If today is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November and if this is an even year, then it must be an election day in the United States. And behold, it is! It is easy for Europeans to forget that there is more to the American political calendar than the quadrennial Presidential elections. The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election every two years and, also every two years, one third of the Senate is too, which translates into a Senator’s term in office being six years and not four.
That makes for interesting parliamentary dynamics which even to British voters, whose parliamentary system seems old fashioned and in many respects past its sell-by date, find slightly arcane. Re-electing the entire house of 435 voting members – there are also six non-voting members but that’s another story – every two years seems like a dreadful waste of political and legislative energy. But it should come as no surprise in a country which seems able to interpret the 1791 Second Amendment to the Constitution which enshrined the right to bear arms aimed at the enablement to raise an instant militia, as a right for 331 million people to own 393 million firearms and to kill one another at a rate of over 45,000 every year. When it comes to clinging onto 18th century anachronisms, the United States is without equal.
The balance of power between the parties is delicate and it is forecast that the House will flip to a Republican majority. The outcome of the Senatorial polls is uncertain and with the Democrats only holding power in the upper house with the support of the casting vote of the Vice-President – the parties have 50 Senators each – it won’t take much for that to flip, either. The great Senatorial battleground is Pennsylvania where Deputy Governor John Fetterman (Dem) faces Mehmet Oz (Rep) – a TV personality known widely as Dr Oz – and where the former’s assumed unassailable lead has melted away so that as of this morning, although still formally too close to call, it appears as though Oz should take the seat costing the Dems control of both houses. If President Biden seems to have been “lost at sea” when the Democrats controlled Capitol Hill, imagine what the next two years will look like.
Non-Americans, whether they like it or not, still see America through movies and TV shows, and little do they learn of the real workings. If they cannot understand how Donald Trump got elected once and how it is that he is about to declare himself for the 2024 Presidential race with a decent chance of getting elected again, then they know less about the US than they think they did. How many know that a full 15 per cent of the nation’s electorate is of Hispanic background – quite a bit larger than the 10 per cent who are Black – and that despite being of a largely disadvantaged minority they are prone to conservatism and to vote with the GOP rather than with the tendentially woke iconoclasts of the democrat centre-left.
Overturning Roe vs Wade was a strange case, for amongst the less well-off which is what many of the Hispanics are and where unwanted pregnancy is an existential threat, Catholic orthodoxy remains strong. So, the European shibboleth of the poor voting with the left and the rich with the right doesn’t lightly carry into the US. In the same vein, Wall Street leans significantly more to the Democrats than it does to the Republicans and in Michael Bloomberg it had on the Democrat side one of its very own.
As I mentioned a few days ago, Wall Street loves a White House administration which doesn’t control the Hill, meaning that there is nobody in Washington who can interfere with the Street doing what the Street wants to do. So, in as much as markets currently actually care what the navel gazers in Washington are up to, a bad result for Joe Biden will most probably prompt a rally in risk assets.
I heard on Monday what both Dishy Rishi and Young Macron had to say at COP27 and of course it was all the right things. I was reminded of that most brilliant of comedy sketches with Morecambe & Wise and Andrew Previn – if you’re not a Brit, have not grown up with it and have never seen it, you just MUST go fishing for it on YouTube – and the line about playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. The rhetoric from Sharm El Sheikh has already reached white noise level where the cry has gone up that going forward the developing world will need US$1trn a year in climate finance.
I’m not quite sure whether those who are bandying about that figure have the faintest of clues how much US$1trn is, but suffice to say that the entire annual federal tax take in the United States is less than a US$5trn and US$1trn equates roughly to the GDP of the Netherlands. Please don’t get me wrong. The Maldives are endangered and I have spent some of the happiest times of my life diving in the Indian Ocean off that archipelago, but we learnt at school – in my day, plate tectonics was still a theory – that the earth’s topography is constantly changing and a work in progress. So with or without global warming there was no guarantee that that most beautiful of places would be there in perpetuity. I was hugely amused when I was in Male, the capital of the country, and a local, pointing at a pile of rubble where they were digging a hole the road, explained that the top of the pile was their equivalent of Mount Everest and temporarily the highest point in the Maldives.
If a fraction of the money which is demanded to try to maintain a status quo which is already past was to be targeted on preparing for what lies ahead, I might be convinced. As is, I’m afraid, I take much of what I hear from Sharm to be yet another stab at punishing the developed North for having been economically and culturally successful. The work of Beethoven, Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Einstein speaks for itself.
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