The America that awaits the next president

Art by Gabriella Turrisi

We don't have a winner. At this hour (7:30am Wednesday), we don't yet know who will win the US presidential election, or which party will hold majority control of the next Senate. The result in a number of crucial states remains very much in doubt. It might take days for a final result, and lawyers for President Trump are already contesting the outcome in court.

So, we'll focus this morning on what we know. The next US president, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, will lead a nation with some big challenges, but also some important advantages.


American democracy has suffered damage in recent years. The country remains deeply polarized. A narrow-margin presidential outcome and President Trump's unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud and demand for a halt to the vote count certainly won't change that. There's been a sharp deterioration in US public confidence in political leaders, lawmakers, and the media. Partisan responses to the pandemic have undermined faith in public health officials and expert institutions like the Centers for Disease Control.

The police murder of a Black man in May has further poisoned the attitudes of many citizens toward law enforcement, and the protests and violence that followed have heightened racial tensions and raised questions about the proper role of federal law enforcement — and even the military. The election has raised partisan doubts about the court system, including the integrity of vote-counting.

None of this is entirely new. Those of us old enough to remember Vietnam, Watergate, and the scandals of the Clinton presidency have seen public cynicism and political anger before. Many Americans on the right have mistrusted the media for decades, and many on the left have long vented anger about police. But the "filter bubble" in which both conservative and liberal Americans get their own sets of news and information about the world has sharply exacerbated conflicting views of American life. And today, unlike in the past, there are almost no domestic political issues on which Democrats and Republicans find common ground.

Still, as a global player, the United States enjoys big and lasting advantages. It remains the sole global superpower, the one country that can project political, economic, and military power into every region of the world. Energy production innovations over the past decade have made it the world's top oil producer. The US is the world's number one food exporter and ranks third in the world, behind Singapore and Ireland, for "food security."

The dollar's continued dominance as the world's lead reserve currency allows the US to borrow and spend like no other country. Most of the world's lead information technology companies are American, and the US is home to most of the startups that will drive innovation in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles, and other cutting-edge technologies.

But the health of a democracy depends on public confidence in the political system and its institutions. The next president and Congress will have to do more than manage the next wave of the pandemic, help put Americans back to work, handle increasingly complex relations with China, promote greater equality of opportunity, and prepare the country to face future crises from unexpected directions. They'll also need to take actions that somehow persuade more Americans on the left and right that they live in the same country, and have more in common than they realize.

This morning, that hope looks more distant than it did 24 hours ago.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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Listen: A deep dive down the bottle to examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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