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What We're Watching: A nail-biter for the Senate, the losers' future, Trump's baseless claims

People stand next to a screen displaying a U.S. flag in Times Square during the 2020 U.S. presidential election in New York City, New York, U.S. November 4, 2020.

Control of the US Senate: For months, the Democrats expressed cautious optimism about retaking the Senate, which they will need in order to pass key legislation on healthcare, immigration, and climate change. A strong show in the Senate races would also give Democrats a good chance of regaining full control of the federal government — the House of Representatives, Senate, and the presidency — for the first time in a decade. While the Democrats picked up a coveted seat in the battleground state of Arizona, results remain in flux in closely watched races in Georgia, North Carolina, and Maine. Meanwhile, Democratic losses in Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas mean that even if they do squeak out control of the Senate for the first time since 2014, it will be with an extremely slim majority. This means that even if Joe Biden does win the presidency, he will have a hard time getting his legislative agenda through a Senate with a heavy Republican presence. At the time of this writing, Republicans and Democrats are at 47 seats a piece, with six spots still up in the air. More results will trickle out in the hours and days ahead, but either way, it's clear that the US Senate race did not amount to the "blue wave" (53 seats) that Democrats had been hoping for.

The future of the losing party: The losing party in the US election always faces a bit of an existential reckoning about what it did wrong and how to become more competitive next time around. How might that look this year? The stakes don't seem equal. Even if Trump loses by a hair, his better-than-expected performance shows that his brand of conservative populist nationalism is very popular — he is on track to get more popular votes than in 2016 — and it will continue to exercise broad influence over Republican politics, with 2024 hopefuls such as senators Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley, and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley waiting for Trump's blessing to throw their hats in the ring. On the other hand, a shock Biden defeat will be crushing for the Democrats, who will have failed to unseat the president despite having spent four years training their fire on his erratic and divisive leadership, and more recently his mismanagement of the pandemic. The Dems are already increasingly split between centrist moderates and the activist progressive wing of the party. Given the realities of the electoral college, which forces Democrats to win votes in several large battleground states, will they double down on centrism but with a stronger candidate, or will they opt for a progressive populist who can dent some of Trump's appeal among working-class voters and turn out a large base of their own (like many believe Bernie Sanders could have done)? Either way, if Biden loses the Democratic Party is in for some major existential angst.

What We're Ignoring:

Trump's "victory" speech: With some incomplete battleground results going his way, President Trump broke US election night tradition by prematurely and unilaterally declaring victory and calling for "all voting to stop." He claimed wins in Georgia and North Carolina while millions of votes are still being counted there, and said that he's "on track" to win Pennsylvania even though the Keystone State's final tally may not be known until Friday. He also claimed, without evidence, that many of his voters had been disenfranchised, and vowed to take any contested result all the way to the Supreme Court, where after the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett conservatives now hold an ample 6-3 majority. We're ignoring Trump's speech because there is no legal basis for the Supreme Court to stop counting votes that were already cast according to the rules set by each state (which even his buddy, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, recognized when criticizing Trump's move).

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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