Tuesday. 3/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Henry Rees-Sheridan

Polls apart

Today’s US presidential election will function as the climax of what has been the most tumultuous year of Donald Trump’s first term. The defining events of 2020 have been the spread of coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests. The nature of their origins couldn’t be more different: the source of Covid-19 is a viral adaptive process that we have little control over, whereas the demonstrations are a response to the completely human phenomenon of systemic racism. But our reactions to both of them have shaped the political landscape in which this election is taking place.

The Black Lives Matter movement might as well have been designed in a lab to function as a wedge issue among Americans. Addressing some of the most sensitive and troubling aspects of the country’s history, it elicits wildly different and almost universally strong feelings. The protests and counter protests have only brought into relief the fact that this election will serve as a referendum on the most fundamental aspects of the nation’s identity.

In contrast, coronavirus, which poses a potentially deadly threat to anyone and everyone, might have been designed to bring the country together in demanding a unified and largely technical response. But here, as in many other places, it has had nearly the opposite effect. President Trump politicised the virus from the off and played down its threat, even while being hospitalised with it. That’s one of the reasons that Americans are entering into this election experiencing about the same level of cognitive dissonance as they were when exiting the last one.

However, both despite and because of the febrile political atmosphere, Americans are turning up to vote. Turnout is on course to surpass 150 million for the first time in history. This is in itself a vote of confidence in US democracy and an act of faith in the promise of free and fair elections. If this faith turns out to have been misplaced – if the election is compromised by foreign interference, domestic malfeasance, procedural incompetence or a cocktail of those factors – then it’s likely that the immediate response will be an escalation of civil unrest. The police are preparing for this, as are shops across the country, many of which have boarded up their windows. Longer term, a mishandled election or a contested result could leave scars on the nation’s psyche that will be deep enough to last for generations.

Diplomacy / Brazil

Infirm friends

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro (pictured) will be monitoring the US presidential election results with a different perspective than many global leaders. A loss for Donald Trump could reduce Bolsonaro’s global standing and affect Brazil’s diminishing regional influence, following the electoral victories of leftist leaders Luis Arce in Bolivia and Alberto Fernández in Argentina. Despite Bolsonaro’s disastrous handling of coronavirus, his popularity hasn’t fallen in the past few months but a Biden presidency would give opposition parties in Brazil a powerful new ally. Of course, being from different political orientations isn’t necessarily a harbinger of poor relationships – George W Bush had an amicable relationship with leftist president Lula da Silva – but it’s harder to imagine that happening in this instance. Biden has proposed a multi-billion-dollar global fund to protect the Amazon and warned of “significant economic consequences” if Brazil refuses to comply. A Biden victory would almost certainly be a diplomatic loss to a Bolsonaro-run Brazil.

Health / Taiwan

Leading by example

It has been more than 200 days since the last case of coronavirus was recorded in Taiwan and the island has registered just 553 cases and seven deaths since the virus emerged. As much of Europe goes back into lockdown this week, we can’t help but ask: what could governments have done differently? Yes, Taiwan has the advantage of being an island. But it also helps that “the government here already had a plan of action and performed it fast,” as Samson Ellis, Taipei bureau chief for Bloomberg News, told The Globalist.

Taipei’s experience with the Sars outbreak 17 years ago informed a strategy of rapid border action, extensive testing, strict quarantine and careful tracking. A virus-free population has helped the island’s economy to grow by 3 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 – its biggest leap in the past two years. “Taiwan, quite clearly, has the best record in the world on this,” says Ellis. Let’s hope that if there is a next time, Europe might follow suit.

Geopolitics / Middle East

Wiggle room

Israel has undergone some major shifts in its relationships with some of its Arab neighbours in recent weeks. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan all agreed to normalise ties as part of deals brokered by the Trump administration and proclaimed at White House ceremonies (pictured). Should Donald Trump win tomorrow’s election, expect a major US push for Saudi Arabia to join the list of normalised nations as well. Trump’s success arguably has to do with his treatment of a common regional enemy in Iran. But security expert Paul Rogers of Open Democracy suggests that Arab nations have grown tired of the regional arms race and its impact on oil prices – and could be more open to a renewed rapprochement with Iran under a Biden administration than seems obvious at first glance. “There will be slightly more caution on the Saudi and Emirati side over Trump than you might otherwise expect, and not wholesale opposition to what Biden might choose to do,” Rogers told Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

Cinema / Tokyo

Still rolling

The 33rd Tokyo International Film Festival kicked off at the weekend with a red-carpet opening and a world-premiere screening of Masaharu Take’s tough boxing tale Underdog. Though entry restrictions have limited international guests, the line-up still features more than 130 films from around the globe. Director Christopher Nolan sent congratulations via video. “The fact that, in these challenging times, you’ve found a way to honour and enjoy films on the big screen is a source of inspiration for myself and other film-makers,” he said. Cinemas in Japan are now allowed to run at full capacity (with prevention measures) and many live screenings for the event, which is on until 9 November, are already sold out. Festival chairman Hiroyasu Ando was moved to see so many people at the opening. “We believe in the power of films, even in this difficult time,” he said. “We wanted to keep the beacon of film lit by holding the festival physically.”

M24 / The Big Interview

Theaster Gates

In our final episode of a special series of conversations ahead of the US elections, Chicago-born visual artist and urban planner Theaster Gates talks to Tomos Lewis about making art, redeeming spaces that have been left behind and the ongoing existence of racial violence in the US.

Monocle Films / USA

Dallas street style

Texas is about big money, big cars and big characters; we meet the new generation adding some welcome cool to the cowboy chic.

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