Welcome to Thursday, where Israel announces a 3rd national lockdown, a Brexit deal looks imminent, and we've got the price for zooming with Santa in Lapland. We also look at the effects the pandemic is having on the gig economy.
SPOTLIGHT: JOE BIDEN'S REAL CHALLENGE: MOVING BEYOND ANTI-TRUMPISM
President-elect Joe Biden's ample support base is fluid and can melt away, if his administration ignores the social and political grievances that led millions to vote for Donald Trump, writes Federico Finchelstein in Buenos Aires-based daily Clarin:
U.S. President-Elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will face immense, and in many ways unprecedented challenges, upon taking office on Jan. 20. Future historians will have much to say on how "Trumpism" or radical right-wing views espoused by the outgoing President Donald J. Trump, took populism close to fascism and dictatorship. But history will also record how, after one term, he was rejected on Nov. 3. A record number of Americans — more than 81 million — voted for Biden, united by their opposition to Trump and his ideas.
As the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges said, it wasn't love that brought them together but fears. The question concerning the United States now, and in the future for countries like Brazil and Hungary is: Can you engage in politics merely on the basis of fear of what has already happened?
On the one hand, Biden is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. On the other, he must solve a political crisis, which actually can point to some precedents.
How should he rebuild democracy and generate genuine support among those who voted for him simply for not being Trump? Biden will need to be more than just honest, or not racist or discriminatory. It will not be enough for him to merely avoid scandalizing the public or manipulating and demonizing the media.
Biden needs to widen democracy, and improve living conditions, healthcare and education in order to represent his voters and avoid the inertia of the past.
In many cases, anti-Trumpism warned of the dictatorial dangers and risk of fascism inherent in the president's style of leadership. But critics often presented an alternative myth: that of historical exceptionality. This was the idea of a normality before Trump that was not in fact entirely "normal." As the case of Marine le Pen's repeated candidacies in France shows, a "barrier" is not enough to keep long-term votes and support from gathering.
The pre-Trump period had its share of problems: elitism, technocratic predominance, aggressive police tactics, stock market and banking deregulation, President Barack Obama's inaction — or at times regressive measures — regarding immigrants, lack of gun control legislation, massive incarceration rates for ethnic minorities and restrictions on public education and healthcare that, alongside other issues, distanced many voters from the Democratic Party.
Should it view the Trump presidency as an interlude, the Biden administration will see its large support shrivel — as it will without proper judicial investigations into possible criminal actions by the outgoing president.
With foreign policy and U.S. relations with democratic and authoritarian leaders, one can expect a rapprochement with the European Union — but what will happen to Trump's global accomplices? Which policy will it adopt toward the tropical Trump that is Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil? How will it act with the Nicolas Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela or the Saudi kingdom?
Doing nothing is not a viable option, though it is always possible Trump will stick around in politics as a useful reminder to citizens of the failures of his administration. In any case. Trump may allow Biden a few months of complacency and inaction.
That Trump, and to a lesser extent the Republican Party, are currently rejecting the democratic results of an election should be a warning against urgently declaring the last four years an exceptional event in an otherwise healthy democracy. American democracy must be improved and widened in social, economic and political terms.
After the end of the Latin American dictatorships of the Cold War, as happened in Europe with the fall of fascist states in 1945, many eminent intellectuals espoused the same, misplaced optimism. They were naive because authoritarianism and xenophobia persisted on both sides of the Atlantic after those periods.
Considering fascism and authoritarian populism as aberrations rather than expressions of strong, local and global trends, can impede the work of democratic reconstruction needed to uproot them.
There are patterns of continuity in U.S. history, as in any history, and change as well. We must record our histories and both the friends and enemies of democracy, if we want to defend it and improve it for the future.
— Federico Finchelstein / Clarin
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Brexit deal expected today: Following months of negotiations, an announcement of a Brexit trade deal is reportedly imminent after UK and EU negotiating teams worked through the night in Brussels to finalize the last details of the agreement.
• COVID-19 latest: Japan registers another daily record in the number of cases for the ninth consecutive day with more than 3,200 new infections, while in the United States, California surpasses 2 million cases, doubling its total in less than six weeks. Israel announces a third national lockdown for 14 days to fight rising infections.
• More Trump pardons: U.S. President Donald Trump announced 26 pardons, including for his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime confidante Roger Stone, both convicted of crimes relating to the Mueller investigation. He also granted a pardon to Charles Kushner, the father of his son-his-law Jared, who was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and witness tampering.
• Massacre in Ethiopia: More than 100 people have been killed by unidentified gunmen in the latest ethnic massacre in western Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said.
• China investigates Alibaba: China has launched an antitrust investigation into e-commerce giant Alibaba over alleged anti-competition practices, as the country tries to curb its ever-expanding internet titans.
• RIP Xin Xing: Xin Xing, the star of China's Chongqing Zoo and the world's oldest giant panda in captivity, has died at 38. She had more than 150 descendants around the globe.
• The Queen's digital doppelgänger: UK's Channel 4 will broadcast an alternative Christmas message featuring a deepfake of the Queen, to warn against the dangers of fake news and manipulated videos.
"Hold on to your loved ones," titles German daily Die Tageszeitung, highlighting the "most important feeling in the world" in times like these, as people around the world get ready to celebrate Christmas.
HOW COVID-19 EXPOSES THE HARD QUESTIONS ABOUT THE GIG ECONOMY
Consumers are convinced. Wall Street is buoyant. Demand around the world for app-based services is booming, with entire nations stuck at home during COVID-19 lockdowns and the prospect of goods and services at their door with just a click.
As the so-called "Gig Economy" spreads alongside the pandemic, society has struggled to keep up.
• Online sales in South Korea have grown by 17% this year, and 42% in food deliveries.
• The freelancer platform PeoplePerHour registered a 300% increase of users in March of this year in the UK, 329% jump in Spain, and 513% in Japan.
• Upwork reported a 24% increase in signups over the summer.
How it works: Rather than earning a regular wage, these apps pay for each "gig" completed. While it's not uncommon that people turn to freelance work during periods of economic downturns, the health crisis presents a unique scenario in which freelance workers risk being exposed to the virus in order to get paid.
• In the UK, a recent survey by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) found that 78% of app workers thought their health was at risk while working.
Exploited & Exposed: The pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of millions of workers already in precarious financial situations and without a safety net. Deliverers are considered "essential," but they don't receive the same protections (both physical and economic) as other essential workers.
• With Uber Eats in France offering 10 euros to customers on three orders during lockdown, workers have accused the tech-giant of "promonavirus," that is, using them as "cannon fodder," to serve meals while everyone else stays at home, Le Monde reports.
• "We have no protection," migrant food delivery rider Diego Franco in Australia recently told the Sydney Morning Herald.
• Already this year, 15 delivery workers in South Korea have died from "kwarosa," literally "to die of overwork." The gig-world is at its tipping point.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.
Lapland, Finland (where as we all know the real Santa Claus lives and works) may be currently closed to foreign travellers — but you can still reach him, provided you're willing to pay 79 euros to talk to him five minutes via WhatsApp, Zoom or Teams. (Warning: up to €99 on Christmas Day!)
Putting your own citizens at risk abroad won't divert attention from catastrophic failures at home.
— Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted in response to Donald Trump blaming Iran for a rocket attack Sunday on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
See more from World Affairs here