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Three Hits: Language and Geopolitics

Three Hits: Language and Geopolitics

Forget the Mullahs, did you hear Laurel or Yanny? In honor of that internet-busting question from last week (we think its Laurel, no question), we take a look at three stories in which language is bound up with politics.


Do you say it right?

Luigi Di Maio, leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement, one of two anti-establishment parties currently forming a government there, has notoriously bad grammar. (He routinely screws up the subjunctive and conditional tenses.) But with populist politics on the rise, a certain roughness in speech isn’t such a bad thing. Most people’s grammar isn’t perfect, after all, and this guy talks like me has a certain appeal when bashing elites. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte certainly knows this: His coarse language is a totem of his politics. And needless to say, Donald Trump’s simplistic, repetitive, and often vulgar formulations on Twitter are the essence of his norm-busting political brand. Populists aren’t just changing how we vote, they’re changing how we talk.

How do you say it?

China is home to more than 130 different languages and dialects, but the government has long prioritized one, Mandarin Chinese, as the lingua franca. Now, The Economist reports, as President Xi Jinping looks to burnish his country’s image as a global power, his government is softening restrictionson the use and teaching of non-Mandarin local languages spoken by many people in the Chinese diaspora whom Beijing wants to woo for investment and commercial opportunities. But China needs to walk a fine line: encourage (certain) regional cultural identities without fomenting a level of regional identity that could, in time, be destabilizing.

Can you say it at all?

For all its virtues, Facebook, as anyone knows, also overflows with all manner of vile, offensive, hateful trash. But is it OK to censor it? Hundreds of Facebook employees at a center in Germany, profiled by The New York Times, have the power to decide. In January, Germany passed a stringent new hate speech law that requires online platforms to identify and remove anything that crosses the line. When in doubt, the decision is kicked up to lawyers. Two major political questions here: First, is it acceptable for a government to outsource interpretation of its laws to a private company like this? Second, does this set a risky precedent for authoritarian governments who can use their own definitions of “hate speech” to squelch dissent?

Meet Alessandra Cominetti, a recipient of MIT Technology Review Magazine's Innovators Under 35 award. As a lab technician at Eni's Research Centre for Renewable Energy in Novara, Alessandra has devoted her career to finding new solutions and materials to optimize solar energy. Much like the serendipitous encounter that resulted in her employment, her eagerness and willingness to try new things allowed her to stumble upon a material for the creation of portable solar panels.

Watch her remarkable story on the latest episode of Faces of Eni.

Joe Biden has vowed to radically change the US' approach to foreign policy and international diplomacy should he win next week's election.

But a lot has happened in four years under Donald Trump that could impede Biden's ability to simply return to the status quo ante. How different would US foreign policy really be under a Biden presidency? What will the two-term former vice president likely be able to change, and what's bound to remain the same, at least for now?

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis

Should big business care about small business in these times?

The answer is yes and for many reasons. First, small business is the lifeblood of our economies. 45% of employment in emerging countries and 70% in the OECD comes from small and medium enterprises. Moreover, these enterprises have been badly hit by the crisis. Surveys indicate as many as 50% of European small to medium enterprises feel they may not survive over 12 months. While SMEs are relying on government support, larger companies do have a role to play. After all, this includes prioritizing small business and procurement by locking in demand for multiple years, thus facilitating access to good credit, paying receivables to small business in time and where possible, ahead of schedule. Cash flow matters most when you're small. Looking out for small businesses that have lower resilience. For example, financial institutions can lend more and in doing so, ensure deeper customer relationships in the future.

In his latest Financial Times op-ed, Martin Wolf argues that the US global role is at stake in this election and that a Trump re-election would undo America's legacy of democratic leadership in the world. Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Jeffrey Wright grabbed the Red Pen to argue that a Trump presidency exists in part because of Americans' rejection of the US's post-war leadership role, and these feelings run deeper than the article suggests.

Today, we're taking The Red Pen to a recent op-ed published in The Financial Times from my good friend, the chief economics commentator Martin Wolf. Martin argues the global role of the United States is at stake on November 3rd, and that a Trump reelection would undo America's legacy of democratic leadership in the world. There's been a lot of this sort of thing recently. I know, we did it once, but if we do it twice, it's all over and I'm not there. To be clear, we don't totally reject what Martin is presenting in this piece. Rather, we'd argue that a Trump presidency exists because there were feelings that were present in the United States before he came along and they run a lot deeper than the article suggests. In other words, it's really not all about Trump.

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"The top priority will be to announce to the world that the United States they've known for decades is back." Former top Obama diplomat and current CEO of the think tank New America Anne-Marie slaughter predicts an American revival on the global stage if Joe Biden wins the presidency. But at a time when the United States has never been more divided, can any nation, even the world's most powerful, be a global leader if it cannot even keep its own house in order? Ian Bremmer's conversation with Slaughter is part of a new episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy

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