THE BLOG
07/29/2016 05:10 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2017

Weekend Roundup: This Election Is About Defining America

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Most presidential elections in America have been contests over different policy solutions and approaches but rooted in a commonly agreed reality. This time around, as the back-to-back Republican and Democratic conventions have demonstrated, the dispute is over what constitutes reality itself. More than anything else, this election is about defining what America is.

Nominating conclaves used to be mainly about gritty political tradeoffs among factions in order to reach consensus on a candidate. These conventions were Hollywood-style orchestrations, replete with celebrity testimonials and musical performances, aimed at convincing the larger public of which reality to believe. Donald Trump and company argue we should be afraid, very afraid, because de-nationalized cosmopolitan elites have lost the will to protect the safety and economic well-being of Americans in a dangerous and ruthlessly competitive world. Climate change, which they recklessly deny, doesn't make their list of concerns.

Hillary Clinton and company argue that President Obama has set America on the right course, disengaging from a war footing and celebrating diversity as the nation's greatest strength. For them, the real danger is not Trump's Mexicans or Muslims but intolerant and divisive nativism. And for the Democrats, in the end it is the chastised establishment insiders, not disenchanted outsiders, who are the most competent to implement incremental change that will reduce inequality and curb the inordinate influence of the one percent.

The contest over defining who we are seems to have come about for two reasons. First, the consciousness of most Americans now dwells in media silos that are echo chambers of their own worldview and not objective platforms that establish a common grasp of the facts. Second, America, like the rest of the world, is in the midst of a Great Transformation in which the established institutions that sustained stability and progress for decades are ill suited to face the social upheaval of rapid technological change and globalization that is creating new classes of winners and losers. Caught in the purgatory of no longer and not yet, a clear path to salvation eludes the unsettled body politic.

The left-populist filmmaker Michael Moore lays out several reasons he is convinced that Trump will win the presidency. As Moore sees it, the Republican candidate will triumph in the key economically depressed Midwestern states, an outcome he calls America's "Rust Belt Brexit." Further, white men full of resentment at being left behind in an ever more diverse society will vote in Trump's favor. Hillary is just too unpopular among the general public, says Moore, while the reluctant stance of disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters will translate into a weak showing for her at the polls. Lastly, Moore expects the mischievous "Jesse Ventura effect" of voters who want to upset the applecart "to make Mommy and Daddy mad."

An even more bizarre overlay in this year's election is the apparent strongman sympathies between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, compounded by the "high confidence" judgment of American intelligence that the Russian government hacked into the Democratic National Committee emails.

Writing from Moscow, Anastasya Manuilova says that while it is "not implausible to say that such government-backed hackers do exist" in Russia, most of her colleagues at the Kommersant newspaper found the allegations "too far-fetched" or lacking enough proof to make such an elaborate scheme believable.

Russian chess champion and thorn in Putin's side, Garry Kasparov, is not surprised by alleged Russian meddling in American politics on behalf of "the extraordinarily disruptive and unpredictable" Trump. "Putin wants to stoke chaos and discord in the West," he writes.

Writing from Armenia, Armine Sahakyan says she is "convinced that not just Putin but also every other dictator in the former Soviet Union would love a Trump presidency. That way the United States would stop harping on their corruption, human rights abuses and other shortcomings -- and let them kill and imprison political opponents and subjugate neighbors with impunity."

Continuing terrorist attacks in Europe, including the brutal throat slitting of an elderly Catholic priest in France by terrorists who claimed allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, are leading to a more urgent reverberation of the divisive American debate. Writing from Paris, Frederic Sicard argues against the state of emergency declared by President Francois Hollande. "Faced with barbarity, can't our democracies choose not to seek safety only by sacrificing the very foundations of our society of law and freedom?" he asks. "By muting our deepest aspirations, are we not playing into the hands of terrorism?"

Writing from Germany, Roland Tichy reflects on the recent string of terror acts in his country. "The stark political divisions on display in the U.S.," he says, "now appear in Germany as well. Germany is becoming more colorful, thus becoming more American: It is also growing more violent in its hostilities, more unforgiving. This divide will increase along the ethnic and social fault lines."

As a pervasive sense of insecurity spreads across Europe, it is also about to be hit with a new financial crisis over Italy's insolvent banks. Despite EU rules against bailouts, Steve Hanke argues that "an Italian state rescue" is the most sensible way to recapitalize the troubled banks. Europe's tough and powerful commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, lays out why and how markets must work for citizens.

Wikileaks is not only roiling the U.S. election through the release of internal DNC emails. It also helped publicize the so-called "Erodgan emails" in the wake of the recent coup attempt in Turkey. Zeynep Tufekci slams Wikileaks and the hackers behind the data dump for irresponsibly publicizing documents that shed no light on the regime but which instead included the identities, addresses and contact details of women who belong to the ruling Justice and Development Party. "Their addresses are out there for every stalker, ex-partner, disapproving relative or random crazy to peruse as they wish," she writes. As a result of our post, the uploaded files to which Wikileaks linked have been removed.

James Dorsey scores the anti-Gulenist purge underway in Turkey as strengthening militants and jihadists in Pakistan as the Turkish government demands the closure of the "PakTurkey" schools run by Gulenists there that teach science and moderation instead of extremism. In an interview, sociologist Joshua Hendrik explains what we need to know about Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet ("service") organization over which he presides. WorldPost correspondent Sophia Jones reports from Istanbul on a major demonstration this week by opposition groups to show solidarity against the recent coup from across the political spectrum.

As the Olympics are about to get underway in Brazil, Yale's Joseph Lewnard contends that the fear of the Zika virus spreading as a result of large numbers of people gathering at the Games is highly exaggerated.

Criminologist John Carl takes a critical look at the prison system in America, which has the world's largest incarcerated population per capita, tracing its origins to the unforgiving Puritan culture from which it was born.

Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden examine China's growing military presence in Africa, ranging from greater engagement in United Nations peacekeeping missions to anti-piracy patrols to its nearly completed navy outpost in Djibouti.

This interactive world map reshapes countries and continents if we look at the factor of wealth instead of geography and population.

Our Singularity series this week looks at a new bio-robot shaped like a stingray and made of heart cells that can be controlled by light.

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