Monday 10 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 10/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

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Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Unite the states

Anyone who spends time watching US media will recognise that the political debate has never felt more divisive. What receives less coverage is a spate of nonpartisan groups trying to put the pieces back together and find common ground. New York-based not-for-profit organisation Braver Angels was set up in 2016 – the year when Donald Trump was elected – to facilitate connections between Americans on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Two years later I attended one of its workshops in Maryland in which debates between “reds” and “blues” (Republicans and Democrats) were moderated to foster understanding rather than to score points.

Five years on from my visit, Braver Angels has an extensive network across the country and, just last week, it hosted a national convention that attracted more than 600 people in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – the symbolic site of the US Civil War battle and Abraham Lincoln’s address. The expressed goal of the conference was to prevent another civil war and it featured infectiously optimistic activists who believe in the power of listening and open dialogue.

Journalist and author Mónica Guzmán hosted a panel alongside her parents, who are both Trump supporters. Though they argue bitterly, they remain on speaking terms. Another event featured a good-natured debate about whether the US is indeed the best country in the world: do a country’s founding ideals make it great even if it hasn’t lived up to them? I also attended a course on how photography can foster discussion and another about the role of interfaith communities in politics – not something that I’ve seen touted much on cable news or social media.

As the US once again hurtles towards a potentially polarising election in 2024 and politicians dig their heels in over issues from abortion to education, we need more platforms like Braver Angels. The battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the American Civil War and last week’s meeting there marks the new front line of conflict in the US: we need to address it.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Shutterstock

Affairs / Global

Friends and relations

The talk ahead of tomorrow’s Nato summit in Vilnius has so far revolved around three topics: who will succeed Jens Stoltenberg (pictured) as secretary general, Sweden’s delayed accession to the alliance and what further support for Ukraine might be announced. The first of these issues has been pushed back: Stoltenberg’s term has been extended by another year. As for the second, it is not impossible that Sweden’s main obstacle – Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – will seize the opportunity to take centre stage by making a sudden magnanimous gesture.

This is exactly what he did last year in Madrid, agreeing to lift opposition to Sweden and Finland’s Nato applications. What Ukraine will take home remains to be seen, however. Membership is not an option while its war with Russia continues but the nation’s keener allies – Poland, the Baltic states, the UK and possibly France – are arguing for a clear postwar path into the alliance. While others, notably Germany, are more hesitant, it will be difficult to deny that Ukraine has earned its place.

Image: Getty Images

Environment / Brazil

Root of the problem

Preliminary data released last week by Brazil’s government revealed that deforestation in the Amazon fell by 34 per cent in the first half of 2023. This is a major win for the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose list of main policy objectives included reversing the high levels of environmental destruction under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. According to the report, 2,649 sq km of rainforest have been cleared this year.

Despite this being the lowest figure since 2019, the area is still equivalent to three times the size of New York. What’s more, the agribusiness sector is one of the most powerful political lobbies in Brazil and right-wing parties continue to enjoy strong support from agricultural communities. Representatives recently voted to dilute the powers of the environment and Indigenous peoples’ ministries in what activists describe as a critical blow to the climate movement. As a result, Lula’s administration is likely taking the latest deforestation figures with a pinch of salt. While things seem to be looking up, it’s clear that Brazilian environmentalists still have a long battle ahead.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Spain

Rock the vote

Spain’s political parties are embarking on their first full week of campaigning today for the general election on 24 July. According to the latest polls, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, led by the incumbent prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is trailing behind the right-wing Partido Popular, whose leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo (pictured), has sought to portray himself as a smart, stable choice.

The frontrunner has pledged to invest €44bn in infrastructure to tackle the country’s growing water crisis. Despite this, he is likely to fall short of an outright majority, opening the door to a coalition with the controversial, ultra-conservative Vox party. As Sánchez seeks to make up ground ahead of voting, his party will be quick to stoke fears of the far-right’s influence on national government. It’s going to be a tense few weeks for Spain and the elections could certainly have ramifications for Europe’s wider political landscape.

Urbanism / Japan

Sky high

Construction has been completed on Japan’s tallest skyscraper as part of the Azabudai Hills project in central Tokyo. Pelli Clarke and Partners designed three towers, the tallest of which rises to 325m, with the intention to build a city within a city. Azabudai Hills Mori JP Tower features sleek, curved edges and a crown that resembles the petals of a flower.

It will house offices, residences, shops, a hotel and a school. Japan has built only 11 buildings over 200 metres in the past decade and even its most recent addition is dwarfed by skyscrapers in Taiwan, the UAE and beyond. However, the idea behind the project is less about chasing height but rather the creation of a new community. Developments on this scale should favour texture and variety, a notion reflected in the building’s understated luxury. Through exceptional craftsmanship and interior design, the project aims to elevate the quality of life of its 20,000 office employees and 3,500 residents.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Menu

Graça, Lisbon

This week we head to the Portuguese capital Lisbon to visit one of its lesser-known districts: Graça. Home to several sites where travellers can take in picturesque panoramas of the city skyline, the Graça neighbourhood still manages to retain the feel of a small town and is home to some promising chefs and bars where diners can explore the many flavours and aromas of Portuguese cuisine. Monocle’s correspondent Ivan Carvalho guides us through the area’s vibrant culinary scene.

Monocle films / Urbanism

Athens: urban inspiration

Athenians have a knack for injecting pockets of greenery and a sense of innovation into their ancient city. Their urban interventions are aimed at cooling down this dense metropolis and safeguarding its sacred sights as much as the neighbourhood life. We climb its seven hills to get a fresh perspective on the city's charms.


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