The Next American Outsider

The Next American Outsider

In the past three years, voters in the United States, France, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, and Pakistan have swept aside familiar candidates to elevate outsiders who promise to upend their countries' politics. As more and more Democrats announce plans to take on Donald Trump in 2020, who might fit the bill as the next American outsider?

Meet Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Given the difficulties many have in pronouncing his family name—Buttigieg says it's pronounced Boot-edge-edge—supporters have taken to calling him "Mayor Pete."

Can he emerge from an increasingly crowded field of Democratic candidates? Both his poll numbers and the number of people donating to his campaign are on the rise. Last week, CNN called him the "hottest candidate in the 2020 race right now." This week, veteran election analyst Nate Silver profiled what he calls the "Buttigieg bump."

Who is this guy?

Buttigieg holds some positions considered standard for Democrats: He's one of more than 400 US mayors who signed a pact pledging to abide by the rules of the Paris climate accord after Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2017. He supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. He proposes a health care system based on expansion of Medicare—though without eliminating private insurance companies.

He shares a few opinions with Donald Trump: He blames the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for job losses in midwestern states and says the US should withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

But they also have important differences: A former Rhodes Scholar who speaks multiple languages, he's as cerebral as Trump is anti-intellectual and as soft-spoken and outwardly modest as Trump is brash and aggressive.

Another difference: He has served in the military. His opinion of the war in Afghanistan is based on seven-months service there as a naval intelligence officer. If elected, he'd be the first US president to have served in any foreign war that began after World War II and the first veteran in the White House since George H. W. Bush left office in January 1993.

But there are also factors that make Mayor Pete a highly unusual presidential candidate:

  • He's 37 years old. If he won in 2020, he'd become the youngest person ever to serve as US president.
  • His political experience is limited to two terms as mayor of a town of 102,000 people.
  • He would be the first openly gay US president.

It'll be months before we learn whether Mayor Pete has staying power, but the attention he's now getting reminds us yet again that voters are drawn to candidates who appear to represent ground-breaking change.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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