Protest & Democracy

Chaos is brewing in France's streets and Britain's corridors of power. Here's Gabe Lipton with thoughts on what's happened and what might come next.


Gabe's big story of 2018: Liberal democracy's threat from within

The scale and intensity of the "Yellow Vest" protests that have swept across France this fall caught the country by surprise. For those who support them, they've also proven successful: pushing President Emmanuel Macron to offer concessions, garnering global attention, and inspiring imitators in other countries.

In fact, this is an important story for liberal democracies everywhere. Many of the protesters' complaints – from Macron's imperial aloofness to the impact some of his policies may have on economic inequality – are easy to understand. The expression of those concerns through protest and destruction, though, reflects a failure of existing avenues for political change.

That sets a worrisome precedent. Macron has made that precedent more likely to stick by backtracking on proposed tax increases. Activists in other countries will claim inspiration and copy the script.

This is political dialogue through aggressive confrontation. Yes, democracy depends on competition among ideas, but also on compromise. When competition becomes chaotic confrontation, everyone loses, and the losses of 2018 are likely to last.

His big question for 2019: What's the Brexit endgame?

On March 29, the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, and we're no closer to understanding just how messy this divorce will be than on the day Britons voted for Brexit in 2016.

In early January, British MPs will likely vote down the exit agreement brokered by Prime Minister Theresa May. What comes next is anyone's guess, but here are a few possibilities. The UK might ask EU leaders for more time to resolve its domestic political impasse, pushing the resulting British and European frustration and confusion beyond March. There is also a building chorus of voices in favor of a second referendum. How to frame the questions for such a vote would surely provoke fierce debate.

Many in May's Conservative Party want to table an option that would maintain closer economic relations with the EU than the current proposal, in part because they believe they can win votes for such a plan from within the (also-divided) opposition Labour Party. Others believe a "no deal" exit in which the UK and EU separate almost entirely is the only way to break the current logjam.

For all its frustratingly arcane details, the sheer range of possible outcomes makes this an especially important (and fascinating) political story.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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"Neither America first, which is ultimately America alone, nor America the world's policeman," Sen. Chris Coons told Ian Bremmer in describing VP Joe Biden's approach to foreign policy should he win the presidential election in November. In the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, Sen. Coons provides details of how U.S. relationships with foreign governments and multilateral alliances could change in a Biden presidency. He also defended President Obama's track record, saying "I think it is a mischaracterization of the Obama-Biden foreign policy for President Trump to say that we were picking up the tab and fighting the world's wars and that we were disrespected." Coons stated that Biden would work to restore U.S. involvement in alliances like NATO, and shore up global support to pressure China on labor and environmental standards. The exchange is part of a broad conversation with the Senator about COVID response and economic relief, Russian interference in elections, and the 2020 presidential race. The episode begins airing nationally in the U.S. on Friday, July 10. Check local listings.

Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics:

How is coronavirus jeopardizing the legitimacy of a 2020 presidential election?

Well, what coronavirus is doing is a lot of states are worrying about people who aren't going to want to come to the polling places in the fall, and they're worried about a shortage of polling workers who are going to want to come out and volunteer to get sick by interacting with a bunch people in person. So, what they're doing is they're looking at making a shift to vote-by-mail. Most states allow some form of absentee balloting today. Five states just automatically mail you a ballot and they don't do any in-person voting. But the challenge here is that a lot of states are unprepared for the sharp increase that's expected. In the last election, 25% of ballots were cast by mail. You may see 50, 60 or even more percent of ballots cast by mail this time, which could overwhelm election administration, which happens at the state level.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have diverged. As of July 8, the average number of new deaths every three days in the EU had fallen 97 percent since peaking at the beginning of April. The US number, however, has fallen only 67 percent over the same period. That means that although both regions' death tolls peaked with only two weeks difference, the EU has flattened its COVID-19 fatality curve faster than America. Some experts attribute the difference to EU countries' more robust public health systems and better compliance with mask-wearing and other social distancing measures.