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Quick Take: A hurricane, police protests & Trump's big night

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Tonight is the last night of the Republican National Convention. And, you know, middle of August, but my God, it is a busy news time. You've got a major hurricane, the largest in 100 years, bearing down on Louisiana. You've got Black Lives Matter and major violence and big protests, coming out of Wisconsin. There is, of course, the backdrop of the pandemic and still about a 1,000 deaths per day in the United States. An enormous economic crisis, too. And all of that against a backdrop of an election coming in just two short months.


Tonight, of course, the night that President Trump is giving his big speech at the RNC. What do we think? How do we consider all of this? Well, I mean, first of all, hopefully the hurricane, Hurricane Laura, will be off the headlines by the time we get there. The storm surge doesn't look like it was as great as had been feared by the weather association yesterday. And if we can avoid massive damage and the need for national emergency, let's face it, we don't need any more crises at this point. Certainly, hard to imagine that Trump would allow a poor or half-hearted response to providing resources to the hardest hit, given just how politically important it would be to be seen as leading as a consequence. So, I don't expect they will fall down in resource delivery if there is massive need on the ground coastline in Louisiana.

The Black Lives Matter issue is another thing entirely. I think what perhaps is most important, the issue is becoming bigger in the United States. We understand that, you know, there is an enormous amount of political outrage at the brutality that is coming from this police violence that we've seen from these videos. And it's not like this is new, it's been going on for a long time, but when everyone has a smartphone and everyone is posting it, you see it becomes a lot more real for everyone. I think the big shift that you're seeing is that after the George Floyd murder, there was a very diverse and pretty strong support across the country for Black Lives Matter. And the demonstrations were surprisingly broad. And a number of both Democrats and Republicans came out publicly in support of the movement. President Trump, Vice President Pence did not. But it wasn't really a winner for them among swing voters. That is starting to shift in their direction.

In Wisconsin, even before the shooting of Blake, you had a drop, a significant drop of support for Black Lives Matter among whites in Wisconsin. I think the facts and some of the contested facts as we see them now around Blake, around white supremacists, and militias, vigilantes in Wisconsin, the violence, both the violent protests and riots, as well as the violence from this vigilante response, the divide inside and around the police force in Wisconsin and more broadly, Blue Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter when, you know, certainly it should not be such. But it is in the United States political environment right now. All of that is giving more credence to the law and order messaging of Trump and the RNC among their base and also among some suburban voters in the United States. So, I think it is becoming a more cleanly divided issue as opposed to one that was more unifying in the United States after the George Floyd murder.

That's obviously deeply problematic commercially for an organization like the NBA, which decided to strike and not attend games yesterday. And still an open question as to what the rest of the season looks like. The Clippers and Lakers wanted to suspend the rest of the season, just call it quits. LeBron James apparently in that camp as well. By far, the most well-known and biggest brand the NBA has. But most of the other players saying, "no, don't want to." They understand clearly that there are big, big issues at stake no matter what they eventually do.

But also, for the government. And, you know, it's interesting, if you're watching the RNC right now, you'd barely know a pandemic was on, with the exception of Melania Trump's speech. Reason for that, of course, is because the pandemic is a vote loser for Trump. Now, we do see that case levels are coming down fairly significantly. Hospitalizations are coming down fairly significantly. Death are lagging, so they're still pretty high, but they are also almost certainly come down significantly in the coming weeks as well. Given that we only have two months left before the election, the fact that the pandemic is at total levels, reducing. The fact that the economy is improving, from very bad levels, but improving somewhat and will probably pick up steam. And the fact that the country is seeing more social discord and racial discord. That to me, all three of those are momentum issues that favor Trump and do not favor Biden. I think that matters. I think the election is going to be close. If you asked me right now, today, I would say 70% likelihood that Biden wins. But 70% is nothing like a slam dunk. It's not even a layup, right? I mean, since we're using NBA analogies, it's not even a free throw. It's more like mid-range jumper. And if that's the case, that means it's close. That means anyone can win. And by the way, that is what I think today. And that's also what I think in a free and fair vote environment.

I suspect that Trump's numbers are going to look better in eight weeks than they look today, for the reasons I just suggest. I also believe that at least to some degree, this election will not be free and fair. It's going to be made more challenging by the pandemic, by lack of access to polling places, by people being concerned that there are not adequate safety measures taken by mail-in ballots that will be spoiled, that will not be handled well, the country will not have adequate capacity to handle mail-in voting, and there will also be a significant push to discount ballots that come in after Election Day. So, I do think the likelihood of it being contested, if it's close, is very high still. And all of that is saying that these next eight weeks are likely to be unprecedented politically for anyone living in the United States today.

I don't think that it's going to look the same as it has. I think the potential for a lot more social discord, a lot bigger demonstrations on the ground, peaceful demonstrations mostly, but also more violence. And more violence, both from white nationalist vigilantes and from extremists on the left, very high. I don't think these, by the way, are Biden and Trump voters, I think most of the people engaged in violence don't vote. I think that usually that level of anti-establishment sentiment in people that are so angry with the existing political structures, that the idea of voting is not meaningful to them. That shows failings of the American system that are much deeper than anything that can be resolved in this election cycle. But it does imply a vulnerability of society today. And we should recognize that this is going to be, this election itself, is going to be challenged, is going to be delegitimized. I think the country will get through it. I don't think we're Hungary. I don't think we're Turkey, but I think it's going to cause a lot of damage. And absolutely not clear to me that we're going to know who the president is a day or a week after the election has, quote unquote, concluded after Election Day.

So, anyway, that's a little bit of my view of where we are. I'm not saying the RNC is less or more effective than the DNC. I think the RNC has been about as effective for its base as the DNC has been for its base. Let's keep in mind, the RNC base is narrower than the DNC, it doesn't involve as many people. But it's also more committed. It's also deeper than the enthusiasm than the DNC. By the way, I've gotten a number of e-mails and texts and whatnot from friends and colleagues that have said, you know, "I see a lot more Trump signs out there than I see Biden signs." Well, that doesn't surprise me at all because the enthusiasm for Trump is deeper than it is for Biden, which implies you're more likely to have a sign for Trump than you are for Biden, even though larger numbers of the population will vote for Biden, then will vote for Trump. The geographic dispersion is also greater for Trump than for Biden. It also happens to be in parts of the population that don't have a lot of people. But still, that implies you'll see more signs for Trump than you will for Biden.

The reality is countries incredibly divided. And sadly, only getting more so. In part, that's being driven by partisan politics, in part that's being driven by the president, in part it's being driven by the media, and in part it's being driven by the pandemic, which, of course, is causing so much more damage for the people that are suffering the most already ex ante before the pandemic hit. The best news, of course, is the fact that the pandemic is starting to recede in the United States. And by the way, the biggest piece of that is just that we're learning. We're learning more about the disease and we're learning more about how to respond to disease. And that's not just the president. That's the governors. That's the mayors. That's the businesses. It's the schools. It's the people. And in Spain, which also had a really lousy initial outbreak, and then they contained it, and now the second wave is coming back, and those numbers look really bad, the hospitalizations and the deaths aren't as bad. Why not? An equally kind of dysfunctional, divided federal government as the United States - because we've learned a lot more about the disease. And so, we know how to fight it. We know how to treat it. And individuals know that are in most vulnerable populations, know how to protect themselves more than they did a few months ago.

Human progress ultimately the thing that should keep us most optimistic going forward. But, my God, we're going to have a tough eight weeks in front of us here in the United States. I hope everyone's healthy, staying well, avoiding people. Get out to vote, too. I would say vote early, vote often, but that's not even funny in this environment. So just vote. See you guys.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

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