Australians used to talk about American politics the way they talk about sport — they followed the ups and downs, marveled at the competitor, and tried to game out who would win.
This year? It’s more like the discussion of a car wreck involving a neighbor or an uncle.
For months, friends and even strangers have been asking if my relatives are healthy, worried they may have perished in the American coronavirus catastrophe. And this week, after a debacle of a debate and the news that President Trump and Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus, I saw and heard more than just empathy — also shock, dismay, fear, heartbreak and just head-shaking alarm.
Van Badham, a commentator who often writes for The Guardian (and occasionally the New York Times Opinion section), replied to my tweet about Mr. Trump’s positive test result with what many Australians seem to be feeling:
I emailed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office right away seeking comment — and got nothing, at least for the moment. My guess: The power-brokers in Canberra were also trying to lift their jaws off the ground.
Earlier in the week, after the debate — in which Mr. Trump interrupted Joe Biden or the moderator 128 times, by one count — many Australians seemed eager to lend my fellow Yanks a hand. They offered therapeutic assistance, alcohol and an invitation to visit (or escape) to Australia, a country with national Medicare, unsolicited and easy mail-in voting and a successful response to the pandemic.
But all over the country (and the world), there were also signs of intensifying frustration. Michael Fullilove, who heads up the Lowy Institute and who wrote a book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, offered an early and surly critique — “The words I missed most in that debate: ‘You’re on mute.’”
David Rowe, a political cartoonist for the Australian Financial Review, quickly published an illustration titled “undebatable” showing President Trump in clown shoes, shirtless, with a single phrase written on his body: “Me the people.”
When I asked Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australia National University, how he felt watching the debate, he said two emotions came to mind: dismay and sadness.
“Specifically, it renewed my bewilderment that over 40 percent of Americans are willing to contemplate a vote for Trump,” he said. “What does that say about their views of the presidency?”
He added that the policy-free back and forth also “reinforced my sense that Biden is indeed a very weak candidate, whose only claim to the presidency, as he himself acknowledged, is that he isn’t Donald Trump.”
And, he said, “it deepened my anxiety that the election result will be contested and chaotic.”
Jen Overbeck, a dual American-Australian citizen who teaches about power and management at Melbourne Business School, said that watching the campaign from afar has brought her closer to Australians, as together they share a mix of fear and helplessness.
“It’s been terrifying in a larger way to watch what’s happening in the U.S., the decline (or should I say assisted suicide) of legitimacy and Trump’s extraordinarily effective way of using raw power to destabilize and to break or re-form institutions in a very short time,” she said.
The U.S., she added, has been moving from a system of adversarial politics to one simply “fought on the grounds of raw power.”
What Mr. Trump’s diagnosis means for that approach — and the race in general — is very much an open question.
Mr. Trump’s positive test result could pose immediate difficulties for the future of his campaign against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic challenger, with just 33 days before the election on Nov. 3. Even if Mr. Trump, 74, remains asymptomatic, he will have to withdraw from the campaign trail and stay isolated in the White House for an unknown period of time. If he becomes sick, it could raise questions about whether he should remain on the ballot at all.
Looks like Australians, like the rest of us, will have a lot more to watch and react to between now and Election Day on Nov. 3.
Now here are our stories of the week.
Australia and New Zealand
Jacinda Ardern Admits Past Cannabis Use. New Zealanders Shrug: ‘Us, Too.’ As a former marijuana smoker, the prime minister has plenty of company in New Zealand. But she stopped short of backing legalization in a referendum this month.
How Coal-Loving Australia Became the Leader in Rooftop Solar: Embracing solar panels to save money, homeowners have made the country a powerhouse in renewable energy.
A Teenage Producer With a TikTok Hit Brings New Zealand to the World Jawsh 685’s “Savage Love” became a global pop smash. Next up: graduating from high school and, hopefully, getting on a plane.
Tasmania Whale Rescue Ends With 108 Saved and Over 300 Dead The whale beaching, one of the largest strandings ever recorded globally, prompted a five-day rescue effort.
Abandoned Rio Tinto Mine Is Blamed for Poisoned Bougainville Rivers Residents of the Papua New Guinea region have accused the mining giant of environmental and human rights violations and asked for an investigation.
The Best Movies and TV Shows New to Netflix, Amazon and Stan in Australia in October Our streaming picks for October, including “Rebecca,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “Welcome to the Blumhouse.”
Around the Times
How to Ask if Everything Is OK When It’s Clearly Not Look for signs of distress, check in on yourself, and other tips for tough times.
Melting Ice Reveals Mummified Penguins in Antarctica Birds that appeared “freshly dead” near an Italian research base turned out to be centuries old.
Tracking Viral Misinformation Ahead of the 2020 Election Every day, Times reporters will chronicle and debunk false and misleading information that is going viral online.
A Spread Worthy of Royalty Banchan, the small dishes that often accompany a Korean meal, should be treasured in their own right.
… And Over to You
In last week’s newsletter about spring and the easing lockdown in Melbourne, Besha Rodell asked: How are you finding happiness these days? Here are two responses:
For me, just looking out the kitchen window to greener grass and a few pink flowers in my largely neglected backyard can make my repetitive days a little lighter.
— Andi Yu
I have drawn strength from the fact that previous generations have survived wars, famine and many illnesses without cure, and now we have to work together to get through this unexpected difficult period.
My family has decided to consciously appreciate little things in life that bring joy, and to make the most of the slower pace this year. We have voiced gratitude for living in a lovely city, for our home, family, and a determined government looking after our safety.
— Anina Fitzgibbon
The Lesson from Bolivia for Latin American Politics – The New York Times
On Oct. 18 Bolivians elected Luis Arce, the presidential candidate of the former President Evo Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism party and his chosen successor. Some saw the victory as a call for Mr. Morales to return to the government. But perhaps the electoral landslide may be better understood as an example of how to move forward in the wake of a tumultuous year for the world. It’s also a lesson on how similar movements weighed down by the baggage of past leaders can keep political relevance — without their looming influence.
As a candidate, Mr. Arce signaled his willingness to turn the page on Mr. Morales, whose controversial tactics and unconstitutional bid for a fourth presidential term ended in his expulsion from the country last year after the military called on him to step down. Mr. Arce committed to a return to the stability and inclusion that defined much of Mr. Morales’s government. With the more moderate Mr. Arce on the ballot, the Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, actually outperformed expectations — increasing its share of the vote by eight percentage points over last year’s results.
Ultimately “MAS did not win because of Evo but in spite of Evo,” tweeted Pablo Solón, the former United Nations ambassador during Mr. Morales’s tenure.
Mr. Morales was among a wave of leftist leaders who came into office in the 2000s, when their countries’ economies were buoyed by high commodity prices. Mr. Morales used the windfall to reduce poverty and expand the middle class. But from Bolivia to Ecuador to Argentina, the good times were followed by corruption scandals, attacks on the press, power grabs, debt-induced recessions — and eventually shifts to the right.
These leaders continued to influence national politics after leaving office, and their polarizing quests for comebacks threatened to undermine the very movements they helped start.
“Lingering ex-presidents prevent the nation from moving on,” Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, wrote in Americas Quarterly in 2018. “Liberating countries from their influence is a collective good because it helps with leadership renewal.”
Mr. Arce’s victory signals that renewal is possible. He has distanced himself from Mr. Morales, saying the former president’s bid for a fourth term was an “error.” He vowed that Mr. Morales would not have a role in his government.
Mr. Morales resigned last year, after his attempt to win a fourth term sparked unrest and ended in a contested election, in what some have called a coup. But if leaders like him can pass the baton to less polarizing figures, they may be able to inject new life into their political movements.
In fact, Mr. Morales’s absence helped energize, rather than weaken, MAS, the Bolivia-based journalist Pablo Stefanoni contends, writing that the crisis surrounding his departure “enabled the rise of a new group of leaders” whose ascension had been limited during Morales’s government.
It’s not easy to convince popular leaders who have had a taste of power, and who often seek a return to office as relief from the legal problems they face, to move on. In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, besieged by numerous corruption charges, was expected to pursue a third presidential term in 2019 but reversed course after polls suggested she’d lose. Instead, she promoted Alberto Fernández, a law professor and former chief of staff seen as less ideological, as her party’s candidate, and instead ran as vice president. He won by a large majority.
In Ecuador, the former President Rafael Correa is following the same playbook. His political movement nominated Andrés Arauz, a 35-year-old economist and former government minister, as its candidate for February’s presidential election. Mr. Arauz’s chances may depend on how much distance he can put between himself and the polarizing Mr. Correa, who in April was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges.
Other leaders may see themselves as the only ones who can defeat their opposition. In Brazil, there is talk that the former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva may run for president in 2022. But while Mr. da Silva remains a larger-than-life figure in Brazilian politics, he would be 76 by the time he runs, and his support has its limits — enough only to get him to a second round in an election, where polls say he’d lose to President Jair Bolsonaro. Passing the baton to the new leaders emerging under Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidency may be a better bet for his Workers’ Party.
The lesson does not just apply to left-wing parties. In Argentina, the former President Mauricio Macri’s center-right coalition will likely try to stage an electoral comeback in the 2023 presidential election. But, given his deeply unfavorable view among voters, his party may be more likely to find success by championing someone else.
Polls suggest that person may be Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of Buenos Aires. Though some critics say he lacks charisma, Mr. Rodríguez Larreta’s reputation as an efficient manager has made him one of the most popular political figures in the country. It would be another example of a less polarizing figure offering a fresh start for Mr. Macri’s political project.
While Mr. Arce’s victory in Bolivia is cause for optimism, over time his effort to turn the page on Mr. Morales may become a cautionary tale. As Mr. Corrales wrote, successors who take over from outgoing leaders walk a tightrope.
“When a president betrays a campaign promise — in this case, the promise to carry the torch from a predecessor — they disappoint two groups: those who wanted continuismo, and those who wanted real change, with the latter never becoming convinced that you are a true convert,” Mr. Corrales wrote.
To repair the worst elements of Mr. Morales’s 14-year presidency, Mr. Arce will need to strengthen institutions that for years were manipulated to benefit the former president. Similar successors to popular but polarizing figures, like Lenín Moreno of Ecuador and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, chose to pursue limits on re-election, for example, as one method of institutional reform.
If Mr. Arce can make positive institutional changes, while navigating Bolivia’s complicated politics and troubling economic panorama, he may be able to govern with the best of MAS’s values, tackling poverty and celebrating Bolivia’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity without Mr. Morales’s divisiveness and strongman tendencies. Ultimately, that could help him create his own legacy and set an example for political movements across the region.
Brendan O’Boyle (@BrenOBoyle) is a senior editor at Americas Quarterly, a publication on business, politics and culture in Latin America. He has studied the region for a decade and has lived in Buenos Aires, Quito, Ecuador and Mexico City.
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Commons showdown highlights tension between politics and science – Kelowna Capital News
Monday’s vote on a Conservative motion to launch an in-depth review of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 response highlights a key challenge of pandemic politics: how to hold a government accountable for decisions based on science, when the science itself is changing nearly every day.
The opposition wants a committee probe into everything from why regulators are taking so long to approve rapid testing to an early decision not to close the border to international travel, and what concerns the Liberals is how that probe is being framed.
“One of the narratives that I find most distressing coming from the opposition, is that somehow because advice changed at some point that the government was hiding information or that the government was giving misinformation,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said late last week.
“And nothing could be further from the truth.”
It’s not the science itself that’s up for debate, said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.
“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.
“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”
The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.
A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.
In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.
But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .
“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.
While heated, the interplay between Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives is a far cry from the hyper-partisanship around pandemic response in the U.S., where even the president has circulated misinformation and challenged that country’s top scientists.
Canadian researchers studying the response of political elites here in the early days of the pandemic found no evidence of MPs casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic, or spreading conspiracy theories about it. In fact, there was a cross partisan consensus around how seriously it needed to be taken.
“As far as we can tell, that story hasn’t changed,” said Eric Merkley, a University of Toronto political scientist who led the study.
Both he and Culbert said a review of the Liberals’ pandemic response is warranted, but a balancing act is required.
“Everyone has 20/20 hindsight and thinks that they can go, look back, and and point to points at which bad decisions were made,” Culbert said.
“But that’s with the knowledge that we have today. We didn’t have that knowledge back in March.”
The Liberals have sometimes hit back at criticism by pointing to how the previous Conservative government handled the science and health files, including budget cuts and efforts to muzzle scientists.
But critics can’t be painted as anti-science for asking questions, Merkley said.
“There’s plenty of scope for democratic debate about proper responses to the pandemic, there’s plenty of scope for disagreement,” Merkley said.
“And just because there’s that disagreement and an Opposition party holding government accountable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.”
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
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As Trump weakens rules insulating civil servants from politics, an official resigns in protest. – The New York Times
The head of a federal panel that advises the White House on compensation issues resigned on Monday to protest President Trump’s new executive order that could wipe out employment protections for tens of thousands of federal workers.
The order, signed last week, gives Mr. Trump and his political appointees the power to hire and fire certain federal civil servants who now hold jobs that are supposed to be exempt from political influence.
“The Executive Order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process,” Mr. Sanders, who called himself a lifelong Republican, wrote in his resignation letter, dated today and sent to the White House. “I have concluded that as a matter of conscience, I can no longer serve him or his administration.”
The president’s executive order has already provoked protests by federal labor unions and some Democrats in Congress. If Mr. Trump is not re-elected, the next administration could repeal the measure.
Mr. Sanders wrote of civil servants, “The only ‘boss’ that they serve is the public,” adding, “No president should be able to remove career civil servants whose only sin is that they may speak such a truth to him.” The board Mr. Sanders resigned from is made up of experts in labor relations and representatives of federal labor unions.
A White House official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House, in a statement that accompanied the executive order, said the new employee classification was justified because under current rules “removing poor performers, even from these critical positions, is time-consuming and difficult.”
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