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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.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely available in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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