Editorial:US election and a black swan event

【明報專訊】In many ways, this year's US election is unprecedented in the past 100 years or so. In terms of public sentiment, the current degree of social division and political polarisation in the US is far greater than any period in the 20th century. In terms of the economy, the US's GDP contracted by nearly 10% in the second quarter amid the pandemic, surpassing the record of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Although the latest data shows that the third quarter's GDP rebounded significantly, the economy has only returned to the size of the first quarter of 2018. As Trump prioritises the economy over the fight against the pandemic, the cumulative number of confirmed cases in the US has reached 10 million, with nearly 100,000 confirmed cases per day. If it is said that the fight against the pandemic is a ''battle'' for the defence of the country and people, Americans have never faced such a comprehensive ''battle'' since World War II, not to mention electing a president under such circumstances.

Trump's pandemic-fighting mess has helped Biden enjoy a lead in national polls. However, Biden lacks charisma, and many Americans still have confidence about Trump's ability to boost the economy. Furthermore, Trump is good at manipulating right-wing populist sentiments. With the ''America First'' slogan backed by conservative whites, Biden's victory is not certain. In Hong Kong, many people are concerned about whether Trump will be re-elected, and there is some discussion about whether Trump's or Biden's victory will be more advantageous to Beijing. But the souring of Sino-US relations has happened, and who is elected will not significantly improve relations between the two countries.

Many Americans have voted by mail amid the pandemic. As it takes time for the mails to be delivered, the two parties are at loggerheads over arrangements such as the deadline for counting ballots. Trump has spread conspiracy theories by repeatedly warning supporters about widespread vote-by-mail fraud, while Democrats have accused Republicans of impeding voting in several states. If no one wins the election by a landslide, a likely scenario is that many of the key states where the result is too close to call will all see lawsuits over vote-counting disputes, resulting in an abortive election.

In the US, red represents the Republican Party and blue represents the Democratic Party. Republican election experts point out that Democrats are more worried about the pandemic and they have voted by mail more than Republicans. In comparison, more Republicans will turn out than Democrats on Election Day. This scenario means that the preliminary vote count may show a victory for Trump on Election Day. However, after mail-in ballots are counted later, it could show Biden's victory instead. Supporters of Trump's ''voter-fraud'' theory are certain to believe that mail-in ballots will allow the Democrats to ''steal the election'', and right-wing radical groups could even resort to violence.

As some American scholars have said, the US has a strong machinery for law enforcement, and it is hard to imagine a repetition of the Civil War in the 1860s, even though US society is now so polarised. But the reality is that the US now has all the ingredients for a ''perfect storm''. People are used to underestimating or even ignoring things that have a low probability of happening but bring a huge impact once they happen, and ''black swans'' refer to such events. From Trump's upset victory in 2016 to the rampant pandemic this year, black swan events have happened again and again in the US in recent years, all of them surprising and affecting the whole world.

明報社評 2020.11.02:美大選不安瀰漫 黑天鵝不可不防






■/ Glossary 生字 /

too close to call:if the result of a competition or election is too close to call, it is not clear who the winner is until the competition has ended or until all the votes have been counted

machinery / məˈʃiːnəri /:the organisation or structure of sth; the system for doing sth

ingredient / ɪnˈɡriːdiənt /:one of the things or qualities that are necessary to make sth successful


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