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America Is Undergoing Seismic Changes. Its Politics? Hardly. – The New York Times

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The country is recovering from a pandemic and an economic crisis, and its former president is in legal and financial peril. But no political realignment appears to be at hand.

In another age, the events of this season would have been nearly certain to produce a major shift in American politics — or at least a meaningful, discernible one.

Over a period of weeks, the coronavirus death rate plunged and the country considerably eased public health restrictions. President Biden announced a bipartisan deal late last month to spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the country’s worn infrastructure — the most significant aisle-crossing legislative agreement in a generation, if it holds together. The Congressional Budget Office estimated on Thursday that the economy was on track to regain all of the jobs it lost during the pandemic by the middle of 2022.

And in a blow to Mr. Biden’s fractious opposition, Donald J. Trump — the dominant figure in Republican politics — faced an embarrassing legal setback just as he was resuming a schedule of campaign-style events. The Manhattan district attorney’s office charged his company, the Trump Organization, and its chief financial officer with “sweeping and audacious” financial crimes.

Not long ago, such a sequence of developments might have tested the partisan boundaries of American politics, startling voters into reconsidering their assumptions about the current president, his predecessor, the two major parties and what government can do for the American people.

These days, it is hard to imagine that such a political turning point is at hand.

“I think we’re open to small moves; I’m not sure we’re open to big moves,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “Partisanship has made our system so sclerotic that it isn’t very responsive to real changes in the real world.”

Amid the mounting drama of the early summer, a moment of truth appears imminent. It is one that will reveal whether the American electorate is still capable of large-scale shifts in opinion, or whether the country is essentially locked into a schism for the foreseeable future, with roughly 53 percent of Americans on one side and 47 percent on the other.

Mr. Biden’s job approval has been steady in the mid-50s for most of the year, as his administration has pushed a shots-and-checks message about beating the virus and reviving the economy. His numbers are weaker on subjects like immigration and crime; Republicans have focused their criticism on those areas accordingly.

This weekend, the president and his allies have mounted something of a celebratory tour for the Fourth of July: Mr. Biden headed to Michigan, one of the vital swing states that made him president, while Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Las Vegas to mark a revival of the nation’s communal life.

On Friday, Mr. Biden stopped just short of declaring that happy days are here again, but he eagerly brandished the latest employment report showing that the economy added 850,000 jobs in June.

“The last time the economy grew at this rate was in 1984, and Ronald Reagan was telling us it’s morning in America,” Mr. Biden said. “Well, it’s getting close to afternoon here. The sun is coming out.”

Yet there is little confidence in either party that voters are about to swing behind Mr. Biden and his allies en masse, no matter how many events appear to align in his favor.

Democratic strategists see that as no fault of Mr. Biden’s, but merely the frustrating reality of political competition these days: The president — any president — might be able to chip away at voters’ skepticism of his party or their cynicism about Washington, but he cannot engineer a broad realignment in the public mood.

Mr. Mellman said the country’s political divide currently favored Mr. Biden and his party, with a small but stable majority of voters positively disposed toward the president. But even significant governing achievements — containing the coronavirus, passing a major infrastructure bill — may yield only minute adjustments in the electorate, he said.

“Getting a bipartisan bill passed, in the past, would have been a game changer,” Mr. Mellman said. “Will it be in this environment? I have my doubts.”

Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist, offered an even blunter assessment of the chances for real movement in the electorate. He said that the receding of the pandemic had helped voters feel better about the direction the country is moving in — “the Covid reopening certainly helps with the right-track numbers” — but that he saw no evidence that it was changing the way they thought about their preferences between the parties.

“I don’t think anything has particularly changed,” Mr. Schriefer said. “If anything, since November people have retreated further and further back into their own corners.”

Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

American voters’ stubborn resistance to external events is no great surprise, of course, to anyone who lived through the 2020 election. Last year, Mr. Trump presided over an out-of-control pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused the American economy to collapse. He humiliated the nation’s top public health officials and ridiculed basic safety measures like mask wearing; threatened to crush mass demonstrations with military force; outlined no agenda for his second term; and delivered one of the most self-destructive debate performances of any presidential candidate in modern history.

Mr. Trump still won 47 percent of the vote and carried 25 states. The trench lines of identity-based grievance he spent five years digging and deepening — pitting rural voters against urban ones, working-class voters against voters with college degrees, white voters against everybody else — saved him from an overwhelming repudiation.

A Pew Research Center study of the 2020 election results released this past week showed exactly what scale of voter movement is possible in the political climate of the Trump era and its immediate aftermath.

The electorate is not entirely frozen, but each little shift in one party’s favor seems offset by another small one in the opposite direction. Mr. Trump improved his performance with women and Hispanic voters compared with the 2016 election, while Mr. Biden expanded his party’s support among moderate constituencies like male voters and military veterans.

The forces that made Mr. Trump a resilient foe in 2020 may now shield him from the kind of exile that might normally be inflicted on a toppled former president enveloped in criminal investigations and facing the prospect of financial ruin. Polls show that Mr. Trump has persuaded most of his party’s base to believe a catalog of outlandish lies about the 2020 election; encouraging his admirers to ignore his legal problems is an old trick by comparison.

The divisions Mr. Trump carved into the electoral map are still apparent in other ways, too: Even as the country reopens and approaches the point of declaring victory over the coronavirus, the states lagging furthest behind in their vaccination campaigns are nearly all strongholds of the G.O.P. While Mr. Trump has encouraged his supporters to get vaccinated, his contempt for public health authorities and the culture of vaccine skepticism in the right-wing media has hindered easy progress.

Yet the social fissures that have made Mr. Trump such a durable figure have also cemented Mr. Biden as the head of a majority coalition with broad dominance of the country’s most populous areas. The Democrats do not have an overwhelming electoral majority — and certainly not a majority that can count on overcoming congressional gerrymandering, the red-state bias of the Senate and the traditional advantage for the opposition party in midterm elections — but they have a majority all the same.

And if Mr. Biden’s approach up to this point has been good enough to keep roughly 53 percent of the country solidly with him, it might not take a major political breakthrough — let alone a season of them — to reinforce that coalition by winning over just a small slice of doubters or critics. There are strategists in Mr. Biden’s coalition who hope to do considerably more than that, either by maneuvering the Democratic Party more decisively toward the political center or by competing more assertively with Republicans on themes of economic populism (or perhaps through some combination of the two).

Mr. Biden’s aides have already briefed congressional Democrats several times on their plans to lean hard into promoting the economic recovery as the governing party’s signature achievement — one they hope to reinforce further with a victory on infrastructure.

Faiz Shakir, who managed Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, said Democrats did not need to worry about making deep inroads into Mr. Trump’s base. But if Mr. Biden and his party managed to reclaim a sliver of the working-class community that had recently shifted right, he said, it would make them markedly stronger for 2022 and beyond.

“All you need to focus on is a 5 percent strategy,” Mr. Shakir said. “What 5 percent of this base do you think you can attract back?”

But Mr. Shakir warned that Democrats should not underestimate the passion that Mr. Trump’s party would bring to that fight, or the endurance of the fault lines that he had used to reorganize American politics.

“He has animated people around those social and racial, cultural, cleavages,” Mr. Shakir said of Mr. Trump. “That keeps people enthused. It’s sad but it is the case that that is going on.”

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Italy’s Mr. Fix-It Tries to Fix the Country’s Troubled Justice System — and Its Politics, Too – The New York Times

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The issue has become a test for whether Prime Minister Mario Draghi can really change Italy.

LODI — If there is one person who does not have to be persuaded of the need for Italy’s urgent push for judicial reform — which Prime Minister Mario Draghi has staked his leadership on — it is the former mayor of the northern town of Lodi, Simone Uggetti.

Early one morning, Lodi’s financial police knocked on his door, hauled him off to prison, strip searched him and put him in a small cell with a convicted murderer and a drug dealer. It was the start of a five-year ordeal — over the awarding of city contracts, worth 5,000 euros, to manage two public pools — that was used by his political opponents to destroy his career, his credibility, his reputation and his family.

“Who are you? You’re the mayor who got arrested, all your life,” Mr. Uggetti said this week, still visibly shaken by the experience, which ended only in May when an appeals court absolved him, saying no crime had ever taken place. He wept in court. “It was the end of a nightmare,” Mr. Uggetti said. “Five years is a long time.”

Such cases are all too common in Italy, where the far-reaching power of sometimes ideologically driven magistrates can be used to pursue political vendettas or where businesses can easily become ensnared in cumbersome and daunting litigation that is among the slowest in Europe.

Mr. Draghi is so convinced Italy’s courts need fixing that he has said he is willing to risk his government’s survival on the issue, by putting to a confidence vote new legislation that would shorten civil and criminal proceedings. Without speedier trials, he argues, all the economic renewal and political change required in Italy will not come — and there is a lot that needs changing.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

On Thursday evening, the government announced it had reached a unanimous agreement with a broad array of interests in the government. A vote will take place in coming days.

“The objective is to guarantee a speedy justice system that respects the reasonable duration of a trial,” Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said Thursday night after the announcement. “But also guarantees that no trial goes up in smoke.”

The issue has become the first major test, beyond vaccinations, of whether Mr. Draghi, a titan of the European Union who helped save the euro, can leverage his formidable Mr. Fix-It reputation and the grand political coalition behind him to solve a long-festering problem that has threatened the democratic process and economy in Italy, the last of Europe’s major powers to escape far-reaching overhauls of its postwar systems.

Mr. Draghi’s gambit has all the potential to change a country where, as the saying goes, “you aren’t anybody unless you are under investigation.” It is nothing less than an attempt to restore Italians’ confidence in their political leaders and institutions after decades of anti-establishment vitriol, angry headlines and social media invective.

The threat of endless litigation, Mr. Draghi has argued, scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies, and could even keep Italy from meeting the requirements imposed by the European Union to gain its share of a more than 200 billion euro post-Covid recovery fund.

“Justice is one of the keystones of the recovery,” said Claudio Cerasa, the editor of il Foglio, a newspaper that has emerged as the voice of protecting the rights of defendants, and also frustrated accusers, from slow and politicized justice. He said Mr. Draghi “depoliticizes the conflict and brings it on a different level, which is the Draghi trademark, he transforms everything into common sense.”

Still, it is no easy task. But Mr. Draghi is betting that, after many decades, the political winds around the issue have shifted in his favor.

Justice emerged as perhaps the central theme of contemporary Italian politics in 1992, when the watermark Clean Hands investigation exposed complex, vast and systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties.

The scandal came to be known as Bribesville and brought down a ruling class, marking the end of Italy’s First Republic after World War II.

Prosecutors became public heroes and, capitalizing on the spreading impression that all politicians were guilty of something, stepped into the power vacuum.

But so did Silvio Berlusconi, the brash media mogul, who became prime minister and a constant target of prosecutors who investigated him for corruption and other crimes. He portrayed them as politically motivated Communists, or “red robes,” and almost always beat the rap by running out the clock and reaching a statute of limitations.

That infuriated magistrates and eventually fueled a “hang ’em all” populist backlash led by the anti-elite Five Star Movement, which once again depicted the political establishment as a corrupt caste.

By 2018, Luigi Di Maio, one of its leaders, made lists of all rival candidates under investigation and called them “unpresentable.” The media splashed accusations and leaked investigations on front pages, and then barely mentioned or buried dropped charges or acquittals.

Max Rossi/Reuters

Now, that anti-establishment season seems to be waning, and populists have apparently made the calculation that, electorally, “lock-em up” no longer pays.

Mr. Di Maio, who led j’accuse Five Star protests against Mr. Uggetti and once rode the popular anger to victory in national elections, is now contrite. Now Italy’s foreign minister, he wrote an apology in Il Foglio to Mr. Uggetti after his acquittal in May for the “grotesque and indecorous manner” he behaved.

But Mr. Cerasa, Il Foglio’s editor, suspected that the change may be more tactical than heartfelt. He said that parties that wielded the judicial system as a weapon also felt its scorpion sting while in power, and faced a barrage of civil and criminal cases.

But something else has changed: Mr. Draghi has now become the organizing force of Italian politics.

With hundreds of billions of euros of E.U. assistance hanging in the balance, and a pandemic still in the air, establishment chops and palpable sanity are in high demand. Mr. Draghi is seen to have both and has seized the moment to consolidate power.

Gregorio Borgia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No political novice, Mr. Draghi appears to have the support to pass his judicial legislation — and to put Italy on more solid footing by baking lasting change into the system.

The government’s agreement on the legislation includes Five Star, which had expressed concerns about letting criminals off the hook, but which ultimately agreed to withdraw their proposed amendments. Other backing came from the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini; Mr. Berlusconi’s party on the right; the liberal Democrats on the left; and Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister.

Not everyone is enthusiastic, though.

Marco Travaglio, the editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has deep ties to magistrates and has served as a megaphone for Five Star’s aspersions, has been lashing out and angrily resisting what increasingly feels like the end of an era in Italian politics. This month he mocked Mr. Draghi as a privileged brat and characterized his justice minister, Ms. Cartabia, a former president of Italy’s constitutional court, as a rube who “cannot distinguish between a tribunal and a hair dryer.”

But for the most part, people are on board with Mr. Draghi, and Mr. Uggetti hoped that the prime minister would bring more balance to the system that nearly ruined him.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

Mr. Uggetti now works as the chief executive of a tech firm outside Lodi developing business management software. “I’m rebuilding my life,” he said.

Still, he misses being mayor. As he walked around the pool that was the source of his judicial nightmare, and which is now an empty ruin, he ticked off all the things he would fix (bike paths and roads), and pointed out historical tidbits (a bridge where Napoleon won a major battle, a statue of a scientist) as if he still represented the town.

He considered running for mayor again a possibility. But there was another possibility too. In Italy, a higher court can overrule an appeals court, cancel an acquittal and put a person on trial again. That higher court still has time to decide to retry him.

“They have the power to say ‘No, this appeal sentence is no good,’” he said, shaking his head. “I really hope that it finishes here.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

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Totalenergies CEO says its decision to exit Petrocedeno not linked to politics – Reuters

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A general view of a logo on the TotalEnergies headquarters in the La Defense business district in Paris, France, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS, July 29 (Reuters) – TotalEnergies said on Thursday that the sale of its 30.3% stake in Petrocedeno was not linked to the political situation in Venezuela, its chief executive said.

Patrick Pouyanné was speaking during an analyst call.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Independent MP Derek Sloan hopes his new political party ‘excites’ Canadians about politics – Global News

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Independent MP for Hastings Lennox and Addington, Derek Sloan, has confirmed to Global News that he is in the process of trying to launch his own political party. The MP says it will be called the “True North” party, pending Elections Canada Approval.

“I think Canadians are disenfranchised with the current political landscape, and I’m hoping to excite Canadians about politics and about Canada and to really get people happy again about Canada and hopeful,” said Sloan.

A spokesperson for Elections Canada said that they are working to ensure all requirements under the Canada Elections Act are met, in order for Sloan’s party to become official.

Read more:
Tory caucus to meet Wednesday to determine fate of MP Derek Sloan

In the meantime, Sloan has been spending time outside of his riding during the pandemic, making a number of trips to Western Canada.

Sloan explained that his travels are necessary in order to promote his “movement” on a national scale.

“Right now I believe for the sake of our riding, I need to sort of boost the popularity of this movement across the country,” said Sloan.

Sloan became an independent MP earlier this year when he was removed from the Conservative Party of Canada.

Former conservative senator, Hugh Segal, says Sloan’s move to create a new party could negatively impact his former party.

“If he’ll be more to the right, he’ll obviously be taking some votes away from the Conservatives at that far right-winged edge in his constituency and other constituencies where there may be candidates for his new party,” said Segal.

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Liberal Mike Bossio lost his seat to Sloan last election, and will be trying to win it back during the upcoming election.

Bossio believes Sloan has become a polarizing figure in the riding due to his views (ranging from abortion and LGBQT2 issues, to COVID-19 and vaccines.)

“He has a very different worldview that he’s been sharing with Canadians. It’s certainly not a view that I share in any way, shape or form, I think that it’s a toxic and dangerous view,” said Bossio.

Sloan says while he’s starting to build momentum for his new party in Western Canada, his intention to run in his own riding has not changed.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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