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Analysing the American Election Extravaganza Of 2020

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The year 2020 has been a year unusual to others, to say the least. The ongoing coronavirus has put a halt on everything whether it be the economic situation or even the political situation. Not long before, we had the race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Conventions, both competing for a place to run against the incumbent Donald Trump, as the President of the United States. Eventually, Biden won the democratic ticket. Unexpected events have unfolded since. The death of George Floyd created a huge stir in America dividing the country on opinions of race and politics. Kanye West even announced his plans to run for President, apparently being endorsed by Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.  So many things going on together and with only three months to go for the Presidential elections, the atmosphere in America doesn’t seem like that of an election year. The pandemic is the prime reason behind that, but there are so many other things as well.

The Process of the Presidential Election

Before talking about the two candidates, it is important to understand how the election process works since it is very different from that of India. The election for the President of the USA is done separately from the legislative (The Senate and House of Representatives). The two main parties, Republicans and Democrats have small primaries and caucuses which are meetings of sorts in various states all over the country to decide the candidate from their party. When the two candidates are chosen, debates and campaigning is done, followed by voting. An electoral college is formed by the states of America and elections are held. Different states have different strengths for their college, keeping in mind the population of the particular state.

The total number of seats is 538 and to become the President, a candidate needs to cross 270 seats. Since the division of seats is done on population, states like California and New York carry much more weight. The process from this point is more confusing. If a candidate wins the majority of the seats in a particular state, instead of the number of seats he has won goes into his account, but rather it is the total number of seats in the state that go into his account and it is said that he has ‘won the state’. For example, California has the most number of seats with 55 and hypothetically, if Biden wins 38 seats in the state, he gets the majority of the state. Not only that, in the total count he will get 55 seats to his name. Overall, whichever candidate reaches 270 seats in the college becomes the President. Now, let us look at the candidates.

 As of now, we have two candidates. Donald Trump from the Republican Party and Joe Biden from the Democratic Party as the leading candidates. The campaign has not gone into full swing as of now and the presidential debates are yet to be held. All this said; let’s look at the two candidates.

 The Incumbent – DONALD TRUMP

Starting with the incumbent Donald Trump; he has had little to no opposition when it comes to being endorsed by the Republican Party. The main reason behind this is the simple fact that he is the incumbent and has maintained a certain level of support in his key demographics. He has higher approval ratings than any other politician from the Grand Old Party (GOP) or the Republicans. Nonetheless, not every member has shown unequivocal support. Former presidential candidate from the Republican Party, Mitt Romney had voted to convict Trump during the infamous impeachment trials of early 2020. The economy has played to his advantage, at least before the pandemic and Trump does not shy away from taking the credit. Nonetheless, there are a few things that have played a role in the fall of his approval ratings. At the forefront, we have the mismanagement of the coronavirus outbreak in America.

Currently, 4.1 million people have contracted the disease and considering that Trump has previously ridiculed the ability of the virus to spread and not impose restrictions has reflected the lack of leadership. Second, we have an issue that has not been at the forefront of Presidential elections for the last 3-4 races. The issue of race and institutionalised racism has taken America by a storm and Trump has not managed to control it. He has not openly talked about facing the issue of race but has called the protestors thugs and terrorists. Even though bold stances like this worked in 2016, they do not seem to be effective this time around when the issue is as sensitive as a race. With these things in mind, let’s look at the Democratic nominee and former Vice President under the Obama administration, Joe Biden.

The Nominee – JOE BIDEN

Joe Biden was relatively late to coming forward with his candidature if we compare it to the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who had been talking about their campaign for long before the start of the democrat party’s caucuses.  This lack of early preparation was seen during the Iowa caucus and the primary in New Hampshire in which Biden didn’t perform very well. But eventually, things started to fall in place, with the regular debate over Sanders electability and Warren’s early withdrawal, Biden was eventually selected to be the Democratic presidential nominee. All this proposes the question that is Biden the best that Democrats have to offer, to go against Trump. Now even though a lot of voters think that his policies may not be as radical or as glaring as those of Sanders and Warren, he has been gaining the popular vote time and again. The political scientists within the party say that people just consider Biden to be more electable.

Even though there are some question marks over his leadership ability and his ability to talk to people in a sense which creates a different political wave (something Trump did pretty well in 2016). Nonetheless, we have seen during the Obama presidency what Biden is capable of in terms of team management and keeping his administration smooth. Further, Biden is gaining more edge in political leadership after he had openly criticised the current President over his handling of the pandemic and the protests. All this is something that the political scientists have talked about the two leaders and there are differences in opinion. But one thing that is not as subjective is the polling data that various news agencies have collected.

Status of Polling Data and Opinion Polls

The latest polling data, as of 9th June by RealClearPolitics shows a lead in favour of Biden by 6 points as he stands on 46%, as opposed to Trump’s 40% approval rate. Similarly, NPR (+8), NY Times (+14), Fox News (+12) and Quinnipiac(+15) all suggest Biden having a huge lead over the president. It is important to mention that the past few months have shown Trump’s worst approval ratings during his tenure, going down to 38%. He, without a doubt, will improve his ratings and consequently improve his numbers in the poll. So, it is not advisable to consider Biden to be the new President, just yet. Also, a data as general as this one is not usually considered to be a clear indicator of who will be winning, as was seen back in 2016 when Hilary had an advantage of 4-5% by the same data  To better understand the polling data we need to divide the data into two different categories.

The first is the situation in the swing states and secondly, the situation of the key demographics and the handling of various issues. An important note is that a lot of states are considered to be predominantly Red (Republican) and Blue (Democrats) states. This division is done, keeping in mind the dominance of the said party in the state in the previous elections as well as the general polling data. The states which do not fall under this category are the swing states. In the upcoming election, seven states have been identified by most of the political scientists as the swing states. These are Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Different networks consider different states to be swing states but on average these 7 states have been the most common. It is important to note that Trump won all of these states back in 2016. It is also worth mentioning that Biden has led the state of Texas which has been predominantly a red state, and so Trump is expected to win the state back even though a lot of journalists have started to consider Texas to be a swing state. Data between 17th and 22nd June collected by NY Times/Siena poll shows a huge advantage for Biden. 

Comparing the current numbers to that of 2016, we see that Trump has completely lost Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which he won by margins of less than 1 point, and is now trailing by 11, 11 and 10 respectively. Moving on North Carolina and Arizona have shown a smaller advantage as Biden leads by 9 and 7 points respectively. Florida is an interesting state which is considered vital for Trump’s re-election and he won it narrowly in 2016 by 1.6 but is currently trailing by 6 points. All this said, one has to keep in mind two things. First that most of these polls showed an advantage for Hilary as well but she lost these battleground states but second, her advantage was not as big as that of Biden. One would not be surprised if Trump manages to cut down the advantage in these swing states and also manage to win one or two conservative states, but will this be enough for him to regain presidency?

Going by the same source, looking at the key demographics, Biden leads by 74 points with black voters, 39 points with Hispanic voters, 34 points with young voters (18-29), 22 points and 18 points with independent voters. This shows a key advantage that will play in the favour of Biden. Back in 2016, Trump won the election with a huge advantage, running up to 70 points, with independent voters, men, older voters and white people. This time the gap has cut so much that Biden leads in 3 of Trump’s key demographics i.e. independent, men and older voters. This seems like a much more negative trend than one would have predicted. Moving on, key issues like COVID and racial issues have highly favoured Biden. People have started to doubt Trump’s leadership in these two aspects and considering that these are the two main issues of 2020 for America, Biden does seem to be favoured. On the other hand, Trump is preferred when it comes to immigration, economy and job creation. Trump has made it a point to claim the growth of the US economy before the pandemic to his benefit and that seems to be in his favour.

Conclusion

Even though we are just 3-4 months before the elections happen, all of these are predictions and pre-election polls. A lot of things like the presidential debates, widespread campaigning and the actual Election Day turnout, all can change the way things stand today. This was seen back in 2016 to work in favour of Trump but that was because the difference between the two candidates was too small. That may not be the case this time but nothing can be said with certainty. Kanye West has pulled out of the race and it will be fair to say that he did not have much ground before as well. As of now, even though the polls indicate one thing, anything can happen. There is without a doubt a bit of uncertainty and just like 2016, the door is still open for both candidates to win the White House.

Aakash Agarwal is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Economics (Honours) from Doon University, Dehradun, India. He has a research interest includes Global Economy, Financial Economics and IR Theory. His work has been published by the Diplomatist Magazine, South Asia Democratic Forum and the Kootneeti.

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The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world

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In today’s world, knowledge and technological advantages determine – to a large extent – differences in the management of international policy. The increase in a country’s intellectual power directly defines an increase in its economic power, thus changing its position in the international competition for dominance.

The power policy, first in the agricultural age and later in the industrial age, was characterised by military and then economic hegemony, while the power policy in the information age gradually reveals the characteristics of knowledge hegemony at both the scientific and intelligence levels.

The hegemony of knowledge in contemporary international relations manifests itself specifically as unequal exchange in international trade, exploitation of high-value information and various conditions related to technological production. Hence, we see the transfer of polluting industries from privileged to poor countries: energy-consuming and high-intensity activities.

Western culture and values are disseminated vigorously, through the so-called soft power in information and mass media, and take on obsessive and oppressively hypnopedic forms.

Developed countries have patents in the use of outer space, as well as in the development of deep sea resources and in the production of environmental resources that pollute, while developing countries can only sigh as they look at other’s oceans and satellites, which fly around, do reconnaissance activities and monitor them.

The resources of the great and deep seas – which should be shared by mankind as they belong to everybody like the air, the moon and the sun – are instead exploited by the developed countries. On the contrary, they freely and ‘democratically’ share with the wretched ones only the evil consequences of environmental pollution.

With specific reference to sanctions and armed interference in international relations, the technique of violent and conscious bullying is adopted: whoever is militarily stronger imposes the validity of their interests, also at legal level.

The root cause for generating knowledge hegemony lies in the polarisation of the intellectual status of the nation-State. Western developed countries have already crossed the threshold of an information society, while developing countries are still struggling to climb towards industrial civilisation from the most primitive and closed state of existence. Although developing countries hold most of the world’s natural and human resources (just think of Africa), they are far behind in science and technology. Just look at the continental histogram of the 207 Nobel Prizes in Physics from 1901 to 2017 (winners are counted by country of birth except for the Algerian Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji [1997], who was born when Algeria was a French territory):

Source: Nadua Antonelli <<Africana>> XXIII (2017) page 12

If they have no means to study, even the greatest and most brilliant brains cannot make discoveries or file patents, looking only at the sky and the earth.

About 80 per cent of science and technology staff and their achievements are concentrated in developed countries. The knowledge advantage gives developed countries the right to set the rules of the game and of communication for all global knowledge production and dissemination. In particular, the developed countries’ knowledge advantages in the military and high-tech media enable them to expand their influence on the civil and military fronts and achieve their strategic objectives.

Developing countries wander between traditional society, modern industrial civilisation and post-industrial civilisation, and are often challenged and oppressed by the third party’s hegemony of knowledge.

The new economy created by the information revolution is still a ‘rich-country phenomenon’, the core of what is called ‘advantage creation’, under the cover of ‘competitive advantage’, or rather: competitive towards those who cannot compete.

The country leading the information revolution is the United States, which is the biggest beneficiary of these achievements. The digital divide highlights the status of the US information superpower. In the global information sector, in 2000 the central processing unit production in the United States accounted for 92%, and software production for 86%.

IT (Information & Technology) investment in the United States was 41.5% of global investment, Microsoft’s Windows system accounted for 95% of global platform applications, while the US Internet users accounted for more than half of global Internet users, and 58% of all e-mail goes through US servers.

E-commerce is worth 75% of the global total and US commercial websites account for 90% of the planet.

Currently, there are almost three thousand large-scale databases in the world, 70% of which are in the United States. There are 13 top-level domain name servers in the world and 10 of them are located in the United States.

The above figures far exceed the share of US GDP, which is 28% of the world total. The United States is far ahead of all countries in the world, including the other developed countries. The leading position in information technology allows the United States to control the basics in the field of information with its strong economic and talent advantages, as well as to master the actual rights, and to set standards and formulate rules and regulations.

The status as cradle of the information revolution has brought enormous wealth and development benefits to the United States. Since the 1990s, the development of information technology and the rise of the related industry have become an accelerator of further economic advancement in the United States.

In the growth of US GDP – from 1994 (the beginning of the Internet) to 2000 – the share of the information industry in the value of the country’s total output has caused the economy to rise from 6.3% to 8.3%, and the contribution provided by the information industry development to the actual US economic growth is estimated at 30%.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States – with its strong national-global power and the relative hegemony of knowledge/information – was already ready to build a new world order.

Knowledge is also the soul of military hegemony. Since the 1990s the United States (after the USSR’s demise) has taken advantage of its absolute leadership in information technology to vigorously promote a new military revolution and equip its armed forces with a large number of modern sophisticated weapons, especially cyber weapons: an overwhelming advantage in the conventional field, clearly overtaking the Third World, as well as its Western allies.

The US superiority in equipment ranges from one to two generations (i.e. from 15 to 30 years) over developing countries and from 0.5 to one generation over allies. All this has established the hegemonic status of the United States as the world’s number one military power.

Gulf Wars II (1991) and III (2003) (the first was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980-88), the Kosovo War (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001- still ongoing), and the Iraq War (2003-2011) were four localised wars that the United States fought to establish a new world order after the Cold War. During those events, the US hegemony was strengthened on an unprecedented scale and its attempt to establish a new order made substantial progress.

Moreover, backed by strong military advantages (scattering the planet with its own bases and outposts), as well as economic and technological advantages, those events ensured that the United States had and still has a leading position in the world, thus making the White House a planner and defender of the new world order. (1. continued)

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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