nov 10th 2020

These Things Are Clear

by James J. Zogby

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

 

As I sit to write this piece four days after the election, Joe Biden is leading in enough states to make it clear that he will win enough electoral college votes to become the 46th President of the United States. What was also clear is that Republicans will likely retain control of the Senate and the Democrats​, while still the majority in the House​, have lost some of the seats they had picked up in 2018. We are a deeply divided country. That much should be clear.

If this were a normal election year, that might be the end of the story. Alas, it is not. In 2020, nothing is normal and this crazy election is not going to be over for a while.

Donald Trump is not now nor has he ever been psychologically able to accept the reality of losing or being second best. Even when he doesn’t win or isn’t the best, he has been prone to create “an alternate reality” in which he convinces himself: that he really has won; that he was a victim of someone else’s cheating; that someone else is responsible for the setback; or that he is the victim of a conspiracy. 

In a very real sense, Donald Trump has been preparing the ground for contesting a loss ever since he was first elected president in 2016. Not able to accept that Hillary Clinton had won more popular votes, he charged that millions of his opponent’s votes were fraudulent. He even appointed a partisan presidential commission to validate his claim. Despite the fact that the commission was comprised of his supporters, it disbanded after several months unable to prove any widespread cheating. Nevertheless, Trump has continued to make this same charge about fraudulent 2016 votes.

For the past three months Trump has been claiming that Democrats were going to try to steal this year’s election. He made the groundless accusation that hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes were going be used to “stuff ballot boxes” or that votes for him were going to be tossed out in order to elect his opponent.

Recognizing the danger posed by the growing pandemic, legislatures in several states, with bipartisan support had, approved plans to provide voters with a mail-in option. Polls show that Democrats, apparently more concerned with the health risks of in-person voting, took advantage of this option. At the same time, a sizable majority of Republican voters waited until election day to cast their ballots. Because the in-person votes were counted first, on election night, as expected, Trump was in the lead. But as the mail-in votes were slowly counted, Biden’s totals eventually eclipsed Trump’s putting Biden in the lead.

In response, Trump angrily tweeted “STOP THE COUNT” and in some cities his supporters stormed polling places echoing this demand. The president’s lawyers filed numbers of lawsuits demanding​, among other things​, that many legally cast mail-in votes be disqualified. And on Thursday, Trump delivered shocking remarks from the White House calling into question the integrity of the entire election. A number of Republican governors and senators were so stunned that they felt compelled to quickly reject the president’s behavior.   

What’s clear is that President Trump will not accept losing, will not concede, and will use every available path to challenge the outcome. He and his supporters are continuing to call the election fraudulent and calling on supporters to “go to war” to protest the vote. The misinformation they are spreading on social media is flagrantly false. It is designed cast doubt on the entire process and to incite anger – causing confusion and unrest, with the possibility of violence. The uncertainty created by all of this will only lead to deeper division, casting a pall, not only over this election, but the very foundations of our democracy. We will in all likelihood not see a peaceful transition of power. That much is clear.

What is also clear is that when Joe Biden is sworn in as President​, he will inherit this division and the dysfunctional political system that has spawned it. Gone are the days when despite differences Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve pressing problems facing the nation.  
 
When Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, he ushered in an era of hyper-partisanship that worked to stymie then President Bill Clinton’s every move. When Barack Obama was elected president, then​-Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. After McConnell became Majority Leader, Republicans routinely blocked Obama’s appointments and refused to pass compromise legislation.

At the ceremony announcing his last Supreme Court nominee, Trump noted that it is the responsibility of a president to fill vacancies to the federal courts. He chided Obama for being irresponsible noting that when he entered the Oval Office in 2017. there were over 100 court vacancies. What Trump didn’t acknowledge was that the reason for these unfilled judgeships wasn’t because Obama hadn’t named replacements, but because McConnell wouldn’t let the Senate approve them. What’s clear is that unless Democrats can win the few Senate seats that remain to be contested in January 2021, Biden will confront the same obstructionism.

To succeed, Biden may have to play by the rules Republicans have created. To get things done, he will be forced to issue Executive Orders by-passing the Senate where it is possible to do so. This was what Obama was forced to do. He will also need to use Executive Orders to undo the damage to our regulatory ​and immigration systems by President Trump’s excessive use of Executive Orders.  

At the same time, not only President Biden and Democrats, but Republicans as well, will need to deal with the reality that Trumpism will remain a potent force in American politics. When the GOP funded and organized the Birther Movement and the Tea Party to counter Obama’s appeal, they ushered in a wave of race-based populism. This may have served the Republican’s short​-term goal of taking control of Congress in 2010, but the angry beast they created back then, devoured them first. Across the country, fearful of alienating this base, more traditional conservative Republicans felt forced to take increasing hardline uncompromising stances.

When Donald Trump first entered the 2016 presidential contest, the GOP establishment dismissed his candidacy certain that a more traditional Mitt Romney-style conservative Republican would win the nomination. They were wrong. And despite their initial disgust for Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry, crude and vulgar language, and his shocking incitement to violence, they eventually fell in line, once again fearful of angering his supporters - the very base they had helped to create.    

As a result of their complicity, new and more virulent movements have taken root in this base - from the QAnon conspiracy cult, to the xenophobic and racist Christian Patriot churches, and militant groups like the Proud Boys, the bogaloo bois, and a host of armed militias that have sprung up nationwide. All of which have received varying degrees of endorsement from the president. 

The fact that Donald Trump won the votes of over 70 million Americans means that while he has lost the election, his appeal will remain. Republicans will either make a concerted effort to tame this phenomenon or they will see not only the continued drift of their party toward extremism, but the danger of violence in cities across the US. This too is clear.

It seems clear that, as Donald Trump said a few weeks ago “This will not end well.” Far from being over, this election may very well continue to play out for weeks to come. Trump and the GOP have been telegraphing their strategy for over a month now. They will continue to challenge to validity of the vote in court. They will demand recounts. They will incite their followers to demonstrate at vote-counting facilities. In the end, many Americans will lose faith in the electoral process and America’s democracy will be tarnished in the eyes of the world. That much is clear. 

 

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More Current Affairs

Dec 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "In the trade war with the US, China has given little ground ....... And in November, China mounted something of a geopolitical coup with the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a new trade agreement that will put it at the center of the world’s largest free-trade area. The RCEP will connect China’s huge market to those of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – from Indonesia and Singapore to Vietnam – and will include important US allies such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. For the time being, India is not participating, but it might join later. The only regional player to be left out of the RCEP is America. The creation of a new, China-centered economic bloc illustrates the difference between reality and reality TV. When Trump arrived in the White House in January 2017, one of his first official acts was to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama that would have created something like the RCEP, only with America at the center and China left out. Witnessing this US act of self-harm, China’s leaders presumably couldn’t believe their luck, and Xi’s government has been working hard to exploit Trump’s generous gift ever since."
Nov 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much puzzlement that the world’s stock markets haven’t collapsed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially in the United States, which has recently been setting record highs for new cases. But maybe it isn’t such a puzzle."
Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "To paraphrase Charles Dickens, this is the best of times and the worst of times. As financial markets celebrate the coming vaccine-led boom, the confluence of epidemiological and political aftershocks has pushed us back into a quagmire of heightened economic vulnerability. In Dickensian terms, to reach a “spring of hope,” we first must endure a “winter of despair.” "
Nov 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Under a sane national policy, the federal government would spend as much money as it takes to generate the demand necessary to make it worthwhile for employers to re-hire this one-twentieth of the working-age population. Worries about what we can afford would be set aside until the day the world’s savers no longer regard US government debt as a special, singularly valuable asset. That day may never come."
Nov 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "The EU can’t afford to compromise on the rule-of-law provisions. How it responds to the challenge posed by Orbán and Kaczyński will determine whether it survives as an open society true to the values upon which it was founded."
Nov 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the interim, he will be nurturing an insidious threat he has left in his wake – a potential low-grade insurgency bubbling beneath the surface. It may well be that America it is about to experience a political paramilitary insurgency. Many of Trump’s supporters are “rough people” who are armed, fiercely patriotic, and firmly believe what Trump has been selling for the past four years – such as that America is being overrun by “colored” people and immigrants, is under attack, and that Canada is a national security threat. Many of them also believe that Trump was cheated out of a second term. They may or may not want civil war, but they will surely want to ensure that havoc and chaos prevail following Trump’s forced departure from office."
Nov 10th 2020
EXTRACT: "The year was 1932, and the transition from Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt occurred in the midst of an unparalleled economic depression and banking crisis. The outgoing president, Hoover, had an intense aversion to his successor,…….. There are two lessons here. The president-elect and those around him need to take extra precautions for their personal safety, given the inflamed political climate and Trump’s ongoing efforts to fan the flames. And Biden now, like FDR then, must reiterate his message of hope and unity as an antidote to the coronavirus and political division. In 1933, it was “fear itself” that Americans had to overcome. Today, when it is fear of each other that Americans must overcome, Biden’s affirmation that there are “no red or blue states, just the United States” is a good start."
Nov 10th 2020
EXTRACT: "It seems clear that, as Donald Trump said a few weeks ago “This will not end well.” Far from being over, this election may very well continue to play out for weeks to come. Trump and the GOP have been telegraphing their strategy for over a month now. They will continue to challenge to validity of the vote in court. They will demand recounts. They will incite their followers to demonstrate at vote-counting facilities. In the end, many Americans will lose faith in the electoral process and America’s democracy will be tarnished in the eyes of the world. That much is clear. "
Nov 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "When CBS, NBC and ABC cut away from President Donald Trump’s news conference at the White House on the evening of Nov. 5, they took pains to explain why they were shutting off the nation’s commander-in-chief...... It was a moment that for me, as a journalism historian, carried echoes of the 1954 takedown of another flamboyant populist demagogue, Sen. Joe McCarthy."
Nov 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Prominent evangelical pastor and author John Piper has likewise drawn on several biblical texts when writing about the choice facing voters: “There is a character connection between rulers and subjects. When the Bible describes a king by saying, ‘He sinned and made Israel to sin’ … it does not mean he twisted their arm. It means his influence shaped the people. That’s the calling of a leader. Take the lead in giving shape to the character of your people. So it happens. For good or for ill.”......In this reading, the Bible does not have a category for a good leader with bad personal character. Nor does it seem to imagine that a nation can remain untainted by the perceived moral failures of its leaders. "
Nov 1st 2020
EXTARCT: "This pandemic will undoubtedly go down in history as a contrast in political ideologies as much as in the battle between mankind and nature, and the hopeful triumph of medical technology. It is putting to the test the political, economic, social, and cultural diversity of the world’s nations as never before, and has already proven just how fragile the world’s functional ecosystems are in the era of globalization. In laying bare the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s nations, it is also serving to challenge some conventional wisdom about what is, or is not, a preferred method of governance. In this battle, America is badly floundering while China has put itself in a position to dust itself off and move on."
Oct 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "At this stage, the Trumpian personality cult has completely dispensed with the need for actual plans and proposals (indeed, the Republican Party, which Trump now controls, did not even bother to offer a policy platform for the election). Trump embodies whatever his supporters want, even when they themselves don’t know what that is. This is all too typical of fascist leaders, who usually function as a father figure for those susceptible to the appeal of an authoritarian personality. As the father of the “MAGA” nation, Trump decides what is best for his children, and it is this patriarchal authority that provides the rationale for violence, lies, and even dictatorship."
Oct 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "One thing is certain: a highly contested election would cause further damage to America’s global image as an exemplar of democracy and the rule of law, eroding its soft power. Particularly over the past four years, the country has increasingly come to be regarded as a political basket case. While hoping that the chaotic outcomes outlined above do not come to pass – polls still show a strong lead for Biden – investors should be preparing for the worst, not just on election day but in the weeks and months thereafter. "
Oct 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s approach today is similar: first, insulate its citizens from a virulent pathogenic contagion with draconian public-health measures aimed at containing and mitigating the spread of the disease, and then – and only then – make judicious use of monetary and fiscal policy to reinforce the post-lockdown snapback. This is very different from the approach taken in the US, where the post-lockdown debate is more about using monetary and fiscal policies as front-line instruments of economic liberation, rather than relying on disciplined public-health measures aimed at virus containment........ This underscores the sharp contrast between China’s COVID-first strategy and the America-first approach of US President Donald Trump’s administration. In China, unlike the US, there is no political and public resistance to masks, social distancing, and aggressive testing as requisite norms of the COVID-19 era. Meanwhile, the US is in the midst of its third serious wave of infection while China continues to exercise prompt and effective control over new outbreaks. Earlier this autumn, for example, some nine million citizens in Qingdao were tested in just five days after a relatively small outbreak affecting fewer than 20 residents. By contrast, Trump wears his own experience with COVID-19 infection as some perverse badge of courage, rather than as a warning of what may lie ahead."
Oct 20th 2020
EXTRACTS: Disney has announced a significant restructuring of its media and entertainment business, boldly placing most of its growth ambitions and investments into its recently launched streaming service, Disney+…. From a corporate strategy perspective, the move is remarkable on two fronts. Firstly, the sheer velocity of this pivot for a company the size and age of Disney is, for lack of a better word, unprecedented….Let’s not forget that it was just last year that Disney held a near 40% revenue share of the US box office….. The fact that in just seven months of the pandemic breaking out, Disney decided to reinvent itself primarily around streaming speaks volumes about its expectations regarding the pandemic length. Clearly the group decided that waiting it out was no longer an option.”
Oct 10th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Strange as it is to say, but it is no longer uncommon to hear talk of insurrection, martial law, and civil war in the United States......... Apocalyptic warnings that next month’s election will descend into crisis are coming hard and fast....... While the atmosphere in the US is already alarming, it is worth considering just how bad things could become. There is ample reason to worry that an election-related conflict could devolve into atrocity crimes against black and brown civilians on US soil........ Genocide and mass atrocities have happened all too often, including in America. The question is not whether it could happen here, but whether it can be prevented."
Oct 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times that articulated what has come to be known as the Friedman doctrine: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” It was a theme he had developed in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, where he argued that the “one and only” responsibility business owes to society is the pursuit of profits within the legal rules of the game. The Friedman doctrine put its stamp on our era. It legitimized the freewheeling capitalism that produced economic insecurity, fueled rising inequality, deepened regional divides, and intensified climate change and other environmental problems. Ultimately, it also led to a social and political backlash. Many large businesses have responded by engaging in – or paying lip service to – the notion of corporate social responsibility."
Oct 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is well on its way to becoming a cashless society. More than 600 million Chinese already use Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay to pay for much of what they purchase. Between them, the two companies control approximately 90% of China’s mobile payments market, which totaled some $17 trillion in 2019. A wide variety of sectors throughout China have since adopted Blockchain to pay bills, settle disputes in court and track shipments. The Chinese government understands that, via Blockchain, the issuance of its own cryptocurrency is an excellent way to track and record the movement of payments, goods and people."
Oct 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "The American Republic was founded by Protestants, and American elites were for a long time largely Protestant........But something extraordinary has happened since the republic was founded by Protestants in 1776. Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are Catholics, and soon there may be six. The one Protestant on the court, Neil Gorsuch, was raised Catholic. (The other two justices are Jewish.) Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, is Catholic, as is the US attorney general, William Barr. And Joe Biden, who might be the next president, is Catholic, too."
Oct 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "...... the economic pain inflicted by COVID-19 is not being borne by publicly traded companies. It is falling on small businesses and individual service proprietors – from dry cleaners to restaurants to entertainment providers – that are not listed on the stock market (which leans more toward manufacturing). These smaller players simply do not have the capital needed to survive a shock of this duration and magnitude. And government programs that have helped keep them afloat for a while are beginning to lapse, raising the risk of a snowball effect in the event of a second wave."