alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

The Conversation

Understanding the North's climate change trifecta

A wildfire burns outside Fairbanks, Alaska, after a lightning strike.

(Catherine Dieleman), Author provided

Catherine Dieleman, University of Guelph

The Arctic Circle became unbelievably hot on June 20. In the Russian community of Verkhoyansk, temperatures topped 38C, marking what may be the highest air temperature ever recorded within the Arctic.

The temperatures at Verkhoyansk are part of a larger trend across western Russia this summer, with small communities throughout the region reporting temperatures that are smashing local records that have stood for decades. During the latter half of June, surface temperatures throughout western Siberia were as much as 10C above historical norms, marking one of the hottest Junes on record despite relatively cool temperatures at the start of the month.

For scientists the world-over these record-breaking temperatures are alarm bells, demonstrating the kind of extreme weather events we can expect to see more often if climate change continues unchecked. However, it is the long-term fallout from modern heat waves that has many northern scientists deeply concerned, as they will affect our planet for decades to come.

The fires that follow

During heat waves surface temperatures soar, often triggering a chain of fire-promoting weather conditions including extreme thunderstorms. These thunderstorms have hundreds of lightning strikes that can ignite the dry soils and vegetation that serve as fuel for fire.

In northern regions like the boreal biome, these fire-promoting conditions can cause large-scale wildfires that burn millions of hectares of forest in a single summer.

Historically, humanity has considered wildfire a true disaster and spent considerable resources to suppress them. We now understand that despite the initial loss of established trees and soils, wildfires are a natural and integral part of the boreal biome.

Modern wildfires, however, are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity, covering a larger area due weather events like severe heat waves. In extreme fire years, these modern wildfires can burn deep into the organic soils that characterize boreal forests. These carbon-rich soils have been built up over thousands of years and hold approximately 30 per cent of the world's terrestrial carbon stocks.

When fires burn deep into soils or return too quickly to a forest, they lose their “ancient carbon" stocks. Instead of being held in the ground these ancient carbon reserves are combusted and released back into the atmosphere, increasing the carbon levels. The higher carbon dioxide levels generated by wildfires intensify climate change impacts like heat waves, which can lead to further wildfires, forming a powerful “positive feedback" loop with climate change.

While these trends alone are alarming, northern researchers warn that the fallout from heat waves won't stop when the fires burn out. In northern regions where the soils historically stay frozen year-round, a whole new set of changes are beginning to take form.

When permafrost perishes

Permafrost forms on the landscape when soil materials remain below freezing for two or more consecutive years. In some areas permafrost forms in direct response to a cold climate.

As one moves further south, however, permafrost becomes increasingly dependent on the presence of thick organic soils, surface vegetation and a shady overstorey to survive the warm summer months. In those cases, the ecosystem acts like a giant protective blanket, limiting the sun's heat that is able to reach the frozen permafrost materials below.

White smoke rises from the tundra with mountains in the background.

Carbon-rich peat burns readily, making it good fuel for lightning-caused fires.

(U.S. National Parks Service, Western Arctic National Parklands)

When permafrost ecosystems burn, the wildfire consumes these protective layers, often triggering permafrost thaw. This can occur gradually, with the thawed layer expanding slowly over decades, or abruptly, with the thawed layer expanding dramatically over years. The land may cave in or sink, plant communities may change completely and local water flows may be rerouted.

In both cases, the loss of permafrost makes the massive Arctic carbon reserves more vulnerable to loss. With gradual thaw microbes are able to break down and release the previously frozen carbon back to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. In contrast, abrupt thaw commonly occurs in ice-rich permafrost resulting in warmer but also wetter soils. Under these conditions decomposition still occurs but carbon is commonly returned to the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas approximately 30 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

All this lost carbon may make the positive feedback with climate change even stronger. While scientists are working to understand if the vegetation that grows after permafrost thaw is able to offset all the carbon released during decomposition, most current models indicate that permafrost thaw will ultimately be a source of atmospheric carbon.

Keep reading... Show less

The exceptional catalog of polling failure

W. Joseph Campbell, American University School of Communication

The question looms in nearly every U.S. presidential election, even in this year's race: Could the polls be wrong? If they are, they likely will err in unique fashion. The history of election polling says as much.

That history tells of no greater polling surprise than what happened in 1948, when President Harry Truman defied the polls, the pundits and the press to defeat Thomas E. Dewey, his heavily favored Republican foe.

Pollsters were certain Truman had no chance. One of them, Elmo Roper, was so confident of Dewey's victory that he announced two months before the election he would release no further survey data unless a political miracle intervened.

Rival pollsters George Gallup and Archibald Crossley largely completed their poll-taking by mid-October – and missed a decisive shift in support to Truman in the campaign's closing days.

As I point out in my latest book, “Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections," the misfire of 1948 was exceptional. And that describes most polling failures in presidential elections: They tend to be exceptional, unlike previous polling errors.

No pattern

When the polls go wrong, they almost always do so in some unanticipated way. Errors spring from no single template.

This variety helps explain why polling failure is so unpredictable and so jarring. The epic miscall of 1948 has never been duplicated in U.S. presidential elections – although the shock of Truman's victory may have been rivaled by the profound surprise that accompanied Donald Trump's win in 2016.

Trump's victory represented polling failure of another kind: Polls in 2016 were not so much in error nationally as they were in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

If Hillary Clinton had carried those states, as polls had indicated, she would have won the electoral votes to become president. But errors in state-level polls upset national expectations, in part because those polls tended to include too few white voters without college degrees, a key Trump constituency in 2016 and this year.

Voters changing or making up their minds late in the campaign led in 1980 to another type of polling failure – the unforeseen landslide. Polls that year mostly signaled a close race between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. At campaign's end, the race seemed too close to call.

Reagan won by nearly 10 percentage points.

Failure has different faces

Election polling is vulnerable to last-minute developments.

For logistical reasons, poll-taking may not be able to catch up with late-breaking revelations that disrupt the public's perception of a campaign's dynamic, such as the disclosures before the 2000 election about George W. Bush's drunken-driving conviction.

In 1976, Bush was arrested in Maine and pleaded guilty to a DUI violation that he had never publicly revealed. A young television reporter in Maine pursued a tip in 2000 and reported the details five days before the election.

As the 2000 campaign closed, most polls signaled Bush was ahead by a few percentage points.

In the end, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College in the disputed outcome of voting in Florida. Disclosures about Bush's DUI conviction may have been enough to cost him a popular-vote victory.

The 2000 outcome represented another variety of polling failure – pointing to the wrong winner in a close race.

It's a class of failure that emerged 40 years earlier, in the election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Roper's final pre-election poll suggested a two-point win for Nixon.

As I note in “Lost in a Gallup," after Kennedy's razor-thin victory had become clear, Roper's son and business partner, Burns, sent a memorandum to the company's staff, declaring: “I'm not about to take any malarkey about having 'picked the wrong man.'"

But that's what the Roper poll had done. It pointed to the wrong winner.

Recalling the 1936 debacle

Another type of polling failure is that of the venerable pollster who is singularly and astonishingly in error – as was the Literary Digest in its infamous mail-in survey of 1936.

The Digest was a weekly magazine whose massive mail-in polls had identified the winner in each of the three presidential elections since 1924. Some newspapers acclaimed the Digest's mass-polling technique for its “uncanny" accuracy.

In 1936, the Digest employed the same methodology that had served it so well. After sending 10 million postcard ballots and tabulating the 2.3 million returned from around the country, the Digest reported that Republican Alf Landon was bound for a comfortable victory over President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation's newsletter.]

Landon ended up carrying two states – Maine and Vermont – and lost the popular vote by 24 percentage points. Roosevelt's victory was one of the most lopsided in presidential election history.

That also was the year Gallup, Crossley and Elmo Roper initiated their election polls, which relied on smaller samples than the Digest. With varying degrees of accuracy, all three newcomers in 1936 signaled Roosevelt's victory.

The Digest's debacle offers an enduring reminder that the roots of polling failure run deep. The stunning miscall occurred at the dawn of modern survey research and introduced a nagging sense about polling's potential to mislead.

After all, if the great election oracle of its time could err so spectacularly, why would other polls be immune to failure?

The answer: They weren't, and aren't, immune.The Conversation

W. Joseph Campbell, Professor of Communication Studies, American University School of Communication

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Who decides when vaccine studies are done? Internal docs show Fauci plays a key role

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, will oversee most of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine trials in the U.S., but not that of the current front-runner made by Pfizer, documents obtained by ProPublica show.

According to a draft charter spelling out how most of the advanced COVID-19 vaccine trials will be monitored, Fauci is the “designated senior representative" of the U.S. government who will be part of the first look at the results. That puts Fauci in the room with the companies — including Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca — in deciding whether the vaccines are ready to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Fauci's role, which has not been previously reported and was confirmed for ProPublica by the National Institutes of Health, could offer some reassurance in the face of widespread concerns that President Donald Trump wants to rush through an unproven vaccine. As Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, put it at last week's debate, “If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it."

But there's a big caveat. Fauci doesn't have the same hands-on role for the vaccine that seems poised to show results soonest: Pfizer's. That's because Pfizer opted not to accept government funding and participate in the federal program to develop a coronavirus vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed. (The government did make an almost $2 billion deal with Pfizer to preorder up to 600 million doses of the company's vaccine, but it isn't contributing money to the vaccine's development like it is for other companies.)

“(We) offered opportunities for collaboration with Pfizer," said a spokesperson for the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the NIH. “Pfizer chose to conduct their Phase 3 study without Operation Warp Speed or NIH support."

Pfizer's CEO, Albert Bourla, said Friday that the earliest his company would be ready to apply for authorization would be the third week of November. While Pfizer might know by the end of October if its vaccine is effective, it would need additional time to gather sufficient safety data to present to the FDA, Bourla said in an open letter on the company's website.

Fauci's role in overseeing the companies that are participating in Operation Warp Speed arises from a unique arrangement that the government set up to monitor the trials. Typically, clinical trials set up their own independent panels of scientists, known as a data safety monitoring board or DSMB, to watch out for safety concerns or early signs of success. But all of the vaccine trials in Operation Warp Speed are sharing a common DSMB whose members were selected by Fauci's agency, the NIAID. They're also sharing a network of clinical trial sites where some volunteers are recruited for the studies.

A DSMB is responsible for making recommendations such as halting the trial if there is a safety concern or letting the manufacturer know that there's enough evidence to submit an application to the FDA. Ordinarily, a DSMB's recommendation goes to the company running the trial. In this case, the U.S. government — which gets two representatives, one from the NIAID and one from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority — will also have a seat at the table in deciding what to do next.

“Once the DSMB makes a decision, the DSMB provides the recommendation to not only the study sponsor but also to the" U.S. government, whose “designated senior representative" is Fauci, the NIAID confirmed in an email. Fauci declined to be interviewed.

That's not the same as saying Fauci has the last word. The company and the government are supposed to reach a consensus, the agency said. But if they can't all agree, the ultimate decision belongs with the company.

Still, it would be an improbably brazen move for a company to move ahead over Fauci's objection, given his public stature, experts said. “These are the most important trials in medical history, this is the ultimate fishbowl," said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “I don't think any sponsor would dare defy the DSMB's recommendation."

While the mechanics of a DSMB may be unfamiliar to most members of the public, people probably know and trust Fauci, according to Amy Pisani, executive director of the national nonprofit organization Vaccinate Your Family. “(He's) the sweetheart of the nation right now," Pisani said. “I do think people have faith in Anthony Fauci."

“Having Fauci with oversight is terrific," Topol added. “The more people who are experts looking at it, the better. You can't be careful enough."

Other members of the DSMB for the COVID-19 vaccines, though not as well known as Fauci, are also widely respected in their fields. DSMB members are typically kept confidential to shield them from outside influence, but ProPublica has been able to identify a few members. The charter obtained by ProPublica described the group, which has about a dozen members, as having expertise in “biostatistics, clinical trials, infectious diseases, vaccine development and ethics."

The panel's chair is Dr. Richard Whitley, a professor of pediatrics, microbiology, medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His role became public when the university announced it, though the webpage was later taken down.

His leadership provides another level of comfort in the trustworthiness of the trials to those who know him. “He is not only famously bright but he is famously independent and outspoken," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medicine. “He'll look at the data and tell you exactly what he thinks."

Whitley declined to comment.

Susan Ellenberg, professor of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania and a former director at the FDA, told ProPublica in an interview that many people, including herself, were worried the NIH might be “pushed by the political leadership at HHS to release data" from trials prematurely, which could undermine the integrity of a trial. HHS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the NIH's parent agency. Her concern was that political leaders might not understand scientific arguments to not disrupt the trials when wanting to have data “to be able to move quickly in an urgent situation," she said.

At the time of the interview, Ellenberg had not identified herself as a member of the NIH's DSMB, but later acknowledged that she was a member.

Dr. Malegapuru William Makgoba, an immunologist based in South Africa, is one of a few international members of the DSMB. Makgoba is well known for his work on public health initiatives around HIV/AIDS, including the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Makgoba confirmed his role on the DSMB but declined to comment further.

The common DSMB appears to be unprecedented, if only because there have not previously been multiple vaccines in development for the same disease at the same time. Experts said the arrangement offers benefits such as bolstering the evidence available to show that any one shot is safe and effective.

Standardizing trial measurements should make the vaccines easier to compare head to head, which may be useful for knowing whether one is better or worse than another in certain subgroups, such as the elderly or people with compromised immune systems, according to Vanderbilt's Schaffner.

“To me, it's better for public health to have a fairly common assessment," said Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax, which has received $1.6 billion from Operation Warp Speed and hopes to begin its Phase 3 trial in the U.S. this month as part of the NIH's clinical trial network.

There may also be some benefits from a safety perspective.

If a potential safety issue appears in one trial, having a common data safety monitoring board for multiple trials means that the board knows to look out for that same issue across all the trials, said Dr. Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna. “When AstraZeneca had an adverse side effect, we have a DSMB looking at our trial — the fact that it's the same DSMB means that there's not one DSMB that has to go educate another DSMB," Zaks said. (ProPublica's board chairman, Paul Sagan, is a member of Moderna's board and a company stockholder.)

AstraZeneca's trial has been put on hold in the U.S. while the company and the FDA investigates what happened with a participant who had a bad reaction. It's not yet clear whether the reaction was due to the vaccine or unrelated.

“AstraZeneca is committed to working with governments and key partners to ensure we develop and gain regulatory approval for an effective vaccine as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement.

AstraZeneca added that another benefit of joining the government's consortium was that its large network of trial sites can help reach minority communities that are historically less represented in clinical trials and also more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Pfizer's decision not to participate means that it and the other companies may miss out on some of these benefits of pooling resources. “It's at least unfortunate, and not very sporting, as the British would say," Schaffner said.

At the same time, there could be advantages to Pfizer's going solo. “One of the greatest risks to this process is the perception of political influence, and in that regard, having parallel efforts, especially efforts seen as independent of one another and/or independent of perceived sources of political influence, is a good thing," said Mani Foroohar, an analyst at the investment bank SVB Leerink.

Pfizer declined to comment on its decision not to join the government's shared DSMB and trial network.

Whether it's Pfizer or one of the companies participating in Operation Warp Speed, the final say on whether a vaccine is ready for public use belongs to the FDA.

The FDA has promised to present the data to an advisory committee of external experts in a public meeting. A preliminary meeting will be held on Oct. 22 to discuss, generally, the standards the FDA will seek to see before authorizing any vaccine. The agency has also committed to holding advisory committee meetings to review data from individual vaccine candidates.

Between the independent trial safety monitoring boards and the public advisory committee meetings, “any kind of hanky-panky there that people are worried about is going to (go through) multiple checkpoints," Fauci said in an interview with Dr. Howard Bachner on the JAMA Network podcast on Sept. 25. “The big elephant in the room is, is somebody going to try to make a political end run to interfere with the process? … If you look at the standard process of how these things work, I think you can feel comfortable that it is really unlikely that that is going to happen."

Filed under:

Judges used to stay out of elections — now they may decide the presidency

by Austin Sarat, Amherst College

Throughout American history judges have generally tried to avoid getting involved in political questions, including litigation about elections. They followed Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter's famous advice to avoid “embroilment" in “the political thicket" of “party contests and party interests."

This tradition began to erode in the 1960s, when courts took up cases involving legislative redistricting and gerrymandering. And since the Supreme Court's 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively decided that year's presidential election, political parties have increasingly turned to the courts in search of electoral advantage.

Prior to 2000, an average of 96 election law cases were brought every year in state and federal courts. By 2004, that average jumped to 254, most of them filed at the state level.

This year, the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project reports that as of Oct. 15, 365 such cases have been filed in 44 states.

Many of those cases arise from state efforts to respond to the difficulties of campaigning and voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats generally have supported efforts to making voting easier, such as in Michigan, where they were successful in getting the courts to extend the period during which late-arriving mail ballots could be legally counted. Republicans generally have opposed those efforts.

When the voting happens

This year's election-related litigation began to emerge in the spring as states tried to cope with the pandemic's first wave during the political primary season.

Those cases fell into two major categories. Some were filed to try to change the date when people voted in presidential primaries. Others focused on how people voted in those primaries and the general election.

Sixteen states changed the dates of their primaries, and most did so without resorting to litigation.

Nonetheless, some states faced lawsuits over the timing of presidential primaries, filed by political candidates and public officials, including in New York and Wisconsin.

In April, Andrew Yang, then a Democratic presidential candidate, sued the New York State Board of Elections after it effectively canceled the Democratic presidential primary. He argued that doing so was illegal since he already had met the requirements for having his name to appear on the ballot. One month after the suit was filed, a judge agreed with Yang and ordered the state to proceed with its presidential primary.

Wisconsin proved to be a particularly fertile ground for litigation over its April primary. In one case, the Wisconsin legislature prevailed in challenging the governor's executive order postponing in-person voting.

In another Wisconsin case, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Republican National Committee and the state party when it blocked a plan to extend the period to return absentee ballots in the primary election.

How the voting happens

In cases concerning the ways people could vote, Democrats in Kansas sued to force Secretary of State Scott Schwab to implement a law permitting voters to cast ballots from any polling station within their home county. Schwab argued that the complexity of developing necessary administrative regulations prevented him from doing do so in time for this year's election.

A state court judge dismissed the suit but said that county officials could, if they wished, implement the Kansas Vote Anywhere Act on their own without waiting for the state to act.

In Ohio, a federal judge also dismissed an American Civil Liberties Union suit seeking to extend the deadline for absentee voting for the state's presidential primary and move from in-person to universal mail balloting. The plaintiffs claimed that the state's inefficient absentee-voting system would disenfranchise people through no fault of their own unless the deadline was changed and that in-person voting during the pandemic would pose a health risk.

Focus on mail-in ballots

Many of this year's election-related cases have focused specifically on mail-in ballots. This is not surprising given President Donald Trump's well-publicized but baseless attacks on voting by mail.

Some of this litigation has been brought to expand opportunities to cast that kind of ballot or to ease the requirements for doing so. Other cases have been filed by groups opposing such changes and raising concerns about voter fraud.

Recent rulings in some of those cases have made voting by mail more difficult; others have made it easier.

In the first category, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 5 that South Carolina could require people voting by mail to have another person sign their ballot as a witness. However, over the objection of Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, the court declined to invalidate the more than 20,000 ballots that had been cast prior to its ruling.

Three days later, in a victory for Wisconsin's Republican Party, a federal appeals court upheld that state's requirement that in order to be counted, mail-in ballots must be in the hands of election officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

But, also on October 8, Justice Elena Kagan turned down a request from Montana Republicans to block some counties from proactively mailing ballots to voters starting the next day.

In another victory for supporters of mail balloting, a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign seeking, among other things, to block the use of drop boxes as receptacles for mail ballots.

Full employment for election lawyers

November 3 is unlikely to end litigation to resolve election-related disputes. In fact, both the Biden and Trump campaigns have assembled armies of lawyers who will be ready to bring lawsuits in the election's aftermath.

President Trump already has indicated that he expects the Supreme Court to again resolve a contested presidential election.

For someone who studies the complex intersections of politics and law, the use of litigation to resolve electoral disputes that we are seeing this year is a reminder of what the famous French aristocrat and author Alexis de Tocqueville observed early in the 19th century: namely, that “Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question."

Nonetheless, when courts and judges take sides in cases that shape the outcome of a hotly contested election, they open themselves up, as Frankfurter warned, to charges that they are making purely partisan decisions rather than strictly following the law. That is why public confidence in the Supreme Court took a hit in the aftermath of its Bush v. Gore decision.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation's newsletter.]

Whatever decisions judges make this year, the rush to the courthouse to shape the 2020 election will pose real challenges for their legitimacy, which ultimately depends on the public's belief that they are not simply political actors.

And if the Supreme Court again decides who becomes president, it may further weaken its already diminished standing with the American public and deepen the divide in an already dangerously polarized nation.The Conversation

Austin Sarat, Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here's the sad truth about how pandemics end

by Nükhet Varlik, University of South Carolina

When will the pandemic end? All these months in, with over 37 million COVID-19 cases and more than 1 million deaths globally, you may be wondering, with increasing exasperation, how long this will continue.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, epidemiologists and public health specialists have been using mathematical models to forecast the future in an effort to curb the coronvirus's spread. But infectious disease modeling is tricky. Epidemiologists warn that “[m]odels are not crystal balls," and even sophisticated versions, like those that combine forecasts or use machine learning, can't necessarily reveal when the pandemic will end or how many people will die.

As a historian who studies disease and public health, I suggest that instead of looking forward for clues, you can look back to see what brought past outbreaks to a close – or didn't.

Where we are now in the course of the pandemic

In the early days of the pandemic, many people hoped the coronavirus would simply fade away. Some argued that it would disappear on its own with the summer heat. Others claimed that herd immunity would kick in once enough people had been infected. But none of that has happened.

A combination of public health efforts to contain and mitigate the pandemic – from rigorous testing and contact tracing to social distancing and wearing masks – have been proven to help. Given that the virus has spread almost everywhere in the world, though, such measures alone can't bring the pandemic to an end. All eyes are now turned to vaccine development, which is being pursued at unprecedented speed.

Yet experts tell us that even with a successful vaccine and effective treatment, COVID-19 may never go away. Even if the pandemic is curbed in one part of the world, it will likely continue in other places, causing infections elsewhere. And even if it is no longer an immediate pandemic-level threat, the coronavirus will likely become endemic – meaning slow, sustained transmission will persist. The coronavirus will continue to cause smaller outbreaks, much like seasonal flu.

The history of pandemics is full of such frustrating examples.

Once they emerge, diseases rarely leave

Whether bacterial, viral or parasitic, virtually every disease pathogen that has affected people over the last several thousand years is still with us, because it is nearly impossible to fully eradicate them.

The only disease that has been eradicated through vaccination is smallpox. Mass vaccination campaigns led by the World Health Organization in the 1960s and 1970s were successful, and in 1980, smallpox was declared the first – and still, the only – human disease to be fully eradicated.

So success stories like smallpox are exceptional. It is rather the rule that diseases come to stay.

Take, for example, pathogens like malaria. Transmitted via parasite, it's almost as old as humanity and still exacts a heavy disease burden today: There were about 228 million malaria cases and 405,000 deaths worldwide in 2018. Since 1955, global programs to eradicate malaria, assisted by the use of DDT and chloroquine, brought some success, but the disease is still endemic in many countries of the Global South.

Similarly, diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy and measles have been with us for several millennia. And despite all efforts, immediate eradication is still not in sight.

Add to this mix relatively younger pathogens, such as HIV and Ebola virus, along with influenza and coronaviruses including SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, and the overall epidemiological picture becomes clear. Research on the global burden of disease finds that annual mortality caused by infectious diseases – most of which occurs in the developing world – is nearly one-third of all deaths globally.

Today, in an age of global air travel, climate change and ecological disturbances, we are constantly exposed to the threat of emerging infectious diseases while continuing to suffer from much older diseases that remain alive and well.

Once added to the repertoire of pathogens that affect human societies, most infectious diseases are here to stay.

Plague caused past pandemics – and still pops up

Even infections that now have effective vaccines and treatments continue to take lives. Perhaps no disease can help illustrate this point better than plague, the single most deadly infectious disease in human history. Its name continues to be synonymous with horror even today.

Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. There have been countless local outbreaks and at least three documented plague pandemics over the last 5,000 years, killing hundreds of millions of people. The most notorious of all pandemics was the Black Death of the mid-14th century.

Yet the Black Death was far from being an isolated outburst. Plague returned every decade or even more frequently, each time hitting already weakened societies and taking its toll during at least six centuries. Even before the sanitary revolution of the 19th century, each outbreak gradually died down over the course of months and sometimes years as a result of changes in temperature, humidity and the availability of hosts, vectors and a sufficient number of susceptible individuals.

Some societies recovered relatively quickly from their losses caused by the Black Death. Others never did. For example, medieval Egypt could not fully recover from the lingering effects of the pandemic, which particularly devastated its agricultural sector. The cumulative effects of declining populations became impossible to recoup. It led to the gradual decline of the Mamluk Sultanate and its conquest by the Ottomans within less than two centuries.

That very same state-wrecking plague bacterium remains with us even today, a reminder of the very long persistence and resilience of pathogens.

Hopefully COVID-19 will not persist for millennia. But until there's a successful vaccine, and likely even after, no one is safe. Politics here are crucial: When vaccination programs are weakened, infections can come roaring back. Just look at measles and polio, which resurge as soon as vaccination efforts falter.

Given such historical and contemporary precedents, humanity can only hope that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will prove to be a tractable and eradicable pathogen. But the history of pandemics teaches us to expect otherwise.The Conversation

Nükhet Varlik, Associate Professor of History, University of South Carolina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How political polling can go catastrophically wrong

by W. Joseph Campbell, American University School of Communication

The question looms in nearly every U.S. presidential election, even in this year's race: Could the polls be wrong? If they are, they likely will err in unique fashion. The history of election polling says as much.

That history tells of no greater polling surprise than what happened in 1948, when President Harry Truman defied the polls, the pundits and the press to defeat Thomas E. Dewey, his heavily favored Republican foe.

Pollsters were certain Truman had no chance. One of them, Elmo Roper, was so confident of Dewey's victory that he announced two months before the election he would release no further survey data unless a political miracle intervened.

Rival pollsters George Gallup and Archibald Crossley largely completed their poll-taking by mid-October – and missed a decisive shift in support to Truman in the campaign's closing days.

As I point out in my latest book, “Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections," the misfire of 1948 was exceptional. And that describes most polling failures in presidential elections: They tend to be exceptional, unlike previous polling errors.

No pattern

When the polls go wrong, they almost always do so in some unanticipated way. Errors spring from no single template.

This variety helps explain why polling failure is so unpredictable and so jarring. The epic miscall of 1948 has never been duplicated in U.S. presidential elections – although the shock of Truman's victory may have been rivaled by the profound surprise that accompanied Donald Trump's win in 2016.

Trump's victory represented polling failure of another kind: Polls in 2016 were not so much in error nationally as they were in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

If Hillary Clinton had carried those states, as polls had indicated, she would have won the electoral votes to become president. But errors in state-level polls upset national expectations, in part because those polls tended to include too few white voters without college degrees, a key Trump constituency in 2016 and this year.

Recalling the 1936 debacle

Another type of polling failure is that of the venerable pollster who is singularly and astonishingly in error – as was the Literary Digest in its infamous mail-in survey of 1936.

The Digest was a weekly magazine whose massive mail-in polls had identified the winner in each of the three presidential elections since 1924. Some newspapers acclaimed the Digest's mass-polling technique for its “uncanny" accuracy.

In 1936, the Digest employed the same methodology that had served it so well. After sending 10 million postcard ballots and tabulating the 2.3 million returned from around the country, the Digest reported that Republican Alf Landon was bound for a comfortable victory over President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Landon ended up carrying two states – Maine and Vermont – and lost the popular vote by 24 percentage points. Roosevelt's victory was one of the most lopsided in presidential election history.

That also was the year Gallup, Crossley and Elmo Roper initiated their election polls, which relied on smaller samples than the Digest. With varying degrees of accuracy, all three newcomers in 1936 signaled Roosevelt's victory.

The Digest's debacle offers an enduring reminder that the roots of polling failure run deep. The stunning miscall occurred at the dawn of modern survey research and introduced a nagging sense about polling's potential to mislead.

After all, if the great election oracle of its time could err so spectacularly, why would other polls be immune to failure?

The answer: They weren't, and aren't, immune.The Conversation

W. Joseph Campbell, Professor of Communication Studies, American University School of Communication

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Schadenfreude over Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was more about cosmic justice than joy in another’s pain

Lee M. Pierce, State University of New York, College at Geneseo

After President Donald Trump announced his COVID-19 diagnosis, Merriam-Webster Dictionary reported a 30,000% increase in searches for the word “schadenfreude."

The German word, which is often translated as “harm joy," or “joy in someone else's pain," instantly became a subject of debate.

GQ and Newsweek, along with Stephen Colbert of “The Late Show," wondered whether schadenfreude was a morally defensible response to the president's diagnosis.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said absolutely not. Harvard professor Laurence Tribe went further, writing that this was no time for “cruelty, schadenfreude, or any other form of small-mindedness."

I agree that cruelty is small-minded and indefensible. But as a scholar of rhetoric, I have a difficult time looping schadenfreude in with small-minded cruelty.

One of the issues is that the common English translation of schadenfreude – “harm joy" – fails to adequately capture the nuances of the term, and misses what's most poignant about it.

The realization of divine symmetry

Perhaps the confusion comes from the social sciences. Recent studies of schadenfreude have oversimplified it as the “darker side" of human emotion.

But at its best, schadenfreude is actually a recognition of ironic justice.

Irony is frequently misused in American political discourse as simply not meaning what you said. However, irony is a very specific rhetorical device by which something returns as its opposite. “A returns as not A" is the classic formulation.

In the case of Trump, he downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 and ended up being diagnosed with a serious case of the virus himself. A returned as not A.

That is classic irony. Then there's the justice element.

Trump didn't simply downplay it in a vacuum. He was in charge of the federal government's response to a pandemic that has devastated thousands of families across the country. To them, COVID-19 has been deadly serious. So in this case, the irony doubles as a form of justice.

By justice, I don't mean rule of law or a system of punishment. I mean justice in its older sense of divine symmetry. The roots of the word “justice" have several potential origins, including the Latin ūstitia, loosely translated as “equity," and the pre-Latin word “jowos," loosely translated as “sacred formula."

Schadenfreude is about appreciating that sacred formula at work in a secular world. Maybe you observe with satisfaction as the person who mocked your weight in high school asks for diet advice on Facebook. Or maybe you look on contentedly as your grandchild gives your child the same grief over broccoli that your child gave you.

Is that small-minded cruelty? Or are you appreciating the cosmic irony by which a perceived wrong has been righted?

An emotional middle ground

Appreciation is not simply another word for happiness or glee. Those are emotions that feel good, the way cuddles with loved ones and delicious desserts feel good.

A sense of appreciation or satisfaction after witnessing poetic justice at work is different, and schadenfreude is a milder experience that involves satisfaction.

To Sigmund Freud, satisfaction was best explained by the word “befriedigung," which means “ceasing displeasure."

Ceasing displeasure is not the same thing as experiencing pleasure. It's about bringing things back into balance. “Befriedigung" occupies an emotional middle ground that can be difficult to grasp in a culture that prefers extreme, binary emotions.

The president's tendency toward hyperbolic and grandiose language is symptomatic of the country's cultural preference for the huge emotions, such as anger, guilt, happiness and pleasure. Schadenfreude is an emotional chisel in an internet and media landscape that prefers blunt rhetorical instruments.

When schadenfreude veers into hopelessness

That said, schadenfreude can certainly go too far.

Just a few decades before Freud, another influential German thinker, Friedrich Nietzsche, argued that schadenfreude, pushed to its limits, becomes another word: “ressentiment." In “On the Genealogy of Morality," Nietzsche defined ressentiment as “slave morality," a feeling of superiority derived from one's own suffering.

Think of it like a sliding scale. On the far end is simple justice: Someone in power does the right thing, like your boss approving your vacation request after you've worked six months with no time off. But let's suppose your boss says no to the request. And then no again two months later. And then no again two months after that. At that point, you might appreciate learning that your boss was denied a vacation request by headquarters. That's schadenfreude. You might even point out this cosmic irony to your boss, hoping it will make a difference.

But when it doesn't – and your boss continues treating you poorly – you might start reveling in your own victimhood. You take every chance you can to tell your co-workers that your boss is out to get you. That's ressentiment.

Ressentiment takes hold once the possibility for justice is no longer on the horizon. Under those conditions, even the most poignant appreciations of irony cannot speak truth to power. In turn, an oppressed people would understandably take refuge in an extreme form of schadenfreude.

But in between justice and ressentiment is a rich, gray area where schadenfreude can serve a valuable political purpose. If those in power won't take responsibility for the injustices they have perpetuated – either knowingly or not – then it's certainly OK for people to appreciate those moments when the chickens come home to roost.The Conversation

Lee M. Pierce, Assistant Professor Rhetoric and Communication, State University of New York, College at Geneseo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Authoritarian white masculinity is Trump and Pence’s political debate strategy: communications expert

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Colorado State University

After the debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, commentators contrasted Pence's reserved demeanor with the belligerence President Donald Trump exhibited in his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden the previous week.

NPR Congress editor Deirdre Walsh asserted that Pence's debate style was an “almost polar opposite of the president's." New York Times conservative columnist Christopher Buskirk called Pence “calm, professional, competent and focused," claiming that he was “in some sense the answer to every criticism leveled at Trump after the last debate." The BBC's Anthony Zurcher contended that Pence's “typically calm and methodical style served as a steady counterpoint to Trump's earlier aggression."

These seemingly disparate styles, however, are two sides of the same coin – manifestations of a particular version of authoritarian white masculinity that has taken over the GOP since it became the party of Trump.

Not only do these styles perpetuate sexist assumptions about leadership, they also are fundamentally undemocratic because they try to silence dissent, foreclose debate and curtail the participation of anyone with whom they disagree in our democracy.

An inequitable system

Authoritarian white masculinity is a version of patriarchal authority that has asserted itself in U.S. politics in conjunction with the rise of Donald Trump. It assumes that heterosexual white men are best suited to leadership and casts political leadership by women and people of color as inauthentic – for example, the “birther movement" – or threatening – for example, “lock her up."

The Trump presidency is, in part, a backlash to the election of the nation's first Black president and to Hillary Clinton's nomination in 2016 as the first woman to top a major-party presidential ticket. This reassertion of white patriarchal authority is presented as necessary for the nation's stability and progress. It's one way Trump delivers on his promise to “make America great again."

Authoritarian white masculinity has made a resurgence because it doesn't only appeal to men. People of all genders can be socialized into patriarchal systems, and white women, in particular, sometimes benefit from their proximity to, and participation in, authoritarian white masculinity.

Where progressive political power aims to expand citizenship, voting and participation, conservative authoritarianism aims to curtail it. As a result, progressive women and candidates of color face a complex set of stereotypes and constraints when challenging the white patriarchy on which the U.S. political system is built.

As a political communication scholar who has studied gender and the U.S. presidency for 25 years, I have observed how talented and driven women have been held back from reaching the nation's highest office by a culture that rewards authoritarian masculinity.

But I also study the rhetorical ingenuity of candidates like Harris, whose ability to navigate an inequitable political system makes them formidable.

Authoritarian white masculinity as debate strategy

Trump's approach to the debate on Sept. 29 was to establish himself as someone who leads through dominance.

CNN reported that he “dominated the discussion, talked over his rival, [and] steamrolled the moderator — often without any interruption." Trump characterized Biden as someone who could easily be “dominated" by what he called “socialists" in the Democratic party.

Trump was unconstrained by either expectations of civility or the rules of the debate. The more disruptive, the better. Drawn in by Trump's provocations, Biden urged Trump to “shut up, man" and called him a “clown." Debate observers likened the event to a schoolyard brawl or a bar fight.

Although some commentators cheered Pence's ostensible civility during the vice presidential debate, Pence persistently ignored the rules to which his campaign had assented, speaking past his time limit, refusing to answer many of moderator Susan Page's questions, and supplanting the moderator's authority so that he could pose his own questions to Harris.

Pence's authoritarian masculinity is the genteel version favored in the patriarchal religious and regional communities that compose Trump's most loyal base: Southern conservatives and white evangelical Christians. During the debate, Pence said it was a “privilege to be on the stage" with Harris and repeatedly thanked the moderator while ignoring her authority.

When Page moved to a new topic, Pence said, “Well, thank you, but I would like to go back to the previous topic." When she informed him his time was up, he kept speaking as though no one had said anything. When he wanted to interrupt Harris, he placidly insisted, “I have to weigh in."

Harris: 'I'm speaking'

Harris' response to the vice president's interruptions were popular with women who have experienced similar rudeness.

Harris refused to be steamrolled. Her gender insulated her from being drawn into a competitive masculinity display, as Biden was in his debate with Trump. But that doesn't mean her task was easy.

As noted by Politico, Harris had to “navigate stereotypes that pigeonhole Black women as angry and aggressive, and less qualified that white men."

Harris' strategy was to meet Pence's authoritarian masculinity with an authoritative assertion of her own: “I'm speaking."

Without appealing to the moderator to intervene on her behalf, she did what men routinely do: she took up space. She claimed time. She articulated her qualifications. But she was careful to do it all with a smile.

Twitter lit up as women saw Harris weaving around familiar roadblocks that they routinely encounter in their own lives.

Dominance or democracy?

The “dominance" strategy did not work well for Trump or Pence, other than garnering the expected partisan praise. But neither is likely to abandon it. More than a campaign tactic, authoritarian masculinity appears to be baked into their worldviews.

As Trump's electoral prospects dwindle, his belief in his inherent entitlement to authority appears to be fostering a host of anti-democratic practices: contesting election procedures to reduce voter participation; declining to commit to accepting the results of the election if he loses; sabotaging or boycotting debates.

When Trump told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News that he planned to stage a rally instead of debating Biden in a COVID-19-safe virtual format, it was revealing. Debates are rituals of democracy, dating back to the classical Greek agora, flourishing in the Continental Congress that birthed the United States, and held up as the ideal form of campaign communication after those made famous by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.

Rallies, on the other hand, are authoritarian political theater popularized by demagogues and dictators.

And the attraction of authoritarian masculinity seems to be shared by other Republican politicians. On the night of the vice presidential debate, Sen. Mike Lee posted a tweet that implied that something other than democratic governance might be required in order for “the human condition to flourish."

Presidential campaign cycles present voters with the opportunity to think about the expectations they have of political leaders, who those standards benefit and constrain, and how they promote or impede democratic engagement. As such, campaign communication and presidential debates are about much more than political strategy. They build – or break – American democracy.The Conversation

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What kind of recovery will we have from the recession?

by William Hauk, University of South Carolina

Recessions – typically defined as two consecutive quarters of declining economic output – are always painful in terms of how they affect our economic well-being. Like all bad things, fortunately, they eventually end and a recovery begins.

But not all recoveries or recessions look the same. And economists have a tendency to compare their varying paths with letters of the alphabet.

For example, during the current situation, you may have the heard the direction the recovery might take compared with a “V," a “W" or even a “K."

As a macroeconomist, I know this alphabet soup can be confusing for a lay reader. So here's a guide to some of the most commonly used letters.

'V' for victory

While recessions are never a good thing, the “V-shaped" recovery is deemed the best-case scenario. In a recession with a V shape, the decline is rapid, but so is the recovery.

A good example of this type of recession took place in 1981 and 1982. That recession occurred after then-Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker rapidly raised interest rates beginning in 1979 in an effort to curb high inflation. This caused a sharp recession – leading to what was then the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

But outside of economic circles, this recession is little remembered. Why? Primarily because the recovery was so rapid. After Volcker began cutting interest rates in the second half of 1982, the economy entered a recovery as sharp as the recession.

'U' and a long bottom

Conversely, a “U-shaped" recession generally has a longer duration, both for the downturn and the recovery period. The 2001 recession that followed the dot-com bubble and the 9/11 attacks fits into this category.

In some ways, the post-dot-com recession was a mild one. The fall in employment from the job market's peak in February 2001 until the trough in August 2003 was only slightly less than 2%. Yet it took over two years of decline for the economy to bottom out, and it took another year and a half for the number of jobs to exceed the pre-recession peak. Furthermore, the amount of time spent near the bottom of the recession was relatively long.

The reclining 'L'

The last U.S. recession, which coincided with the financial crisis of 2008, was especially brutal.

Economists call it an “L-shaped" recession because there was an initial sharp downturn, but a very plodding recovery. To see the L, you need to imagine the letter sort of reclining backward on its end.

The economy declined rapidly after the September 2008 failure of Lehman Brothers, and employment plunged about 6.3% from its pre-recession peak before reaching its low point. The pace of job creation in the recovery was very slow. It took almost 4½ years to recover all the jobs lost.

'K' and a two-track recovery

It may be hard to see how a K could be applied to data on a graph, but it's the letter increasingly being used to describe the path of the current recession and eventual recovery.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell didn't call it a “K" but that's basically what he meant when he discussed the current economic trajectory in a recent address. He expressed concerns that the U.S. will experience a “two-track recovery" in which things get better quickly for some people, while staying bad for others.

Is that the kind of recession we're in?

It's unclear. So far, looking at the whole economy, the U.S. has what has been called a “checkmark" or “swoosh" recession. It began to look something like a V, with a sharp drop in employment and then the beginnings of a rapid increase. But that recovery has begun to stall – though not for everyone.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation's newsletter.]

As Powell suggested, the recovery could look different to various groups. White-collar workers may see a “V," as their jobs are more capable of being done remotely. Blue-collar workers are seeing something closer to a U or L. One analysis shows that medium- to high-wage workers have gained back virtually all the jobs lost during the shutdown earlier this near. Conversely, employment of lower-wage workers is still more than 20% below its pre-COVID-19 peak.

Recessions are tough for anyone to live through. However, the shape of the recovery can make it more or less bearable.The Conversation

William Hauk, Associate Professor of Economics, University of South Carolina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump and Pence adopt a strategy of authoritarian white masculinity

by Karrin Vasby Anderson, Colorado State University

After the debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, commentators contrasted Pence's reserved demeanor with the belligerence President Donald Trump exhibited in his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden the previous week.

NPR Congress editor Deirdre Walsh asserted that Pence's debate style was an “almost polar opposite of the president's." New York Times conservative columnist Christopher Buskirk called Pence “calm, professional, competent and focused," claiming that he was “in some sense the answer to every criticism leveled at Trump after the last debate." The BBC's Anthony Zurcher contended that Pence's “typically calm and methodical style served as a steady counterpoint to Trump's earlier aggression."

These seemingly disparate styles, however, are two sides of the same coin – manifestations of a particular version of authoritarian white masculinity that has taken over the GOP since it became the party of Trump.

Not only do these styles perpetuate sexist assumptions about leadership, they also are fundamentally undemocratic because they try to silence dissent, foreclose debate and curtail the participation of anyone with whom they disagree in our democracy.

An inequitable system

Authoritarian white masculinity is a version of patriarchal authority that has asserted itself in U.S. politics in conjunction with the rise of Donald Trump. It assumes that heterosexual white men are best suited to leadership and casts political leadership by women and people of color as inauthentic – for example, the “birther movement" – or threatening – for example, “lock her up."

The Trump presidency is, in part, a backlash to the election of the nation's first Black president and to Hillary Clinton's nomination in 2016 as the first woman to top a major-party presidential ticket. This reassertion of white patriarchal authority is presented as necessary for the nation's stability and progress. It's one way Trump delivers on his promise to “make America great again."

Authoritarian white masculinity has made a resurgence because it doesn't only appeal to men. People of all genders can be socialized into patriarchal systems, and white women, in particular, sometimes benefit from their proximity to, and participation in, authoritarian white masculinity.

Where progressive political power aims to expand citizenship, voting and participation, conservative authoritarianism aims to curtail it. As a result, progressive women and candidates of color face a complex set of stereotypes and constraints when challenging the white patriarchy on which the U.S. political system is built.

As a political communication scholar who has studied gender and the U.S. presidency for 25 years, I have observed how talented and driven women have been held back from reaching the nation's highest office by a culture that rewards authoritarian masculinity.

But I also study the rhetorical ingenuity of candidates like Harris, whose ability to navigate an inequitable political system makes them formidable.

Authoritarian white masculinity as debate strategy

Trump's approach to the debate on Sept. 29 was to establish himself as someone who leads through dominance.

CNN reported that he “dominated the discussion, talked over his rival, [and] steamrolled the moderator — often without any interruption." Trump characterized Biden as someone who could easily be “dominated" by what he called “socialists" in the Democratic party.

Trump was unconstrained by either expectations of civility or the rules of the debate. The more disruptive, the better. Drawn in by Trump's provocations, Biden urged Trump to “shut up, man" and called him a “clown." Debate observers likened the event to a schoolyard brawl or a bar fight.

Although some commentators cheered Pence's ostensible civility during the vice presidential debate, Pence persistently ignored the rules to which his campaign had assented, speaking past his time limit, refusing to answer many of moderator Susan Page's questions, and supplanting the moderator's authority so that he could pose his own questions to Harris.

Pence's authoritarian masculinity is the genteel version favored in the patriarchal religious and regional communities that compose Trump's most loyal base: Southern conservatives and white evangelical Christians. During the debate, Pence said it was a “privilege to be on the stage" with Harris and repeatedly thanked the moderator while ignoring her authority.

When Page moved to a new topic, Pence said, “Well, thank you, but I would like to go back to the previous topic." When she informed him his time was up, he kept speaking as though no one had said anything. When he wanted to interrupt Harris, he placidly insisted, “I have to weigh in."

Harris: 'I'm speaking'

Harris' response to the vice president's interruptions were popular with women who have experienced similar rudeness.

Harris refused to be steamrolled. Her gender insulated her from being drawn into a competitive masculinity display, as Biden was in his debate with Trump. But that doesn't mean her task was easy.

As noted by Politico, Harris had to “navigate stereotypes that pigeonhole Black women as angry and aggressive, and less qualified that white men."

Harris' strategy was to meet Pence's authoritarian masculinity with an authoritative assertion of her own: “I'm speaking."

Without appealing to the moderator to intervene on her behalf, she did what men routinely do: she took up space. She claimed time. She articulated her qualifications. But she was careful to do it all with a smile.

Twitter lit up as women saw Harris weaving around familiar roadblocks that they routinely encounter in their own lives.

Dominance or democracy?

The “dominance" strategy did not work well for Trump or Pence, other than garnering the expected partisan praise. But neither is likely to abandon it. More than a campaign tactic, authoritarian masculinity appears to be baked into their worldviews.

As Trump's electoral prospects dwindle, his belief in his inherent entitlement to authority appears to be fostering a host of anti-democratic practices: contesting election procedures to reduce voter participation; declining to commit to accepting the results of the election if he loses; sabotaging or boycotting debates.

When Trump told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News that he planned to stage a rally instead of debating Biden in a COVID-19-safe virtual format, it was revealing. Debates are rituals of democracy, dating back to the classical Greek agora, flourishing in the Continental Congress that birthed the United States, and held up as the ideal form of campaign communication after those made famous by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.

Rallies, on the other hand, are authoritarian political theater popularized by demagogues and dictators.

And the attraction of authoritarian masculinity seems to be shared by other Republican politicians. On the night of the vice presidential debate, Sen. Mike Lee posted a tweet that implied that something other than democratic governance might be required in order for “the human condition to flourish."

Presidential campaign cycles present voters with the opportunity to think about the expectations they have of political leaders, who those standards benefit and constrain, and how they promote or impede democratic engagement. As such, campaign communication and presidential debates are about much more than political strategy. They build – or break – American democracy.The Conversation

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

BRAND NEW STORIES