THE NEXT EARTHQUAKE

We opened this week with the landslide win for Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico. Let’s close the week by placing his victory in line with a broader international trend, one highly likely to continue.


In the United States, Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 without ever having run for office. He won in part by promising to upend his party’s traditional view of trade and immigration. He has kept those promises.

In France, Emmanuel Macron was elected president in 2017 without ever having run for office. In that election, the center-right and center-left parties that had dominated French politics since World War II finished in third and fifth place, respectively, in the first round of presidential voting. The political party Macron invented in April 2016, La République en Marche, holds a solid majority in France’s National Assembly.

In Germany, the center-right CDU experienced its poorest performance since 1949 in the 2017 election. Its coalition partner, the center-left SPD, had its worst showing since World War II. The Alternative for Germany, the first far-right party to win seats in the Bundestag since the war, is now the country’s largest opposition party.

In Italy, traditional parties of center-left and center-right combined to win less than one-third of the vote in the March 2018 elections. The current coalition government is led by a party founded in 2009 by a professional comedian (Five Star) and a rebranded separatist party (Lega). Those two (very) different parties have captured Italy’s current political mood.

In Mexico, López Obrador, known as AMLO, will be the first president since 1929 who doesn’t come from one of the country’s main political parties. In fact, AMLO’s Morena Party was created just four years ago.

These political earthquakes don’t represent a clear shift to the right or left. Macron is a centrist. Germany’s AFD is far-right. AMLO is Mexico’s first leftist president since the 1930s. Instead, these election results are obvious, outright rejections of familiar political faces and establishment parties of both the left and right.

Who’s next? Watch Brazil.

The current frontrunner in opinion polls ahead of Brazil’s October presidential election is Jair Bolsonaro (pictured above), a man who has inspired both admiration and revulsion in this polarized country with his open admiration for military rule. (The military ruled in Brazil from 1964-1985.) Bolsonaro joined the party he will lead, the Social Liberal Party (PSL), just six months ago. The PSL currently holds just nine of 513 seats in the lower house of congress and zero of 81 seats in the upper house.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.