Wednesday. 10/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Free and fair

Would you reject a candidate who you otherwise agree with if you found out that they ignored the democratic norms? It seems like an easy “yes” and yet most of us would fail the test in real life. A study by two political scientists at Yale University last year found that less than 5 per cent of people would actually change their vote if told that their preferred candidate did something undemocratic – if a politician, say, fervently backs your views on abortion or race but questioned the need for a free press. And before you suggest that this is a partisan thing, it turns out that liberals were less likely (if only slightly) to defect from a democratically challenged candidate than conservatives. In other words, those of us living in democracies are susceptible to taking it for granted.

In the past week, global events have shed light on the results of that very study. In Myanmar and Russia, two countries struggling for democracy to prevail, protesters are braving the threat of imprisonment to take part in political rallies. I would argue that it doesn’t matter whether the detained leaders in these countries are conservatives or progressives (indeed, in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, liberals have plenty of reasons to oppose her, based on her actions while in power). Rather, protesters want them released in the name of democracy.

Meanwhile, back in the US, yesterday marked the start of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. Whether you support or oppose Trump’s stances on immigration, race, trade or the economy, it seems remarkable that a trial about the need for a peaceful transition of power, the very essence of democracy, should so sharply divide us along party lines. Opponents hide behind questions of constitutionality – that you can’t hold an impeachment trial for a former president. But that ignores a simple truth: if you can only try someone if they succeed in overturning a valid election and remaining in office, what message does that send? Whichever side of the political aisle we’re on, surely we should all rate the upholding of democratic norms more highly than that.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Russia

Foreign exchange

Tit-for-tat diplomacy strikes again. On Monday, Germany, Poland and Sweden announced that they were each kicking a Russian diplomat out of their respective countries. The move was retaliation for Moscow’s decision last week to expel several EU diplomats, claiming that they had taken part in demonstrations in support of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny. It’s certainly not the first time that nations have resorted to such petty displays of payback. Nor will it be the last. But with tensions between Russia and the EU escalating, it’s worthwhile to consider whether such measures are constructive. While an in-kind response might neutralise a situation, this is one case that calls for something more meaningful. Allies of Navalny are calling for urgent EU sanctions against Russia. And while one can debate whether such a move is wise, it would get the Kremlin’s attention.

Image: U.S. Navy

Defence / France

Sail through

France confirmed this week that one of its nuclear submarines recently sailed through the South China Sea. Though China claims sovereignty over the disputed waters and maintains an active military presence, the manoeuvre was intended to “affirm international law”, which states that military vessels can sail peacefully through international waters, according to French defence minister Florence Parly. The move also indicates that the French navy can deploy rapidly, even in distant seas.

“This is more a war of words than anything,” Bill Hayton, associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House, told The Monocle Minute. He stressed that France’s presence in the Pacific is not unusual and that the announcement in itself suggests the peaceful nature of the mission; aggressive action is more often covert. Nevertheless it does send a message. “China has sailed military ships in the English Channel as recently as 2018,” says Hayton. “France is showing that it can do the same.”

Image: Shutterstock

Aviation / USA

High ambition

American Airlines has announced an expansion of international flights from its Miami base. The carrier says that it will introduce new routes to Tel Aviv and Suriname later this year and bolster those it already offers to Latin America, including doubling the number of flights to Colombia and Peru. Miami is one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the US, and Florida experienced the second-highest rate of population growth in the country in the first half of 2020. Catering for this influx of people seems to be the main reason that American Airlines is focusing on international expansion in such tumultuous times. “It’s the start of further growth in Miami,” says Brian Znotins, the airline’s vice-president of network planning. “As the city expands, American will do the same.” It’s also a savvy business move: the carrier will be ready for new bookings when demand for flying is inevitably revived.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Malaysia

Capital ideas

Ever since Kuala Lumpur’s city hall was disbanded in 1965, Malaysia’s capital has been run by appointees from the federal government, much to the frustration of the city’s residents, who say that these representatives lack accountability and are detached from the community. Now a recently released report by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, a Malaysian NGO, is calling for the reinstatement of a local government, reviving the debate and stirring controversy in political circles. Reflecting on the report, former deputy housing minister Raja Kamarul Bahrin said that electing officials is the only way to ensure that the capital does not fall into a state of “urban decay”. But some at the federal level are reluctant to embrace change. In a country where electoral freedom is already questionable, Bahrin says the government is afraid that the city’s inhabitants will show themselves to be “capable of making good decisions in electing the city’s own government”. He’s probably right but that shouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Dolly Parton: ‘She Come By It Natural’

As the paperback of Sarah Smarsh’s book She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs has recently been released, Robert Bound is joined by literary critic Mia Levitin and country music aficionado Baylen Leonard to discuss the star and how her story is told.

Film / Global

Designing the news

How do you unpack stories in the most engaging way while building a credible and comprehensive brand? Monocle Films showcases best design for paper and screen too.

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