When it comes to US institutions, it’s fair to say that Congress is considered the lowest of the low. Its approval ratings languish at about 20 per cent. At presidential-candidate events in New Hampshire over the past few days, bashing Congress was an easy way to win applause. Nikki Haley received what was perhaps the loudest reaction of the evening at a town hall meeting that Monocle attended in Exeter when she suggested “no budget, no pay” for House lawmakers, who are struggling to find a speaker.
The dysfunction in Congress has grave consequences. Israel, seeking aid in its war against Hamas, has no recourse until a speaker has been elected, even though there is near-unanimous (critics would say unquestioning) support for Israel among US lawmakers. Aid for Ukraine also hangs in the balance.
Many US politicians are distancing themselves from their Congressional ilk. Former governors such as Haley are focusing on how they actually got things done in their state. But other political institutions share the same problem now facing Congress: moderates are finding themselves beholden to those on the extremes who have no real interest in governing.
In Europe, anti-establishment types are often kept at bay by mainstream coalitions, until those on the fringes win enough votes that they’re forced to actually govern. In the US, however, the mainstream and the extremes are forced to coexist in a single party – with disastrous results, as we’re seeing with the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Anti-establishment politicians tend to win fights because they don’t mind blowing up the institution that they have been elected to. Centrists need to get better at calling their bluff or dare to work across party lines and freeze them out, until the fringe offers viable solutions that can help to restore a small measure of trust in Congress.
Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
The EU likes to project a unity front, though that hasn’t always been easy in recent months, especially over issues such as migration. The war between Israel and Hamas has also tested the bloc’s ability to act unanimously. First, it announced the suspension of aid to Palestine, then foreign ministers quickly reversed the decision. Since then, the bloc has been struggling to strike the right tone, with officials torn between supporting Israel’s right to defend itself following Hamas’s incursion and responding to the unfurling humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and her European Parliament counterpart, Roberta Metsola, were in Israel on a solidarity mission last Friday. Their visit was preceded by those of the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly. A notable absentee was the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who has said that some of Israel’s act of retaliation could violate international humanitarian law.
Japan is still working too hard. Stories of karōshi (“death from overwork”) are nothing new in the country, yet workers still feel obliged to burn the candle at both ends, failing to take advantage of generous paternity-leave packages and holidays. The latest government report on the phenomenon is the eighth of its kind since a law was passed in 2014 to develop a national initiative to prevent overwork-related disorders.
It found that when the disparity between the amount of sleep that people want and the amount that they get exceeds two hours, health problems typically ensue. Only half of Japan’s self-employed and corporate workers are sleeping for the minimum of six hours that they need. Companies such as Uniqlo have set strict limits on working hours, with managers being reprimanded for failing to comply. “At a governmental level, legislation has been progressive – but persuading people to follow the rules is another matter,” says Monocle’s Asia editor, Fiona Wilson.
Lights went out across France on Saturday night for the 15th annual Jour de la Nuit (“Day of the Night”). Organised by environmental-protection group Agir pour l’Environnement, the event was designed to raise awareness of light pollution and its adverse effects on both humans and animals. In the northern city of Rouen, all public lighting was cut from 20.30 ahead of a stargazing session at the local observatory. In the southern commune of Condat-sur-Vézère, residents enjoyed a rural walk “guided by the sounds of the night”. Light pollution is known to disrupt sleep and nocturnal biodiversity, and obscure the view of the night sky. While the alluring glow of cities might grab our attention, there’s clearly an argument for switching off.
Art and music have been a driving force behind the cultural and literal recovery of L’Aquila, an earthquake-struck Italian city that is reopening to the world. When Monocle visits, it is bathed in bright mountain sunshine and gaps in hoardings reveal pristinely restored façades (as well as some that are still being worked on).
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Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco celebrates some of Madonna’s most influential songs in preparation for the beginning of her Celebration Tour in London.