Monday 2 November 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 2/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Divided we fall

In the summer of 2018, I quit my job as an editor in Berlin and began a sabbatical of sorts. As an American, I was motivated by a need to understand what was happening back home. The election results of 2016 had been a jolt to the system, both as a journalist and as a (lower-case) democrat. So I embarked on a US roadtrip, joining a series of events hosted by groups that had launched efforts to bring liberals and conservatives together for conversations.

Looking back today, it’s obviously naïve to think that such efforts had any impact. My country stands sharply divided, perhaps more than ever. But to suggest that reaching out to your political opposite is futile and unnecessary is, I would argue, equally naïve. American society is broken and it will take far more than a change at the top in tomorrow’s election to fix it. For anyone imagining that things would go back to “normal” under Joe Biden, consider an alternative timeline, one where the US electoral college system doesn’t exist and the US president is elected by popular vote. Would things have been that different?

It's 20 January 2017. Hillary Clinton is inaugurated as president, having won the popular vote by a margin of three million. Liberals rejoice. Donald Trump, who claims that millions voted illegally, galvanises a splinter right-wing movement that believes the election has been stolen.

12 August 2017. “Unite the Right” holds a rally in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying tiki torches and protesting the removal of confederate statues. One person is killed when a car drives through a crowd of counter-protesters. President Clinton condemns the protest, calls it an act of domestic terrorism. Many on the right feel emboldened by Trump, who has built his own conservative news network and calls the protesters “good people”.

6 November 2018. Republicans hold the Senate in US midterm elections, vowing to continue blocking Clinton’s radical legislative agenda and, particularly, her effort to alter the balance of the Supreme Court, which still has only eight judges because nominations for a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia are repeatedly rejected.

7 February 2020. The threat of a global pandemic looms large. Clinton urges a nation to come together and leads a federal effort to control the outbreak. Trump and conservative media networks call it a “hoax” designed to spur government overreach. Lockdowns and a national mask mandate spark widespread protests, particularly in southern conservative states, where governors refuse to comply. Over the coming months, the US will experience more deaths from coronavirus than any other nation.

25 May 2020. George Floyd is killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis, sparking a global movement against police brutality. Clinton backs the protests and promises change but those on the ground believe that the federal government has lost credibility. Protests turn violent, looting ensues. Right-wing groups arm themselves and patrol the streets. Conservative politicians and their 2020 presidential frontrunner, Trump, style themselves as the party that will restore “law and order”.

2 November 2020. We’re one day from the US election, a rematch of Clinton and Trump, who is emboldened by conservatives rallying in the face of lockdowns and violent unrest in many cities. Trump tells his supporters to monitor polling stations, to ensure that the election will not be stolen a second time. A nation is on edge, fearing civil unrest on election day.

In other words, I’m not sure that the past four years would have been all that different if Trump had lost. Sure, President Clinton setting a different tone at the top might have made much of the world feel better about the state of US leadership. In the same vein, Joe Biden is a decent man and will be a decent president if he wins. But confronting our deep-rooted problems and bitter divisions is incumbent upon all Americans, from politicians to the media to ordinary citizens. Let’s dial back the cancel culture, conspiracy theories and the undermining of democratic norms. It’s time to step back from the abyss and have an honest conversation. Whatever happens tomorrow, US society and its democracy depend on it.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / USA

Vital statistics

The US Electoral College system means that tomorrow’s election could come down to the actions of voters in a handful of key states. In crucial ones such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona, the focus will turn on several counties that could swing the state one way or the other. In Pennsylvania, for example, victorious presidential candidates usually secure the area known locally as “the T” – the geographical stretch that runs from Philadelphia in the east to Pittsburgh (pictured) in the west and vertically through the state’s rural centre. Or it could be Erie County that decides the result: Trump won it by two points in 2016 but a strong trade-union heritage and the largest medical university in the US could play a part in tipping it back to the Democrats. In all-important Wisconsin, Sauk County will be key to an overall win in the state; in Georgia it will be the evocatively named Peach County, where a drop in black-voter turnout benefitted Trump in 2016. The latter result might give the clearest hint of how the anti-racism movement has played into this year’s election. Unless there’s a landslide (which is possible given the record turnout to date), these regions could prove decisive on Tuesday night.

Image: Getty Images

Media / USA

Known unknowns

Election-night broadcasts are a staple of US presidential elections but, with so many uncertainties this year, many major networks have been forced to rethink their live, overnight coverage plans (writes Tomos Lewis). “Everything is different,” says Bill Hemmer, anchor of Fox News Channel’s Bill Hemmer Reports. He will be stationed at his “Bill-Board” during the network’s broadcast tomorrow, breaking down the results.

Given that early voter turnout has already broken records, viewership is likely to be high. Election-night programmes in 2016, fuelled by Donald Trump’s surprise victory, were among the most-watched in the format’s history. However, the logistics facing broadcasters have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing many to forego the televisual gimmicks of previous years, focus on the information and prepare for the unlikely. “There’s uncertainty around the outcome with millions of mail-in votes involving states that have, frankly, never conducted an election of this type,” says Hemmer. “Our best strategy [as broadcasters] is to prepare for everything and anything. It is 2020, after all.”

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / USA

Talk of the town

Mayors across the US will wake up nervous tomorrow morning, not only about the outcome of the poll but the prospect of civil unrest in their cities (writes Nic Monisse). “Before we talk about the election, we are living with the question of violence and civil unrest at the ballot box,” says Tom Cochran, CEO of the US Conference of Mayors. “That’s never happened before.” Spurred on by concerns over voter intimidation and suggestions that the sitting president won’t leave office if dissatisfied with the result, Cochran explains that his organisation, which lobbies with and on behalf of 1,400 city leaders across the country, is first and foremost concerned with keeping the peace. “We can talk about who gets elected later,” he says. After all, the bipartisan conference will work with whoever is sitting in the Oval Office come January. The next president should take a leaf out of Cochran’s book and put party politics aside, because when it comes to cities, “there’s not a partisan way to fix a pothole”.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / USA

Beyond a joke

The past four years have not been easy for American satirists to keep up with. Arguably, they have been even tougher for American conservatives, at least those who have declined to join the Republican Party’s descent into nihilist lunacy (writes Andrew Mueller). PJ O’Rourke (pictured) matches both of those descriptions. During the 1980s and 1990s the former hippy peacenik and editor of National Lampoon repositioned himself as a conservative provocateur in the pages of Rolling Stone. Equal parts Hunter S Thompson and HL Mencken, he turned his gonzo reporting into a sequence of best-selling and extremely funny books, including Republican Party Reptile, Holidays in Hell, Give War a Chance and Peace Kills. In O’Rourke’s latest, A Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a Divided Land, he finds himself becoming more amenable and compromising in his seventies – or perhaps that’s just relative to a dementedly polarised country. Nevertheless he’s optimistic... sort of. His prediction on Monocle 24’s The Foreign Desk: “We’ll eventually go back to our normal level of disagreement and irritation with each other.”

M24 / The Big Interview

US election series

What does the future of the transatlantic relationship look like? Karen Donfried, head of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, was one of six special guests during our recent US election series, which also featured media personalities Ben Rhodes and Charlie Sykes, and magazine interviews with Theaster Gates, Jane Fonda and Chris Wallace.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: November issue, 2020

As a landmark US election approaches, Jane Fonda, Theaster Gates and Chris Wallace offer their thoughts on where the country should go next. Change elsewhere comes in the form of city farms, the latest design finds and an art fair redux. Plus: we survey North Rhine-Westphalia, a region on the up. Available now at The Monocle Shop


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