Sep 14th 2020

The Armageddon Election

by James J.Zogby

 

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

During the weeks of uncertainty that followed the 2000 presidential election, as the tension grew amongst supporters of George W. Bush and Al Gore, my brother John Zogby conducted a poll to see how Democrats and Republicans were viewing the contested vote. Responses to one question, in particular, caught our attention.

John asked Republican voters if they would view Gore as a legitimate president should he be declared the victor. The reverse was asked of Democratic voters. The answers were disconcerting. Twenty-one percent of Democrats said they would not see Bush as legitimate. More disturbing were the 67% of Republicans who said they would not see Al Gore as a legitimate president.

That year, John coined the now often used term “Armageddon election” to describe feelings of both sides as they considered the consequences of that presidential contest. When we were discussing this last week, John joked that we’ve dredged up Armageddon to describe every election since 2000. While all of those contests have been both critically important and deeply fractious, there can be no doubt that the 2020 matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is the real Armageddon election of our lifetime.

With every passing day it becomes clearer that we are in for a long and rocky ride between now and November. More troubling than the difficulties we will encounter along the way is what may occur after election day. There is legitimate fear that our very democracy, already compromised by hyper-partisanship, may be at risk.

More than just belonging to two opposing parties, we have become two countries comprised of distinct constituencies, each of whom see the world with radically different eyes. Polls show this divide not only on issues like race, gender equality, immigration, and the role of government. The differences are more fundamental with two wildly divergent views of the very idea of America – its history and its future. At times it feels as though the two camps are not only seeing different realities, but speaking different languages.


This is not merely a partisan divide. It’s demographic. One side is dominated by older White voters, a disproportionately large number of whom are “born again” fundamentalist Christians. They are also more male and more rural. The other is largely comprised of more educated and urban voters, young people, and Blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

One side sees promise in recapturing the lost glory of a romanticized past, and​, feeling threatened by the “foreignness” of newcomers​, seek​s to deny entry to those who are seen as “different.” The other thrives on America’s diversity, feels comforted by the notion of integration, and is unafraid of change.

These two distinct worldviews were on display at last month’s Democratic and Republican conventions. Both parties used their week-long “made for television” infomercials to define America as they saw it and to project the America they hoped to create. Both also made crystal clear the dangerous consequences that would result if the other side were to win.

As described by Fintan O’Toole, in a brilliant New York Review of Books piece, the Democratic convention portrayed the stark choice in this election as an “existential struggle” between good and evil, light and darkness – between ending the racial divide, bringing about economic justice, celebrating diversity, and creating a sense of common purpose, or exacerbating social tension and division, and sinking deeper into the muck of hatred, anger, and chaos.

The choices for Republicans were equally existential. They were spelled out by Donald Trump Jr. when he described this election as being between “church, work, and school” and “rioting, looting, and vandalism. In this Republican view, Democrats are portrayed as being captive of extremist socialist forces, manipulated by “people in the dark shadows,” seeking to promote social unrest, weaken police forces, and destroy the middle-class “life-style,” by building housing in White suburbs for poorer people of color.

For Republicans, victory is seen as necessary to save White America – its culture, values, and way of life. And the slogan “Make America Great Again” is understood not so much a vision of the future as it is a last ditch effort to salvage the lost glory of a fictional past.

For Democrats, victory is seen as essential to protect America from incivility, racial hatred, and a dangerous drift toward authoritarian rule.

So for both sides, the stakes are not only high, they are polar opposites. It is if they are saying “should the other side win, all is lost” – it will be “the end of the world” or Armageddon.

More ominous still, President Trump has used Twitter to promote conspiracy theories about dark, shadowy wealthy people working to undermine his presidency and the country. In a recent interview, he declared, without evidence, that he had heard reports of a plane-load of men in dark uniforms, whom he described as “looters, anarchists, rioters...looking to cause trouble.” And, he has taken to retweeting or paraphrasing conspiracy-oriented messages from QAnon – the cult-like group which originated the “​Pizzagate” conspiracy that a Washington pizza restaurant was serving a​s a front for a child sex-slave operation run by the Clintons.

As worrisome, are the president’s increasingly frequent charges that this election will be marred by voter fraud. He has repeatedly claimed that the only way he can lose is if the vote were “rigged” against him. A recent poll shows that already one-third of both Democrats and Republicans are expressing serious concern about the legitimacy of the vote. And he has suggested that in the case of a rigged election his supporters may need to rise up to defend themselves and his presidency from the looters, rioters, and chaos-makers seeking to unravel our country.

In the past few months, we have seen signs of where this might take us. When several states announced strict measures to control the spread of the novel Coronavirus, Trump urged his supporters to storm state capitols to defend their freedom against “lockdowns.” Because he added “defend the Second Amendment,” some demonstrators came armed with semi-automatic weapons of war.

In mid-summer, there was a national mobilization of mostly peaceful protests against the all-too-frequent police shootings of Black ​Americans. In some cities, these demonstrations devolved into sporadic violent looting and vandalism. Sometimes these incidents were spontaneous, in other cases they appeared to be egged on ​by left​- or right​-wing extremists, seeking to create further unrest. This played into the president’s hands. He defended the police and derided the Democratic city and state officials whom he described as “weak.” Once again, we witnessed the appearance of armed White counter-protesters and we heard the president embrace these paramilitary elements as “Great Patriots.”

In response to the violence, Biden issued a balanced denunciation saying, “I want a safe America. Safe from Covid, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops...safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

For its part, the Trump campaign said, “No one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America...[He will] surrender America and its citizens to the violent left-wing mob...and abolish the American Way of Life.”

All of this serving as evidence of a deeper and more dangerous polarization in American society.

After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime.

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More Current Affairs

Oct 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s approach today is similar: first, insulate its citizens from a virulent pathogenic contagion with draconian public-health measures aimed at containing and mitigating the spread of the disease, and then – and only then – make judicious use of monetary and fiscal policy to reinforce the post-lockdown snapback. This is very different from the approach taken in the US, where the post-lockdown debate is more about using monetary and fiscal policies as front-line instruments of economic liberation, rather than relying on disciplined public-health measures aimed at virus containment........ This underscores the sharp contrast between China’s COVID-first strategy and the America-first approach of US President Donald Trump’s administration. In China, unlike the US, there is no political and public resistance to masks, social distancing, and aggressive testing as requisite norms of the COVID-19 era. Meanwhile, the US is in the midst of its third serious wave of infection while China continues to exercise prompt and effective control over new outbreaks. Earlier this autumn, for example, some nine million citizens in Qingdao were tested in just five days after a relatively small outbreak affecting fewer than 20 residents. By contrast, Trump wears his own experience with COVID-19 infection as some perverse badge of courage, rather than as a warning of what may lie ahead."
Oct 20th 2020
EXTRACTS: Disney has announced a significant restructuring of its media and entertainment business, boldly placing most of its growth ambitions and investments into its recently launched streaming service, Disney+…. From a corporate strategy perspective, the move is remarkable on two fronts. Firstly, the sheer velocity of this pivot for a company the size and age of Disney is, for lack of a better word, unprecedented….Let’s not forget that it was just last year that Disney held a near 40% revenue share of the US box office….. The fact that in just seven months of the pandemic breaking out, Disney decided to reinvent itself primarily around streaming speaks volumes about its expectations regarding the pandemic length. Clearly the group decided that waiting it out was no longer an option.”
Oct 10th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Strange as it is to say, but it is no longer uncommon to hear talk of insurrection, martial law, and civil war in the United States......... Apocalyptic warnings that next month’s election will descend into crisis are coming hard and fast....... While the atmosphere in the US is already alarming, it is worth considering just how bad things could become. There is ample reason to worry that an election-related conflict could devolve into atrocity crimes against black and brown civilians on US soil........ Genocide and mass atrocities have happened all too often, including in America. The question is not whether it could happen here, but whether it can be prevented."
Oct 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times that articulated what has come to be known as the Friedman doctrine: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” It was a theme he had developed in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, where he argued that the “one and only” responsibility business owes to society is the pursuit of profits within the legal rules of the game. The Friedman doctrine put its stamp on our era. It legitimized the freewheeling capitalism that produced economic insecurity, fueled rising inequality, deepened regional divides, and intensified climate change and other environmental problems. Ultimately, it also led to a social and political backlash. Many large businesses have responded by engaging in – or paying lip service to – the notion of corporate social responsibility."
Oct 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is well on its way to becoming a cashless society. More than 600 million Chinese already use Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay to pay for much of what they purchase. Between them, the two companies control approximately 90% of China’s mobile payments market, which totaled some $17 trillion in 2019. A wide variety of sectors throughout China have since adopted Blockchain to pay bills, settle disputes in court and track shipments. The Chinese government understands that, via Blockchain, the issuance of its own cryptocurrency is an excellent way to track and record the movement of payments, goods and people."
Oct 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "The American Republic was founded by Protestants, and American elites were for a long time largely Protestant........But something extraordinary has happened since the republic was founded by Protestants in 1776. Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are Catholics, and soon there may be six. The one Protestant on the court, Neil Gorsuch, was raised Catholic. (The other two justices are Jewish.) Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, is Catholic, as is the US attorney general, William Barr. And Joe Biden, who might be the next president, is Catholic, too."
Oct 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "...... the economic pain inflicted by COVID-19 is not being borne by publicly traded companies. It is falling on small businesses and individual service proprietors – from dry cleaners to restaurants to entertainment providers – that are not listed on the stock market (which leans more toward manufacturing). These smaller players simply do not have the capital needed to survive a shock of this duration and magnitude. And government programs that have helped keep them afloat for a while are beginning to lapse, raising the risk of a snowball effect in the event of a second wave."
Oct 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Trump’s disinclination – and perhaps inability – to reach beyond his right-wing base, which is insufficient to elect him, also calls into question his political acumen, and is one of many reasons to doubt his basic intelligence (an issue on which he is quite sensitive). But one thing about the president is now clearer than ever: in order to perpetuate his hold on power, Trump is testing the constitution in unprecedented ways. "
Sep 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the US presidential election barely a month away, former Vice President Joe Biden and his advisers are devising his national-security policy and creating shortlists to fill the cabinet’s ranking positions in the event that he defeats President Donald Trump. But while presidential hopefuls traditionally have focused first on contenders to run the state, defense, and treasury departments, this time is different. With the intelligence community in an increasingly perilous state, Biden should choose a top spymaster before making any other personnel decisions."
Sep 29th 2020
While today's mounting global disruptions have accelerated an ongoing shift in global power dynamics, neither China's rise nor the emergence of COVID-19 can be blamed for the West's lost primacy. The United States and the United Kingdom took care of that on their own, with a complacent Europe watching it happen.
Sep 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "One thing is clear: the world cannot trust Xi’s dictatorship. The sooner we recognize this and act together, the sooner the Beijing bullies will have to behave better. The world will be safer and more prosperous for it."
Sep 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Four years of political turmoil under Trump may well end with massive violence akin to a civil war. Trump is priming his base to act violently, and with over 390 million firearms in the hands of Americans, one can only imagine the calamitous consequences if violence is to erupt between his supporters and those who oppose him..... The Republican leadership in every state and every municipality are the prime body that can stop this potential calamity from occurring. Time is of the essence. Should the Republican Party as a whole fall short of taking a stand against Trump at this juncture, they will subject the nation to turmoil unseen since the Civil War. Not a single Republican leader will be able to claim that he or she were not warned."
Sep 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "I continue to expect this broad dollar index to plunge by as much as 35% by the end of 2021. This reflects three considerations: rapid deterioration in US macroeconomic imbalances, the ascendancy of the euro and the renminbi as viable alternatives, and the end of that special aura of American exceptionalism that has given the dollar Teflon-like resilience for most of the post-World War II era."
Sep 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Covid-19 essentially hit the “fast forward” button on emerging trends in a variety of sectors of national economies, hastening the demise of the shopping mall, laying bare how unnecessary being physically located in commercial work spaces is, and sounding the death knell for numerous 100+ year-old brands that had failed to adapt to the blistering pace of change in the digital economy. Failure to contemplate and embrace the future is leaving carnage in its wake.......The onslaught of dramatic change that has accompanied Covid-19 reminds us that fragile systems crack when exposed to unexpected events while antifragile systems have the ability to resist shocks."
Sep 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently declared that aggression and expansionism have never been in the Chinese nation’s “genes.” It is almost astonishing that he managed to say it with a straight face. Aggression and expansionism obviously are not genetic traits, but they have defined President Xi Jinping’s tenure. Xi, who in some ways has taken up the expansionist mantle of Mao Zedong, is attempting to implement a modern version of the tributary system that Chinese emperors used to establish authority over vassal states: submit to the emperor, and reap the benefits of peace and trade with the empire."
Sep 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seventy-five years ago, the prestige of the United States and the United Kingdom could not have been higher. They had defeated imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and they did so in the name of freedom and democracy. True, their ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union, had different ideas about these fine ideals, and did most of the fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Still, the English-speaking victors shaped the post-war order in large parts of the world. The basic principles of this order had been laid down in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in 1941 by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland."
Sep 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime."
Sep 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Huawei case is a harbinger of a world in which national security, privacy, and economics will interact in complicated ways. Global governance and multilateralism will often fail, for both good and bad reasons. The best we can expect is a regulatory patchwork, based on clear ground rules that help empower countries to pursue their core national interests without exporting their problems to others. Either we design this patchwork ourselves, or we will end up, willy-nilly, with a messy, less efficient, and more dangerous version."
Sep 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s footprint in global foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased notably since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. That served to bring Chinese overseas FDI closer to a level that one would expect, based on the country’s weight in the global economy. China accounted for about 12% of global cross-border mergers and acquisitions and 9% of announced greenfield FDI projects between 2013 and 2018. Chinese overseas FDI rose from $10 billion in 2005 (0.5% of Chinese GDP) to nearly $180 billion in 2017 (1.5% of GDP). Likewise, annual construction contracts awarded to Chinese companies increased from $10 billion in 2005 to more than $100 billion in 2017."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Emergence and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have created and still creating health issues, economic challenges, political crises and social conflicts around the world. These challenges and conflicts lead the international community to re-evaluate global governance and international structures, which is based on the second world-war and post-cold war. The pandemic will emerge a new era of international society that will not be similar to the pre-Corona world."