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Bringing the fight home

usa — politics

The success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 arguably lay in his ability to conjure up bogeymen that demonstrated to receptive voters just how the political system had left them behind – and that he could claim to be the only one capable of overcoming. In 2016 the bogeymen were mostly immigrants and trade. Ahead of this November’s election, the biggest enemy has been closer to home: the big cities and the Democrats who lead them.

The divide between rural and urban voters was already clear in the last presidential election. Despite winning nearly three million more votes overall, Hillary Clinton lost because she struggled to gain traction in rural areas. Since the Electoral College voting system gives voters in rural states a disproportionate voice, Trump was able to claim overall victory.

The Black Lives Matter protests have only widened the gulf further. July saw Trump use federal security forces to quell what began, largely, as peaceful protests. Rather than openly co-operating with city authorities to insert federal agents where they can be most useful, the move has been framed by Trump in electoral terms: most major urban centres across the country are run by Democrats, allowing him to accuse the Democratic leadership of failing on law and order.

It’s a divisive strategy that is welcomed by rural audiences and could chime with some moderate-minded voters who support the anti-racism movement but have become increasingly concerned with the violence that has marked some of the recent demonstrations. Will it be enough to win? “You can’t win elections with a niche voter base,” says Linda Chavez, a moderate Republican who worked in Reagan’s White House in the 1980s.

But Trump’s campaign believes that that’s exactly how he can win another term. If Democrats are to win in November, they must address rural concerns in swing states such as Wisconsin; the impact of trade disputes with China on its agricultural sector offers an opening.

One thing is clear: stand-offs between the president and those apparently obstinate mayors and governors only fuel the kind of combative atmosphere that will make for a particularly volatile election day. One question remains: who will be left to pick up the pieces?


Time for action

germany — defence

When coronavirus began to advance across the world, Germany undertook a series of medical evacuations, flying patients from Italy and France to German hospitals, and more than 240,000 Germans were airlifted home. The country’s air force participated in the effort – including collecting 110 Germans from Wuhan using one of the air force’s ageing Airbus a310s.

The timing of a new contract with Lufthansa Technik for two new transport aircraft for the Ministry of Defence’s Special Air Mission is therefore fortuitous. The long-range Airbus A321s will be equipped to undertake medical evacuations. The pandemic seems to have focused the thinking of Germany’s military when it comes to its place in society, says Dominic Vogel, a defence expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“The need for missions like evacuation operations for civilians, or the support of the public health sector,  are not explicitly part of the forces’ tasks,” he says. “The pandemic has started a discussion about these topics, since there is no other governmental agency that could properly take action.”

Q&A

bob rae

Canada’s ambassador to the UN

Diplomacy

Canadians know Bob Rae well. The former premier of Ontario and interim leader of the national Liberal party was made UN ambassador in July. The appointment followed Canada’s failure to win one of the rotating two-year seats on the UN Security Council – a key goal for Justin Trudeau – which surprised the country’s political establishment.

Commentators have interpreted Canada’s failure to win a UN Security Council seat as a referendum on Canadian foreign policy. Does Canada have to re-establish itself as a foreign-policy leader?
There will be lots of reading of the tea leaves as to why we didn’t win [but] it’s not something that’s shared widely in my conversations with other countries. The key thing is that we have to participate in rebuilding some key institutions in the face of coronavirus. Canada chairs the peace-building commission and that will be a priority. We are not a superpower but we do have an ability to engage with other countries.

Does the pending US extradition of Huawei’s CFO and ensuing arrest of two Canadians by China make the UN an important venue for dialogue?
I can only say that the UN is a place to meet and talk. We feel that the detention of the two [Canadians] is a breach of international law. There is always a place for dialogue. But it is very important for everybody to understand that the two events should not have been connected. That’s profoundly regrettable.

How important is the UN in 2020?
Excessive nationalism isn’t going to solve climate change or the pandemic. Whatever happens, [we’re] going to need a place where countries talk to each other; a place that has a commitment to making the world a better place.

Road rage

india and china — geopolitics

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High up in the western Himalayas, in the cold desert that separates India and China, a piece of infrastructure is missing: a clear border. So it is not surprising that skirmishes regularly take place between soldiers, such as the hand-to-hand battle in June in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.

Yet it’s the completion of a road that cuts through a treacherous mountain pass in the Galwan Valley in India’s remote region of Ladakh, and in particular a bridge over the Galwan River, that is thought to have sparked the recent clash. The road, which took nearly 19 years to build, runs parallel to the disputed border with Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin to reach an Indian air base.

For decades China has been steadily building roads on its side of the de facto border

For decades, China has been steadily building roads and communications infrastructure on its side of the de facto border, known as the Line of Actual Control. India has been slower to build up its side – until now.

“They’re not comfortable with India developing infrastructure close to their line of actual control,” says retired Lt Gen SL Narasimhan, a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board. “They’re worried that their claimed areas may come under pressure.”

While the Galwan Valley skirmish is the most serious incident since the two countries went to war in 1962, it is not the first time that the race to build infrastructure has sparked a stand-off. In 2017, Indian troops blocked a Chinese road crew in a disputed region claimed by Bhutan, a close ally of India.

The recent Galwan Valley clash has prompted social-media campaigns calling for the Indian government to block Chinese companies from major infrastructure projects and ban 59 Chinese apps, including the popular Tiktok.

It’s a difficult balance as China is India’s second-largest trading partner. There have been a series of high-level diplomatic and military talks to defuse the crisis. China is said to have thinned out its presence in the Galwan Valley but India wants a complete withdrawal of its troops back to where they were in April, when India says that the Chinese began intruding on Indian land. Lt Gen SL Narasimhan is optimistic. “The Chinese are open on a lot of [international] fronts,” he says, noting the South China Sea and US tensions. Opening another front with India can’t be high on China’s list.

Q&A

jane findlay

President of the Landscape Institute

Cities

Jane Findlay assumed the role of president of the Landscape Institute, the UK’s professional body for landscape architects, in July. Much has changed for the profession in the past year, with the declaration of a climate emergency and challenges to the way that our parks, streets and public spaces are designed.

Key to your election campaign was improving the relevance of the profession. Why is this necessary?
Landscape architecture is often viewed as part of a box-ticking exercise to get a building through planning. Often, landscape architects are brought in too late in the construction process; the earlier we’re involved, the more meaningful our contribution. My role is to persuade decision-makers that landscape architects have answers to the issues we’re facing at the moment, especially the coronavirus recovery and climate crisis.

How has landscape architecture been influenced by the pandemic?
The pandemic showed how important green spaces are to people. But also just how unequal access to green space is in some communities. It’s important that designers understand how communities want to interact with their public realm. To do that we as a profession have to be representative of society; we have to have people from all walks of life, from all cultures.

How can the Institute seek to redress this?
We engage with employers because they’re the ones hiring people. Community engagement is important too but not just paying lip service; we have to listen to our communities and deliver what they want, not what we think they want.

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Flying high

new zealand — elections

When Kiwi prime minister Jacinda Ardern turned 40 at the end of July, her most unexpected present must have been to see her face spray painted onto a roadside wall in Wellington. The so-called “Lego wall” popped up last year when street artist Block Vandal began painting the likes of Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk in the style of the Danish toys.

Ardern is the first real person to receive the honour, which is confirmation of her superhero status in the country as she reaches the end of her first term. During her three-year stint in office, she stood out at home and abroad for her leadership after the Christchurch mosque massacre and her handling of the pandemic.

Kiwis head to the ballot box in September and Ardern’s Labour party could be excused for planning for an all-out majority. Freed from the constraints of a coalition, Ardern could push ahead with a progressive agenda that’s already seen abortion decriminalised and gun laws tightened. A second term is likely to see her legalise cannabis and make teaching the indigenous Maori language compulsory in all schools; she might even launch a referendum on ditching the UK queen as head of state.

Standing in her way is Judith Collins of the opposition National party, a veteran politician who’s known as “Crusher Collins”. But given that it’s going to take a superhuman effort to overhaul Labour’s lead, there’s unlikely to be any crushing to speak of – at least not by the opposition.

illustrator: Raphaëlle Martin. Image: Getty Images

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