Monday. 9/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Get to know your enemy

My column last week offering an “alternative-reality” timeline sparked its fair share of emails from readers who were angry at my suggestion that a Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn’t have been “all that different” from what we experienced the last four years. I fear that many missed my intention, which wasn’t to make apologies for Donald Trump but to highlight – perhaps a tad dramatically for effect – that America’s stark political divide would have simmered on below the presidency, regardless of who emerged victorious in 2016.

This week, my alternative-reality scenario begins in earnest. Joe Biden is president-elect and can begin the transition of power; Trump will forever maintain that the election was “stolen” and, perhaps, lay the groundwork for another run at the presidency in 2024. While Biden (pictured) spoke eloquently this weekend about unity and being “America’s president”, the reality is that there are two Americas to be governed at this point. Biden and Trump each received more votes than any presidential candidate before them. For all his promising rhetoric, Biden has little hope of piercing the impenetrable bubble over Trumpism on his own. He needs help.

This starts within conservatism; sensible voices must find effective means of reclaiming their party from doomsayers and conspiracy theorists who successfully convinced many voters that a Democratic presidency would, quite literally, mark the end of America. A tentative start was made this weekend, when Murdoch-owned outlets such as Fox News and the New York Post refused to back Trump’s baseless – and dangerous – claims of widespread electoral fraud. The pushback cannot be allowed to end there.

The mainstream media must re-engage in this difficult process, too. Much of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief this weekend, but it’s imperative that we not return to the pre-2016 belief that Trumpism is a fringe movement of the uneducated and unenlightened, unworthy of having its concerns taken seriously. Some might read this and call me an apologist for racists and misogynists (as indeed some of you did in your emails about my last column). But when half of a country’s voters are dismissed in such blanket terms, then clearly something has gone wrong with our discourse. This election was all about turning out your own side to vote, rather than trying to change minds; I’ve heard too many liberals in the last few years say that they’re “done” with trying to engage their political opposites on the right. In reality, I can’t think of a better time to start.

Conflict / Ethiopia

Inner turmoil

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed has won a Nobel Peace prize for ending his country’s conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. But now he appears to be on the brink of war with his own northern province of Tigray. Unlike Eritrea, the conflict with Tigray is one for the soul of Ethiopia itself. Tigrayans were part of Ethiopia’s ruling class for decades until Ahmed (pictured) formed a unity government that left them excluded from power. The Tigrayan state is considered “the centre of the ancient Aksumite Empire, which dates from the sixth century, and the site of the beginning of Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia, so they really see themselves as the core of what it means to be Ethiopian,” Laura Hammond of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London told The Globalist. Sometimes it’s easier to make peace with the enemy next door than resolve divisions in your own back garden.

Politics / USA

House proud

While the presidential election has compounded just how entrenched political differences are in the US, there’s one theme that appears to have united voters of both parties: the desire for a more diverse Congress. Republican women look set to have been elected to the House of Representatives in greater numbers than ever before while, for the Democrats, Mondaire Jones (pictured) and Ritchie Torres have become the first openly gay black men elected to the House.

New Mexico has also made history: it is the first state to have elected a congressional delegation who are all women of colour. At the state level, too, there have been history-making wins: Sarah McBride, a newly elected state senator in Delaware, is now the most senior transgender elected official in the US. For voters concerned by the tussle for the presidency, those results might offer some cheer: long-lasting political change usually comes from the bottom up, rather than from the top down

Design / Saudi Arabia

Bedouin breakfast

At its height the Nabatean kingdom stretched from the shores of the Red Sea north to Damascus. Today its greatest legacy is the carved rock city at Petra, an architectural marvel that inspired reams of verse in dewy-eyed adventurers of the Victorian age and, latterly, more Instagram photos than you could shake a selfie stick at. It is this category of voyagers who will be most enthused to learn that, over in Saudi Arabia, under the aegis of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions to centre his country as a cultural oasis, star French architect Jean Nouvel is pressing ahead with a new hotel hacked straight out of the desert rock. The Sharaan hotel will boast 40 rooms and three villas when it is ready in 2024 and doubtless inspire many millions more Instagram posts – though hopefully less poetry.

Retail / Global

Remote access

Followers of UK adventure-clothing brand Vollebak have never had the chance to handle its clothing before buying. It’s sold exclusively online and items sell out quickly – you need to be quick to swoop when its pre-sales are announced to its mailing list. So it’s perhaps fitting that the brand is now offering its wares in the furthest, most remote shops that it can find. Its latest marketing ploy asks customers to nominate the 10 most difficult spots on earth in which to shop. “The world’s most remote stores are a symbol of human grit and ingenuity,” says Vollebak CEO and co-founder Steve Tidball. “We want to explore the stories of the people who survive in these remote places.” The first stockist is the Tjukayirla Roadhouse in Australia’s Great Victoria Desert, which has already reported increased foot traffic. Whether or not this translates into more sales for Vollebak, encouraging adventure and supporting rural independent stores in the process is a win for everyone involved.

M24 / Eureka

The Spirit Lives On: Wiley Pos

Wiley Post lived his short life to the full. His passion for aviation landed him in jail and lost him an eye but it also meant that he set round-the-world records and soared to new altitudes to discover jet streams, all by the age of 36.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Zürich: co-operative living

We head to Mehr als Wohnen, a unique mixed-use development housing a happy and healthy community.

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