英文

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

今次美國大選,從多方面而言都是近百年所未見的。論民情,當前美國社會撕裂和政治兩極化的程度,遠超20世紀以來任何一段時期;論經濟,疫下美國第二季GDP萎縮近一成,超過1930年代大蕭條的紀錄,雖然最新公布的第三季GDP顯著反彈,然而美國經濟規模,實際也只是回到2018年首季的水平。特朗普「先經濟、後抗疫」,全美累計確診人數直撲千萬,單日確診宗數近10萬。若說抗疫是一場衛國衛民的「戰爭」,自二戰以來,美國人從未試過面對如此全面的「戰爭」,遑論在這樣的情况下選總統。

特朗普抗疫一塌糊塗,造就拜登全國民調領先,不過拜登個人魅力不足,不少美國人仍對特朗普谷經濟有信心,加上特朗普善於右翼民粹操作,「美國優先」得到保守白人支持,拜登可勝不穩。在香港,不少人關注特朗普能否連任,也有人討論,對北京而言,究竟是拜登還是特朗普當選對中國有利一些,然而中美交惡之局已成,誰人當選,兩國關係也不會顯著改善。

疫下美國民眾郵寄投票者眾,郵遞處理需時,兩黨就截止點票限期等安排激烈爭持。特朗普多次向支持者揚言郵寄投票舞弊嚴重,渲染陰謀論,民主黨則指控共和黨在多州妨礙郵寄投票。倘若選舉無人大捷,一個頗有可能出現的情况,是兩強初步得票相對接近的多個關鍵州,全都鬧出點票爭議要打官司,導致選舉難產。

在美國,紅色代表共和黨,藍色代表民主黨。共和黨選舉專家指出,民主黨人較為擔心疫情,郵寄選票比重較多,相比之下,大選日出來的投票,較多是共和黨人。這一情况意味,大選日初步點票結果,可能顯示特朗普勝出,可是稍後「計埋」郵寄選票後,卻有可能變成拜登反勝。深信特朗普「舞弊論」的支持者,勢必認定民主黨「偷走勝果」,右翼激進組織更有可能訴諸暴力。

誠如一些美國學者所言,美國有強大的維穩執法機器,縱使刻下美國社會對立嚴重,也很難想像會出現1860年代南北內戰般局面,然而現實是當下美國已集齊一場「完美風暴」所需的各種元素。人們習慣低估甚至忽略發生概率很低的事情,可是這些意料之外的事情一旦出現,將帶來巨大衝擊,「黑天鵝效應」所指的就是這類事件。近年「黑天鵝事件」在美國一再出現,由2016年特朗普爆冷當選,到今年疫情肆虐,全都出人意表,影響全球。

■/ 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

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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