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Will democracy save the Democrats?

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Politics is not a Hemingway novel, but there is no doubt that Democrats are suddenly wondering: for whom are the bells tolling this midterm election year?  And has the earth moved?

A month ago, there was no doubt that this November would look like virtually every other midterm election:  the party that holds the White House, the President’s party, loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections. 

Given that Democrats hold the House by only four seats, and the Senate is tied 50:50 between the two parties, the expectation – until right now – was that the Republicans were a slam dunk to take control both houses of Congress.

In the past 100 years of midterm elections, only twice has the president’s party gained seats in both the House and Senate. 

The first time was in 1934, when FDR started delivering on his overwhelmingly popular New Deal. 

The second time was in 2002, when the country was united behind President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  (Prime Minister John Howard also won re-election that year in part on his stance with the US on 9/11).

The Republicans believed they had this year nailed.  Inflation exploding, gasoline prices through the roof, interest rates rising sharply with more pain ahead, crime out of control in the inner cities, the southern border out of control with immigrants pouring into the country, a Democratic party suffused with wokeness on cultural issues from what is taught in schools to transgender rights to a party dominated by radical activists and socialists. 

The Republicans were in no doubt that the Democrats, led by their branding Biden as a weak, ineffective and too-old president, meant that November would be breeze.

The winds of change were also being fed by a powerful sense that the country is deeply troubled.  Nearly 70% of Americas believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Two thirds view the economy negatively.  More than half of voters have an unfavourable view of Biden.  

Signs of America’s quality of life in decline abound

US life expectancy has fallen because of the Covid pandemic – the sharpest fall in 100 years. Today, it is 76 years – down from 79 years in 2019.  Reading and math scores for 9-year-olds dropped sharply. The drinking water system in Jackson Mississippi has collapsed.

Trump spent the first seven months of the year backing his hand-picked acolytes for the House and Senate and also for offices responsible for counting and certifying the votes in the states that denied him victory in 2020:  Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Trump is counting on their winning and “fixing” the system to ensure that he will be declared the victor in those states in 2024 – regardless of whether he actually wins a majority of votes or not.

Then the earth moved.

At the end of June, the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right of women to access abortion services. As of today, one in three American women have lost the ability to legally have an abortion, and more restrictions are coming. The Supreme Court’s ruling is exceptionally unpopular.  60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal without undue restrictions. And voters know which political party is responsible for this.

In just one month, the abortion issue exploded.  Kansas – which has not voted for a Democrat for president in nearly 60 years – voted overwhelmingly to keep abortion rights in their state constitution.  In upstate New York, a Democrat, campaigning on this issue, came from behind to beat the Republican.  In Senate races, Trump anti-abortion extremists in several states are trailing.

In July, President Biden suddenly started winning in Congress.  The biggest clean energy program ever enacted.  The biggest health care package since Obamacare.  The most significant investment in computer chips and allied technologies – ever. A bipartisan gun safety law.  Better health care for veterans. 

In August, the FBI raided Trump’s home at Mar-A-Lago to recover thousands of documents, including dozens of classified documents, which belong to the US government and the American people. Trump may be subject to criminal prosecution for not turning over the documents took out of the White House.

By September, the overall trends were clear.  Where political analysts had been expecting a swing to Republicans of 20-30 seats in the House, the projected Republican gain today is just 12 seats.  In the Senate, the growing consensus is a 1-2 seat Democratic gain.

A poll this weekend by the Wall Street Journal reported that voters were most concerned about:

“The economy and inflation first, followed by abortion. But when offered a choice of five issues and asked which made them most likely to vote, they put the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade ahead of inflation.”

WSJ

So the earth has moved.

Biden wants it to move to some more. Last week he invoked the reason he entered the presidential campaign in 2019:  to assert that the extremism fomented by Trump is not what America is, and not what America should ever become.  Biden sees Trump as a direct threat to America’s democracy.

Biden has seen enough, and this is why he addressed the country last week.  

“As I stand here tonight equality and democracy are under assault. We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise…

TOPSHOT – US President Joe Biden speaks about the soul of the nation, outside of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 1, 2022. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

“There’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA [Make America Great Again] Republicans. And that is a threat to this country … blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy…MAGA Republicans are destroying American democracy.”

BIDEN’S SPEECH ON DEMOCRACY

No president since the Civil War has given such a speech about the country’s future.

Trump exploded in his response at a rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend. Trump thundered that Biden’s speech was,

“The most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president…

TRUMP

“You’re all enemies of the state … It was not just my home that was raided last month. It was the hopes and dreams of every citizen who I’ve been fighting for … There can be no more vivid example of the very real threats from American freedom than just a few weeks ago, you saw, when we witnessed one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history,”

Biden believes that this urgency of affirming America’s democracy will save the country and his fellow Democrats.  We will know the day after the midterm elections whether this is true. 

If Republicans win back the Senate, Trump backed candidates will be the margin of victory. Trump will be boosted to declare his candidacy for president in 2024.

If the Democrats hold the Senate, it will be because they defeated the extremist Trump candidates.  That would mean that the Trump movement has peaked and is in decline – that if the party sticks with Trump the party loses elections.  

If the Democrats also keep the House – which still must be considered very unlikely – that will be a shocker. 

If both occur, they will constitute a Hemingway event of Richter scale. 

Bruce Wolpe is a Ticker News US political contributor. He’s a Senior Fellow at the US Studies Centre and has worked with Democrats in Congress during President Barack Obama's first term, and on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He has also served as the former PM's chief of staff.

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Trump’s campaign debut was panned – but don’t underestimate his chances

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Last weekend, Donald Trump held two events in New Hampshire and South Carolina, his first official forays onto the 2024 presidential battlefield. 

The experts panned it.  

“Former President Trump’s first campaign swing of the 2024 campaign generated little of the excitement that has long defined his glitzy political rallies…The widespread sentiment among Republicans there is that Trump served the country well, but he’s unelectable in 2024.”  

Axios, the super-sophisticated DC political newsletter

“As he hit the trail for the first time since launching a third bid for the White House in November, signs of Trump’s newfound vulnerabilities came into focus. The trip effectively ushered in the start of the 2024 Republican presidential primary campaign season, with Trump fighting to keep his place at the top of a potentially crowded field.” 

The Washington Post

“He remains the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, yet the solidity of his support seems increasingly in doubt.  Longtime donors have been reluctant to recommit. Leaders in the Republican National Committee are openly encouraging other candidates to run. Voters rejected the handpicked candidates he vowed would win Republicans control of the Senate, but whose losses instead left the chamber in Democratic hands.”

The New York Times

A lot of the political class is talking about Trump in the past tense, and not the future, briefing out to the media that his rambling, Fidel Castro-like  monologues bore his audiences silly, that his obsessions and battles with his political enemies do not have the reach they did in 2016 and during  his term in office, that he is immersing himself more deeply in extremist QAnon cult waters, that he faces indictments and trials that will derail his campaign and might even put him in jail.

Trump 2020

And more: that Trump wallows in the “stolen” 2020 election, knowing that there was no way he could have lost since he got 12 million more votes than in 2016.  Trump never concedes.  Six years later, he does not acknowledge that Hillary Clinton got almost 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016 – and that he won only because she lost in the Electoral College.

The telling critique – the one driving Republicans in private to say that Trump is done (or should be done, or will be done) is that Trump is a loser. 

That Trump lost Republican control of the House of Representatives in 2018, bringing back Nancy Pelosi who secured not one, but two impeachments of the president; that he lost the White House in 2020; that he lost control of the Senate in January 2021 when Democrats swept both Georgia Senate seats, giving them control of that chamber; and that Trump-backed candidates in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Arizona again cost Republicans control of the Senate in the 2022 midterms.   As Vince Lombardi, legendary gridiron coach of Green Bay and Washington, said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Lombardi would say Trump was a loser.

Trump is having none of it, and his iron resolve was on full display for those listening more closely when he gave his orations last weekend.

“Maybe he’s lost his step,” Trump said in evoking the musings of some Republicans. But, “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed than I ever was.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump points as he announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The anger is palpable.  The Trump 2023 brand joins his anger with the hottest culture war buttons he can press. Immigration, the open wound that is the southern border, the wall he will finish, the rapists and criminals who are flooding in and that he will keep out tomorrow.  Immigration is his lead-off weapon.

Then promises of energy independence and oil forever.  Utter hostility to electric vehicles and wind energy – especially if the windmills are offshore.  No transgender women in sports.  No way they are tolerated.  A purge of woke content from school curricula, schoolbooks, school libraries, and school boards.  Parents empowered to fire the principal of the schools their children attend; Trump says the parents can vote them out of their jobs.

Trump never goes far into the culture wars without conjuring up Hunter Biden, the president’s son. 

Hunter Biden with Joe Biden

Trump cannot get enough of Hunter’s laptop and the criminality of the Bidens, their business dealings and their money.  We can barely follow all the Trump twists and turns in this tale, but there is no mistake that Trump wants Hunter nailed and his father to bear the consequences.

Reprising his role as Commander-in-Chief, Trump said, in case we have not been paying attention, that we are on the brink on World War III. That Ukraine would not have happened if he had been president. That we could have a peace deal “in 24 hours.” Trump wants to call Putin and knows Putin will be waiting for that call.

Trump’s great loyalist, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, was on the podium with Trump and put it this way after the event. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new? There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

That’s the message Trump delivered to his base last weekend.  And that’s how Trump intends to win.

Buried in Trump’s massive monologue was the core of what could be a winning message.   “My mission is to secure a middle-class lifestyle for everyone.  I did it before and I will do it again.  And we will be respected in the world once again.”

Three powerful sentences which, coupled with the red meat of his anger and rage, mean that Trump is very much alive and kicking.

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Leading athletes and medical experts push for medicinal cannabis in sport

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Leading lawmakers, medical experts and athletes are pushing for therapeutic use of medicinal cannabis for chronic pain and injury

Basketball star Brittney Griner is one of the leading players of her generation. She jumped into the spotlight for serving a sentence for possession of cannabis oil in Russia.

It begs the question whether medicinal cannabis and athletes are a good mix. Well, many lawmakers, health experts and athletes around the world want to break down the stigmas associated with its use.

Many want to use Griner’s ordeal as motivation to change cannabis laws and therapeutic use exemptions in sports.

Mark Brayshaw, Managing Director of Levin Health has spoken closely with Dr. Peter Brukner who is a world-renowned Australian sports medicine clinician and researcher.

Dr. Peter Brukner

Brukner believes athletes should be able to compete in their field with medicinal cannabis because it doesn’t enhance their performance.

“Medicinal cannabis is arguably performance diminishing rather than performance enhancing…

It’s likely to be taken off the ban list in the near future.”

Mark Brayshaw, Managing Director of Levin Health

“I don’t see there are any risks at all.”

Mark Brayshaw, Managing Director of Levin Health

Brayshaw believes there are higher risks for athletes becoming addicted to anti-inflammatory and opioids. As opposed to any risks associated with taking medicinal cannabis.

He explains it enables athletes to function in a healthy way, pain free.

Overall, there is hope Griner’s case will break down stigma surrounding natural medicines and athletes.

In Australia, there are tens of thousands of new applications for medicinal cannabis every month.

“We’re seeing a significant stigma reduction… There are 30,000 new applications every month [in Australia] for medicinal cannabis...

In the right hands, and through a GP it can be a very safe alternative to opioids and anti-inflammatories in the treatment of chronic pain.”

Mark Brayshaw, Managing Director of Levin Health

There are also growing calls for countries to adopt therapeutic use exemptions in sport, including in the Australian Football League.

“We’ve got Alistair Clarkson and Damien Hardwick on our board, they’ve taken a keen interest… Yes, it’s on the rise.”

Mark Brayshaw, Managing Director of Levin Health

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Why is China’s changing its strategy to handling the pandemic?

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Changes to China’s COVID policies are coming thick and fast, much faster than many people anticipated given how strict the country has been in the last few years, the latest big announcement is around an app that people had to install on their phone

Then it tracked them when they travelled across the country, alerting them if they’ve been to a high risk COVID area, the government says that that app is now deactivated and people no longer have to have it installed on their phones.

It’s yet another indication of the change in China’s strategy to handling the pandemic.

We’ve seen changes related to quarantine, and also testing as well. And a real change in narrative from the authorities when talking about the virus and how dangerous it is. Now officially case numbers are dropping.

But that is largely due to the fact that much less testing is taking place, and we are seeing signs that in reality cases are surging.

There’s queues of people outside of pharmacies, queuing to get medication for colds and for fevers, and also self testing kits as well.

On social media, many people in China now saying that they have caught COVID For the first time, or that they know a number of people who have COVID When previously they didn’t know anyone at all.

So it’s clear that cases are rising, and this is coming just the month before the Chinese New Year holidays, which will take place at the end of January, traditionally a time when millions of people will travel across the country.

We would expect that to happen this year, as travel within China is now much easier.

So we would expect COVID cases to spread across the country talking to travel and is yet no sign of when the borders will open internationally.

Still very, very hard to get into China and very strict. When people do enter and the procedures they have to follow.

Maybe the government will wait and see how the first phase of reopening goes domestically, before thinking internationally?

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