Month: September 2020

The Redistribution Games

Life is not the Olympics, where talent and training determine an athlete’s performance. It’s more like a Roman arena in which well-armed gladiators vanquish unarmed victims who lose not because they did not try hard enough, but because of the asymmetrical initial distribution of armor.

The Olympic 100-meter final is about to begin. The crowd roars at the sound of the starting gun. The sprinters are off. But, after 30 meters, the frontrunners slow down, as if in solidarity with the laggards. They have not chosen to do so, but new rules set strict limits on the maximum distance separating the winner from the last-place finisher.

Conservative opponents of income and wealth redistribution have this kind of analogy in mind when they lament the “politics of envy.” They envision the rich as sprinters that do-gooders want to slow down by law and through punitive taxes.

But life is not the Olympics, where talent and training determine an athlete’s performance. It’s more like a Roman arena in which well-armed gladiators vanquish unarmed victims who lose not because they did not try hard enough, but because of the asymmetrical initial distribution of armor.

In the 1950s and 1960s, hard work and an innovative mind could perhaps be relied upon to lift people from poverty and propel them upward. But that was possible only because society imposed constraints on what the ultra-wealthy, bankers especially, were allowed to do with their money. Since those constraints were removed, with the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and the ensuing financialization of our economies, working long hours and showing immense flair may get one nowhere.

The problem facing most people, especially the young, is not that superstars like Warren Buffett are leaving them behind. It is that they are being held behind by stagnant investment and wages, owing to the simple fact that the wealthy get wealthier almost in their sleep, for reasons that have nothing to do with effort, entrepreneurship, or parsimony.

Even the great innovators are part of the problem. Jeff Bezos had foresight, revolutionized retail, and made a fortune. But what part of his $200 billion is a reward for his smart thinking and entrepreneurship? And what part of his current wealth is simply a function of his previous wealth?

While it is impossible to answer such a question precisely, the greatest proportion of the world’s wealth does not find its way to society’s innovators or maintainers. As wealth accumulates in few hands, the rest of the economy gradually becomes a desert.

This is not news. We have always known that exorbitant market power underpins exorbitant wealth, which then feeds back into even greater market power. And this is the crux of the matter: Nothing retards productivity and depresses employment as efficiently as exorbitant market power. To invoke the conservative analogy, not even the fastest runners can win when the wealth commandeered by the ultra-rich turns the track into sand for everyone else. That’s why the most soul-destroying poverty and the largest number of “deaths of despair” are observed in countries where wealth concentration is soaring.

What should we do about highly concentrated wealth? How do we redistribute it fairly and efficiently?

A wealth tax is much in vogue today. But no legally and politically feasible wealth tax can reduce substantially the current levels of crushing inequality. Moreover, it enables conservatives to cast doubt on wealth redistribution by asking pertinent questions: Should the state evict the poor heir of a good house if she can’t afford to pay the wealth tax? How do we price an asset, such as a stamp collection, without first auctioning it off?

Fortunately, there are proven ways to redistribute wealth without violating anyone’s rights or crossing ethical lines. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt famously broke up Standard Oil and other cartels despite a chorus of opposition bemoaning his attack on innovation and entrepreneurship. Following the 1929 Wall Street collapse, another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, faced the same chorus when he put the financial genie in a bottle. With these two moves, the Roosevelts effected a redistribution of wealth and power that nothing short of a revolution could accomplish.

Of course, the powerful find ways to shake off such shackles. After the Bretton Woods system collapsed in 1971, Wall Street and the cartels began to dominate again. Today, three megafirms, BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street, own at least 40% of all American public companies and nearly 90% of those listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Tacit collusion is rampant, because every CEO knows that the parent megafirm is likely to be talking to CEOs of rival companies that it also owns. The result is higher prices, less innovation, lower investment, and, naturally, stagnant wages.

Power was further concentrated after Wall Street imploded in 2008 and central banks began to pump rivers of money into the financial system. Levering up the central bank money, the gargantuan cartels used this liquidity to invent new forms of complex debt and to buy back their own shares, sending share prices (and, naturally, bonuses) into the stratosphere while starving the world of investment in quality jobs and green infrastructure.

Megafirms also indulged in another favorite pastime: usurping markets, buying politicians, and capturing regulators – in short, poisoning liberal democracy. By the time COVID-19 sent the real economy further into depression, the world of finance had decoupled fully from the real economy, turning capitalism into a type of techno-feudalism.

To end this regime, we must update the two Roosevelts’ interventions. Instead of wasting energy on an ineffective wealth tax, progressives should concentrate on a three-pronged strategy.

First, central bank money must be exclusively directed to support public investment in the green transition and other public goods. Second, corporations that monopolize large marketplaces of their own making – as, say, Amazon and Facebook have done – should be broken up. Lastly, a proportion of large corporations’ shares (perhaps 10%) should be deposited into a social equity fund to fund a universal basic dividend.

This combination of policies, drawing inspiration from antitrust and New Deal legislation of yesteryear, could revive the economy, revitalize democracy, and save the planet. If political economy were an Olympic event, the gold-medal favorite would be clear.

Remembering The Aftermath Of 9/11

I often write an article on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks reflecting on the impact that tragedy had on my country and my community. I believe that it is important we never forget how we felt on that day and the days that followed.

In a piece I wrote within days of the attack in 2001, I noted how Arab Americans were overcome by a flood of conflicting emotions. We were horrified by the devastation and enormous loss of life. We were shaken by stories of the innocents who lost their lives.  We were angry at the murderers who had committed these heinous acts. But within hours after the attacks, we were forced to experience fear and isolation when the backlash began — fear because we received threats, and isolation because we were pulled away from the collective grief we were sharing as Americans and forced to look over our shoulders to protect ourselves and families. We also ultimately came to feel gratitude as so many of our fellow citizens came to our defence and protected us. I don’t ever want us to forget all of these emotions. They not only define those days, they also tell an important story about America.

This year, I didn’t write a column about 9/11. Instead, I made do with a few tweets recalling the events and emotions of the day. I am now compelled to write because of the brazenly insensitive and cavalier comments about 9/11 posted by Paul Krugman, a respected Nobel prize-winning New York Times opinion columnist. In a series of tweets, Krugman wrote the following:

“Overall, Americans took 9/11 pretty calmly. Notably, there wasn’t a mass outbreak of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence, which all too easily happened. And while GW Bush was a terrible president, to his credit he tried to calm prejudice, not feed it.”

“Daily behaviour wasn’t drastically affected. True, for a while people were afraid to fly: My wife and I took a lovely trip to the US Virgin Islands a couple of months later, because air fares and hotel rooms were so cheap. But life returned to normal fairly fast.”

Krugman’s brazen dismissal of the painful aftermath of the attacks on the Arab and Muslim communities was so hurtful and offensive that I, and many others, felt obliged to respond. Instead of being chastened, the next day Krugman doubled down in yet another series of tweets still trying to make his case that the backlash wasn’t as severe as it might have been. He cherry-picked statistics in an effort to show how anti-Muslim hate crimes paled in comparison with anti-Black hate crimes.

Because of who he is and the potential impact of what he writes, I cannot let Krugman’s whitewashing of the post-9/11 period go unchallenged. Because we must never forget the damage done to my community and to our nation’s institutions by Bush administration policies, I need to set the record straight.

In the aftermath of the attacks, acts of hatred and death threats were frequent and frightening. My office logged 800 pieces of hate mail and phone messages in just the first few days following 9/11. Only a few hours after the planes hit the World Trade Centre, I received my first death threat. A caller to our office left a message stating, “Jim, you towel head, all Arabs must die. We will slit your throat and kill your children.”  It was the first of many. My daughter and a nephew also received threats, as did my brother John, whose office received two bomb threats. This was just what happened to my family.

My office began to receive reports from Arab Americans across the country of threats, harassment, and acts of discrimination. We researched, verified and documented each case. In testimony before the US Commission on Civil Rights, delivered one month after 9/11, I reported the threats of violence and actual acts of violence and harassment committed against my community and those who were perceived to be Arab or Muslim.

There were acts of violence against churches, mosques and Arab-owned businesses. Students were harassed, as were cab drivers and even Arab-looking shoppers. In fact, Arab and south Asian cab drivers in DC stopped working for weeks after several cases of harassment and violence by police and passengers. In all, we logged and reported hundreds of cases in just the first 30 days.

Equally serious were the hundreds of employment and housing discrimination cases that were reported to us. In numbers of instances people were fired and told that their fellow employees didn’t want “an Arab in the workplace”. We had to hire a specialist to assist these victims.

And when airline travel resumed, while the Krugmans were able to enjoy cheap flights to the Virgin Islands, Arab Americans were being subjected to cruel and indiscriminate subjective profiling. They were ordered off planes and denied the right to fly because other passengers claimed the presence of an Arab-looking person made them uncomfortable. Some cases were bizarre. An Arab American congressman was denied a seat on a flight, as was an Arab American secret service agent flying to Texas to join the president’s security detail.

But these cases tell only part of the story. While Krugman was correct to observe that president George W. Bush cautioned Americans against singling out Arabs and Muslims for blame, he fails to note the extent to which Bush’s Department of Justice (DOJ) implemented policies which did exactly that. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the DOJ launched a massive round-up of recent Arab and Muslim immigrants, many of whom were summarily deported. The tallies of those deported played out daily on the news creating fear in the community and arousing the suspicion in the general public that “they must be the problem”.

This was followed by two publicised “call-ins” in which thousands of Arabs and Muslims were contacted by mail and ordered to report for interviews with immigration officials. As a result, there was a very real fear that Arab and Muslim immigrants might be interned as Japanese Americans were during World War II.

We were, of course, spared from this fate because so many of our fellow citizens came to our defence, among the first being members of the Japanese American community. The Ad Council of America worked with us to produce newspaper and television ads warning against a backlash. The Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions defending us. Dozens of civil rights and ethnic organisations, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist religious leaders, and unions spoke out on our behalf. And law enforcement agencies offered us protection.

But as gratified as we were by this response, nothing can erase the lasting reminders of the fear and the hatred we experienced and the thousands of our fellow Arabs and Muslims whose lives were ruined or forever changed by violence, threats, discrimination, deportation, or just being made to feel alien in their own country.

As for Krugman’s statistics showing that the increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes was real was still significantly less than those against Blacks, all I can say is “nonsense”. In the first place, the FBI statistics he cited don’t include anti-Arab hate crimes. At the time, the government didn’t report them. Second, the firings, denial of housing, etc. aren’t considered hate crimes. Third, since the Black community is more than ten times larger than Arab Americans, using this comparison to minimise our pain is both ludicrous and hurtful. Fourth, statistics, of course, don’t include harassment by law enforcement, deportations, and other fear-inducing behaviours by government officials. And finally, since hate crimes needed to be reported to the very agencies that were causing wide-spread fear among the community, Arabs were often hesitant to report them.

So, Paul Krugman, before you write about this period, speak to us first. Maybe you don’t remember what it was like for us, we, on the other hand, can’t ever forget.

In A Historic Wildfire Season, It’s Time To Follow The Lead Of Young Campaigners

The numbers shock, of course: these past weeks, West Coast fires have burned an area the size of New Jersey. The smoke has thickened the air to the point where the pollution is literally off the E.P.A.’s existing charts. Five of the ten largest fires in California history are currently burning. But it’s the color that I think will linger in our minds—the orange not of flames but of the shroud of particulates and fog, which tints San Francisco an eerie mango and turns the glorious Yosemite views that Ansel Adams imprinted on our brains into something haunted and grim.

In that terrifying glow, what do we do? One answer might be: give up. These fires are an illustration of the power that we’ve already unleashed; there is no question that they represent a new baseline and that, as the climate scientist Peter Kalmus and the fire ecologist Natasha Stavros explain in the Los Angeles Times, they’re going to get worse. Unless, as President Trump blithely observed on Monday afternoon, to California’s secretary for natural resources, “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch.” (Trump added, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”) And the blazes along the blue Pacific are probably not even the most dangerous burning on the planet right now: an article in Nature this week makes it clear that the vast Siberian fires are burning into the Arctic peatlands, which hold truly massive stores of carbon, threatening to set off a large-scale feedback loop.

But giving up is generational aggression: it consigns the planet’s young people (and all future generations) to an ever-grimmer planet. And that would be wrong, because there’s still much that we can do—if not to prevent global warming then to prevent it from getting so bad that civilizations like the ones we’ve known are no longer an option. So this is the moment—maybe the last moment—to pay full attention to what young people are telling us. It’s been a couple of weeks now since Ed Markey came back from seventeen points down to crush Joseph Kennedy III in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary, but it’s worth looking back at that race. That huge swing resulted almost entirely, I think, from young people adopting the seventy-four-year-old Markey as one of their own. First, it was the Sunrise Movement, the post-college climate champions who brought us the Green New Deal and are now emerging as a potent political force. Then came Students for Markey, Ed’s Reply Guys, and the “Markeyverse.” Many were too young to vote, but they could meme: soon Markey was way cooler than Kennedy, which is amazing, since, as Marshall McLuhan once noted, Kennedy’s great-uncle was the coolest politician America ever saw. And Markey’s coolness was rooted mostly in his support for climate action.

It’s crucial that young people vote this time around—groups like NextGen America are mobilizing campuses like never before. But it’s probably even more crucial that young people persuade some percentage of their parents and grandparents to vote differently. Young people overwhelmingly favor Joe Biden, so they’re in the perfect position to create a permission structure that allows their elders to act in a way they otherwise might not. If you’re undecided, why not do what the kids want? In a country where most Americans sense that things are going very wrong, a strong nudge from young people may be what it takes to convince some older ones to break long-held political habits. In 2008, Sarah Silverman asked young people to schlep to Florida to make sure that their grandparents voted for Barack Obama. Travel’s less likely this fall, but even those of us with gray hair have Zoom pretty much down at this point.

And, of course, it helps this effort each time Biden sharpens his message around climate and race, the issues of deepest concern to the next generation—or at least when he makes clear that he intends to put people with sharp minds and sharp messages to work in his Administration. It’s noteworthy that these young activists coalesced around Bernie Sanders or Markey, and not around Pete Buttigieg or Kennedy, even though Pete and Joe were explicitly running on the need to pass the torch to a new generation. The authenticity of Sanders’s or Markey’s politics trumps their chronological age. If everything’s on fire, thank heaven, at least, that wonky honesty is cool.

Passing the Mic

Jennifer Francis, who works at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, in Falmouth, Massachusetts, has done pioneering work on one of the crucial questions of our time: What happens to the rest of the world as the result of the rapid melting of the Arctic? As a young woman, she circumnavigated the planet by sailboat, which may help explain her almost uncanny feel for the way that the earth’s forces connect. (It also persuaded her to shift her career plans away from dentistry.)

The Arctic has changed faster than anywhere on earth, but the Arctic is a long way away from me, so why should I care?

The monumental changes under way in the Arctic affect us all. Not only is it warming rapidly there but all three forms of what used to be called “permanent ice” are disappearing: sea ice (frozen ocean water), land ice (glaciers and ice sheets), and permafrost (frozen soils). In only the past forty years, about half of the sea-ice coverage during summer and three-fourths of the sea-ice volume have vanished. White ice and snow reflect most of the sun’s energy, so losing this much ice means that the earth now absorbs more sunshine. This extra heat has made global warming twenty-five- to forty-per-cent worse than it would be otherwise. That extra heat melts more ice, which exposes more dark ocean, which absorbs more sunshine, creating a vicious cycle that causes further warming and melting. Land ice is also melting ever faster, accelerating the pace of sea-level rise. And permafrost is thawing deeper and farther north, which activates microbes that devour ancient organic matter trapped in the soil, releasing more heat-trapping carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere: another vicious cycle.

Are the effects of that melt settling in as a new weather regime, or should we expect ongoing big change?

In addition to accelerating sea-level rise and permafrost thaw, rapid Arctic warming is disrupting weather patterns all around the Northern Hemisphere, where billions of people live. The connection is through the jet stream, a fast river of wind that encircles the mid-latitudes at high altitudes where jets fly. The jet stream exists because of the difference in temperature between the cold Arctic and the warmer areas farther south: when the difference is large, the jet is strong and blows relatively straight from west to east. As the Arctic warms faster than elsewhere, the north-south temperature difference decreases, causing the jet winds to weaken. A weaker jet stream is more easily deflected from its eastward path by mountain ranges and other obstacles, and instead takes large swings north and south more often. Those larger waves mean that warm air can penetrate farther north, and frigid air farther south. Those large jet waves also tend to linger in place, causing weather conditions in a particular location to stagnate and cause droughts, flooding, and prolonged heat waves and cold spells. As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate, and the Arctic continues to melt rapidly, persistent and extraordinary weather regimes will become ever more ordinary.

Are there other physical features of the earth that might exert the same kind of leverage as they change?

Many changes to the climate system are occurring simultaneously, so for any ?particular extreme-weather event, it is difficult to point a finger at just one factor. The jet stream and weather regimes are affected by many of these changes. Some examples: the tropics are expanding, which is pushing jet streams toward the poles. This factor is largely responsible for drought, heat waves, and increased wildfires in Australia and other regions in the Southern Hemisphere. Another issue is that warmer ocean waters are extending the length of hurricane seasons, allowing tropical storms to travel farther northward, where they are more likely to interact with the jet stream and disrupt it. And upper levels of the tropical atmosphere are expected to warm disproportionately, which may oppose the effects of rapid Arctic warming. (Climate models project this to happen, but so far it has not been observed in the real world.)

Climate School

An important paper from the Australian economist Steve Keen lays out in unsparing terms one of the main reasons that the world responded so slowly to climate warnings from scientists: the neoclassical economists who calculated the economic impact of global warming got it disastrously wrong, in part because they assumed “that about 90% of GDP will be unaffected by climate change, because it happens indoors.” This, if you think about it for more than a few seconds, is an unwise assumption. As a result of our poor response to the environmental threat, the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission warned last week that “a world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system.”

Secret recordings obtained by the Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi show that gas and oil execs have not been telling the truth when they say that they’re working hard to rein in methane emissions. Also, they still think a lot about “hippies.”

In an effort to lessen partisan divide over climate change, the team at Protect Our Winters launched a new movie on Tuesday starring the professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones. “Purple Mountains” (a great title) argues that perhaps love of the outdoors will be enough to bring us together.

For years, enviros have called on institutions to “cut ties” with the fossil-fuel industry. Some Australian campaigners have taken that rallying cry literally (though, with the current vogue for pandemic-casual, it’s not clear how many men are still wearing cravats).


A new study finds that, worldwide, wild-animal populations have dropped sixty-eight per cent since 1970, a statistic so depressing that one hardly knows how to process it. As a researcher said, “It seems that we’ve spent 10 to 20 years talking about these declines and not really managed to do anything about it. It frustrates me and upsets me. We sit at our desks and compile these statistics but they have real-life implications. It’s really hard to communicate how dramatic some of these declines are.”

A major energy forecaster, the Norwegian firm DNV GL, has predicted that 2019 may have seen peak oil demand, with the pandemic speeding up that process by almost a decade. Kingsmill Bond, of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, made the same call earlier in the year. If true, the most important effect will be the continued political weakening of the oil companies, and, hence, of their ability to defeat new climate measures.

Even though the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has railed against climate deniers, the Associated Press reports that new statistics show he has approved a hundred and ninety per cent more oil and gas drilling permits in the first six months of 2020 than he did in his first six months in office. If, in a rich state beset by years of drought and fire, he’s not willing to stand up to the oil industry, it’s a little hard to imagine why he expects other political leaders to do so.

Red And Blue America Took Different Roads. Here’s How To Bring Them Together

America has been coming apart at the seams, with Democrats and Republicans increasingly unable of communicating with one another. Red states and blue states, as decided in the 2016 election, have confronted each other in incomprehension, and are leading very different lives with very different economic conditions. Reuniting America requires a forward-looking path of sustainable development that benefits all regions, including the states that have been hard hit by the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs.

The geographical divide pitting the blue ocean coasts against the red interior is partly culture, to be sure. Social liberals are heavily concentrated on the coasts, while social conservatives, especially White Evangelical Protestants, are heavily concentrated in the South and Midwest. Yet the blue-red divide has a crucial socioeconomic dimension as well.

Though Democrats had been considered the party of the working class since the New Deal, they carried the richest counties and lost in many of the poorest in 2016. Understanding that fact is key not only for the Democrats to retake the White House but for the country as a whole to reunite in a common purpose. As candidate, Joe Biden seems to be conveying the right messages.

Democrats have become the party of social progressives, African Americans and other minorities, environmentalists, and younger voters, as well as the party of those with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Republicans, meanwhile, became the party of social conservatives, especially Evangelicals, and increasingly of White working-class and older voters.

Rapid technological changes have pulled blue and red states apart economically, notably most advanced in the blue states. Democratic Party strongholds on the two coasts are heavily oriented towards the high-tech service sectors, while staunch Republican Party regions in the interior are heavily concentrated in the goods sectors, such as manufacturing and fossil fuels.

The economies driving blue states are based heavily on professional sectors that draw on a workforce with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Meanwhile, the goods-producing sectors of red states, including agriculture and forestry, mining, construction, and manufacturing, draw on a workforce with much lower rates of college completion.

When comparing election outcomes with data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Clinton carried 17 of the 20 states with relatively large service sectors, while Trump carried 27 of the 30 states with relatively large goods sectors. The 15 states with the highest proportion of employment in mining, logging, construction, and manufacturing all went for Trump, while 9 of the 10 states with the lowest proportion of workers in goods-producing sectors went for Clinton. Clinton carried the states with high-tech services. All 15 states with the highest proportion of adults with advanced degrees (post-Bachelor’s) went for Clinton, while 24 of the 25 states with the lowest proportion of advanced degrees went for Trump.

Thirteen of the 15 richest states (ranked by median household income) voted for Clinton, while 22 of the poorest 25 states voted for Trump. These high incomes reflect the earnings of the high-tech professional sectors.

In 1979, employment in manufacturing peaked at 19 million jobs, but declined to around 12 million by the time of the 2016 election. By 2016, many industrial workers felt that the Democrats were no longer representing their interests.

Trump swooped in on these states during his first campaign to wrest many of them from Democrats, charging them with ignoring their job plight. He claimed that the jobs had been lost to China, Mexico, and immigrants, and that he would restore the jobs through protectionism and anti-immigrant policies. These arguments were grossly exaggerated and ignored the forces of automation, which has led to an increase in output of goods despite fewer workers, thanks to robotics and other technological advances.

Voters in red states that both produce and use fossil fuels more heavily have been wary of plans to decarbonize the economy. Trump prevailed with an aggressive though utterly false and blatantly racist narrative. He told red-state voters that China and Mexico had stolen their jobs and that he would return them. He blamed immigrants for  many of the red-state ills. He promised to resurrect the red-states’ fossil-fuel industries.

In fact, Trump’s remedies have been so much hocus-pocus. The number of those employed in manufacturing in 2019 remained well below 2008 numbers. The number of manufacturing jobs in August 2020 was 247,000 less than at the start of his term in January 2017. He did not and could not bring jobs back from China since most of the job decline in industry reflected automation not trade, and since even jobs squeezed out of China by US tariffs will simply shift jobs to Vietnam or other low-income but highly productive countries.

Moreover, Trump has not and could not resurrect the coal, oil and gas industries. His promises to do so are recklessly blind to the world’s shift away from fossil fuels and towards green energy due both to the climate crisis and also to falling costs of renewables. Jobs in mining and oil and gas extraction are down by 30,000 since Trump took office and will fall further as America’s declining and money-losing fossil-fuel production is replaced by wind and solar power. The S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production stock index is down 51.5% over the past year, while the Clean Energy S&P is up 50.7% over the same period.

Trump did not and could not create decent red-state jobs by clamping down on immigration, since immigrants were never the cause of red-state job woes to begin with.

He also promised a boom in construction jobs building new infrastructure across the US, but he failed to do so, as he lacked any serious vision of what the country needs.

Democrats now have the opportunity to reunite the nation by creating jobs across all regions. They should offer an industrial plan to build the next generation of electric vehicles, smart grids, advanced batteries, and green fuels (such as hydrogen produced with renewable energy) — all of which would create new jobs throughout the industrial heartland.

The Democrats can win over the natural-resource states by playing to their great strengths: massive low-cost renewable energy (especially wind and solar power) and new mining resources for advanced batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and other parts of the new industrial economy.

The Democrats should also lead on the long-delayed modernization of infrastructure: interstate transmission lines to carry renewable energy; buildings retrofitted for electrification and energy efficiency; charging stations and other facilities for electric vehicles; transmission pipelines for hydrogen and other green fuels; and a 5G network for advanced digital services.

In sum, the path to sustainable investment is the path to a reunified America, with all parts of the nation contributing to the nation’s recovery.

The Armageddon Election

During the weeks of uncertainty that followed the 2000 presidential election, as the tension grew amongst supporters of George W. Bush and Al Gore, my brother John Zogby conducted a poll to see how Democrats and Republicans were viewing the contested vote. Responses to one question, in particular, caught our attention.

John asked Republican voters if they would view Gore as a legitimate president should he be declared the victor. The reverse was asked of Democratic voters. The answers were disconcerting. Twenty-one percent of Democrats said they would not see Bush as legitimate. More disturbing were the 67 percent of Republicans who said they would not see Al Gore as a legitimate president.

That year, John coined the now often used term “Armageddon election” to describe feelings of both sides as they considered the consequences of that presidential contest. When we were discussing this last week, John joked that we have dredged up Armageddon to describe every election since 2000. While all of those contests have been both critically important and deeply fractious, there can be no doubt that the 2020 matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is the real Armageddon election of our lifetime.

With every passing day it becomes clearer that we are in for a long and rocky ride between now and November. More troubling than the difficulties we will encounter along the way is what may occur after election day. There is legitimate fear that our very democracy, already compromised by hyper-partisanship, may be at risk.

More than just belonging to two opposing parties, we have become two countries comprised of distinct constituencies, each of whom see the world with radically different eyes. Polls show this divide not only on issues like race, gender equality, immigration, and the role of government. The differences are more fundamental with two wildly divergent views of the very idea of America, its history and its future. At times it feels as though the two camps are not only seeing different realities, but speaking different languages.

This is not merely a partisan divide. It is demographic. One side is dominated by older White voters, a disproportionately large number of whom are “born again” fundamentalist Christians. They are also more male and more rural. The other is largely comprised of more educated and urban voters, young people, and Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

One side sees promise in recapturing the lost glory of a romanticised past, and, feeling threatened by the “foreignness” of newcomers, seeks to deny entry to those who are seen as “different”. The other thrives on America’s diversity, feels comforted by the notion of integration, and is unafraid of change.

These two distinct worldviews were on display at last month’s Democratic and Republican conventions. Both parties used their week-long “made for television” infomercials to define America as they saw it and to project the America they hoped to create. Both also made crystal clear the dangerous consequences that would result if the other side were to win.

As described by Fintan O’Toole, in a brilliant New York Review of Books piece, the Democratic convention portrayed the stark choice in this election as an “existential struggle” between good and evil, light and darkness, between ending the racial divide, bringing about economic justice, celebrating diversity and creating a sense of common purpose, or exacerbating social tension and division, and sinking deeper into the muck of hatred, anger and chaos.

The choices for Republicans were equally existential. They were spelled out by Donald Trump Jr. when he described this election as being between “church, work, and school” and “rioting, looting, and vandalism. In this Republican view, Democrats are portrayed as being captive of extremist socialist forces, manipulated by people in the dark shadows”, seeking to promote social unrest, weaken police forces, and destroy the middle-class “life-style,” by building housing in White suburbs for poorer people of colour.

For Republicans, victory is seen as necessary to save White America, its culture, values and way of life. And the slogan “Make America Great Again” is understood not so much a vision of the future as it is a last ditch effort to salvage the lost glory of a fictional past.

For Democrats, victory is seen as essential to protect America from incivility, racial hatred, and a dangerous drift towards authoritarian rule.

So for both sides, the stakes are not only high, they are polar opposites. It is if they are saying “should the other side win, all is lost”, it will be “the end of the world” or Armageddon.

More ominous still, President Trump has used Twitter to promote conspiracy theories about dark, shadowy wealthy people working to undermine his presidency and the country. In a recent interview, he declared, without evidence, that he had heard reports of a plane-load of men in dark uniforms, whom he described as “looters, anarchists, rioters…looking to cause trouble”. And, he has taken to retweeting or paraphrasing conspiracy-oriented messages from QAnon, the cult-like group which originated the “Pizzagate” conspiracy that a Washington pizza restaurant was serving a front for a child sex-slave operation run by the Clintons.

As worrisome, are the president’s increasingly frequent charges that this election will be marred by voter fraud. He has repeatedly claimed that the only way he can lose is if the vote were “rigged” against him. A recent poll shows that already one-third of both Democrats and Republicans are expressing serious concern about the legitimacy of the vote. And he has suggested that in the case of a rigged election his supporters may need to rise up to defend themselves and his presidency from the looters, rioters, and chaos-makers seeking to unravel our country.

In the past few months, we have seen signs of where this might take us. When several states announced strict measures to control the spread of the novel Coronavirus, Trump urged his supporters to storm state capitols to defend their freedom against “lockdowns”. Because he added “defend the Second Amendment”, some demonstrators came armed with semi-automatic weapons of war.

In mid-summer, there was a national mobilisation of mostly peaceful protests against the all-too-frequent police shootings of Black Americans. In some cities, these demonstrations devolved into sporadic violent looting and vandalism. Sometimes these incidents were spontaneous, in other cases they appeared to be egged on by left- or right-wing extremists, seeking to create further unrest. This played into the president’s hands. He defended the police and derided the Democratic city and state officials whom he described as “weak”. Once again, we witnessed the appearance of armed White counter-protesters and we heard the president embrace these paramilitary elements as “Great Patriots”.

In response to the violence, Biden issued a balanced denunciation saying, “I want a safe America. Safe from Covid, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops…safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

For its part, the Trump campaign said, “No one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America…[He will] surrender America and its citizens to the violent left-wing mob…and abolish the American Way of Life.”

All of this serving as evidence of a deeper and more dangerous polarisation in American society.

After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him, we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime.