james debate
james debate

Thursday, 29 October 2020

We are now less than one week away from the 2020 Presidential election and so far it has been a pretty uneventful and traditional campaign... nah just kidding, it's been every inch as much of a muck fight as one would have expected. The first term of Donald Trump is coming to a fittingly chaotic conclusion. The question now is whether he will in fact win a second term, or be replaced by the challenger Joe Biden. In this post I will attempt to shed some light on the likely outcome and make a few final predictions.

2020 us presidential congress election house senate trump biden democrat republican
Introduction
To say that this has been an unusual election would be to put it mildly. Donald Trump is not a usual President and even as an incumbent he has seemed intent upon a "burn everything to the ground" approach to campaigning. He began the year as one of the most divisive and least popular incumbents in modern American history, freshly impeached for high crimes, amid a backdrop of near constant scandal and criminal investigation. This was before the pandemic even started.


What to expect? First let's begin with the fundamentals. An incumbent President usually does win re-election. In the last hundred years, only four out of eighteen Presidents have failed to win re-election on attempting to do so. Incumbency advantage is very real at the Presidential level. The economy is weak at the moment, but fortunately for Trump he seems to have been attributed only minimal blame for this. On top of this, the nature of the electoral college system appears to give Trump something of an advantage, to the point where he was able to win in 2016 despite losing the popular vote by millions of votes. In an ordinary year, you would expect a sitting President in this position to be a comfortable favourite for re-election, perhaps even as much as a 75% favourite. But Donald Trump has been an unusual President at the best of times. He was hugely unpopular even before the pandemic hit, and routinely trailed Biden in the polls. Then the pandemic did hit, Trump (rightly) took massive criticism for his response, and his polls sunk even lower to a point from which they have never really recovered.

Despite all the drama the polls have painted a pretty consistent and unambiguous picture. Biden leads, and pretty comfortably. His current national polling average of around 9-10% would be one of the largest margins of victory in the popular vote in modern history, far greater than Clinton's 3% popular vote victory in 2016 and greater even than Obama's landslide 7% victory in 2008. The state-level polling suggests a slightly closer race, with an implied national margin more in the order of 7-8%, but this is still pretty substantial by historical standards. The polls are pretty clear, Biden is ahead, and in any other election year this would be looking like a foregone conclusion. But from the lack of debates, to the global pandemic, to the attempted kidnappings and literal threats to overrule a democratic vote... this has not been a normal election.

So why isn't this a foregone conclusion despite Biden's commanding lead in the polls? First let's address the elephant in the room, the 2016 election. In 2016 the polls also pointed towards a Trump defeat and yet he won. If the polls were wrong in 2016, couldn't they be wrong again in 2020?

This idea that the polls are wrong or that they can't be trusted is something of a myth, albeit a persistent one. In 2018 the polls were pretty much spot on. Meanwhile the polling error in 2016 was nowhere near as significant as is commonly believed, and should not have come as a surprise given the high level of uncertainty being shown in the polls at the time. Hillary Clinton's final polling average in 2016 had her at a 4% national advantage and she won by 3%, pretty accurate indeed. The error at state-level was a little worse (WI, MI and PA in particular), but can be easily explained by the high level of uncertainty evident in the polls. While Hillary did lead in the state-level polling, she was still only polling in the mid 40s, with undecided voters numbering in double digits. That implies a high degree of uncertainty in the polls that people simply missed or ignored. Even with this uncertainty, the polling error was still mostly within or close to the margin of error. The reality is not so much that the polls were bad, but that people were simply misreading them and far more confident in Hillary's narrow polling leads than they should have been. 

That is the big difference this year. To put it quite simply, the 2020 polls don't look like the 2016 polls. Biden is not polling in the mid 40s, he is polling at or above 50% nationally and in key states. Undecided voters are basically non-existent. Biden's margins are bigger than Hillary's, the polls show far fewer undecideds and thus less uncertainty. For Trump to win at the polls he needs a much bigger polling error than we saw in 2016. 

This is not to say that Donald Trump does not have a chance. Just that the main uncertainty in the race comes not from the polls, as is commonly claimed, but from other factors. The biggest such factor, by far, is Covid-19.

The truth is, no one really knows what an election this year is going to look like. There has not been anything quite like this in recent memory, and we can only guess as to how, if at all, the pandemic will affect voting. We simply don't know whether or how the pandemic will affect turnout on election day, nor if such an impact would materially benefit one side over the other. 

Nor, unfortunately, can we rule out a significant impact from various electoral shenanigans. The Trump regime's attempt to sabotage the postal service has been the subject of much criticism, and he has been completely open about his willingness to challenge the election results in the court if need be. Trump has stated on more than one occasion that it was important to have conservative justices on the Supreme Court to ensure he could swing a close election. Reportedly, there is at least one state government considering legislative manoeuvres to flat out overturn the vote if need be. Then there is good old fashioned voter suppression. This ranges from removing voters from the registers without notifying them, to reducing the number of ballot drop-off boxes in Democratic-leaning districts, to voter intimidation.

Perhaps most troubling, Trump's politicisation of mail-in voting has created a dynamic where the mail-in vote leans heavily democratic and the in-person vote is expected to lean heavily Republican. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the President could hold a lead based on the election day in-person votes and then challenge in the courts to have states stop counting, or dismiss entirely, the mail-in vote. 

That such nightmare scenarios can't be ruled out is a damning indictment of American democracy. But ultimately I doubt that anything of this nature will have enough of an impact to truly swing the election. Many mail-in votes are cast days or weeks before election day and for a lot of states will be counted even before the in-person votes. Nor is it particularly clear that voter suppression efforts will really work, or affect Democrats so disproportionately as to materially change the result (especially if such measures are targeted at in-person voters that, as we have already discussed, are expected to lean Republican). The fact is that every election has these theories and stories of purported efforts to "rig" the election, and they usually amount to very little. Trump is using these inflammatory claims to depress voter turnout, Democrats are using it to fire up their base. Barring something truly unprecedented, I expect the election to be determined by the vote, as always.

That we haven't even mentioned the ongoing foreign election interference (mainly Russia but also allegedly China and Iran) speaks to how completely insane this election already is. That being said, I don't consider this to be a significant cause of uncertainty as to the election result, simply because any impact of these efforts, by their nature, one would expect to already be represented in the polling.

To be clear, none of this is to suggest that Trump does not have an ordinary electoral path to victory. He does, albeit a narrow one in the area of 20% (don't kid yourself, 20% chances can and do happen!). But increasingly it is looking as though his re-election chances depend on a combination of inherent pandemic uncertainty or anti-democratic shenanigans, and that is not a good position in which to be.

So this is the state of the race in a nutshell. Joe Biden leads and, barring something truly unprecedented, appears likely to win. But this is a year of unprecedenteds. Despite what anyone tells you, there remains enough uncertainty that no prediction can be called truly sound.

But to hell with that, we're going to predict anyway. Now let's give you the summary verdict that you came here for: The Ephemeric predicts Joe Biden to win the Presidency and the Democrats to hold the House of Representatives and retake the Senate.


Presidential Election Verdict: Joe Biden Elected President

election 2020 presidential race map republican democrat trump biden electoral map forecast Predicted Electoral Map: Joe Biden (D) - 313, Donald Trump (R) - 225.

The above map is based on data from a variety of aggregators, including Pollster, Fivethirtyeight, and analysts including Sabato and Cook Political, and shows the expected electoral map. The rest is pretty self explanatory: dark blue represents safe Democrat wins, light blue leans Democrat, grey is toss up. Meanwhile on the other side, light red to dark red represents lean to likely Republican.

First thing's first. This is an unambiguously bad map for Donald Trump. He could win all of the toss up states above and still lose the election. He could win all the toss up states plus any one of the Democratic-leaning states and still lose the election. Those states won't even be enough and currently he trails in the polling average for all of them except Ohio. That sums up how difficult a position he is in heading into this final week.

A closer look at the polls shows Trump facing difficulties across the board. The suburban shift towards the Democrats that handed the party a blue wave in 2018 has continued through 2020. Women, a demographic that already leaned Democratic, have shifted even further to the left, including white women, a demographic that actually tilted towards Trump in 2016. Incredibly, Biden leads Trump among seniors, a demographic that almost always votes Republican (turns out seniors care a lot about Covid-19). The only demographic that bears any good news for Trump is among minorities, with whom he still does poorly but better relative to 2016.

You can see the impact of these trends on the map above, where Biden currently holds substantive leads in the key rust belt states and has even made in-roads into traditionally red states like Arizona (where Trump's animosity towards McCain has surely hurt the incumbent), Texas, and Georgia.

Looking at the toss up states, Trump could conceivably lose all of them but I don't think he will. His lead in Ohio has been small, but consistent, and the district level data looks promising for him. I also think he will win Florida. Biden has led in Florida for basically the entire year, but the state has a pretty clear track record of overestimating Democrats' in the polls, even in the 2018 midterms which were otherwise a blow-out for Democrats. Similarly while Biden has led consistently in North Carolina (another state that tends to overestimate Democrats), that lead does appear to be narrowing and I expect that this (admittedly minor) momentum could take Trump over the finish line there.

The opposite appears to be true of Georgia. Trump has led this state narrowly for most of the election cycle, but recent polls indicate a late surge for Biden. This is a state without a history of overrating Democrats that came extraordinarily close to going blue in both 2016 and 2018. If this momentum holds then there is a good chance that 2020 could be the year for Democrats in Georgia. The X-factor in this state, sadly, is corruption. In 2018, Georgia was widely criticised for voter suppression tactics, its lack of transparency, and suspiciously destroyed voting records in the wake of a razor thin vote. It could be enough to swing an otherwise close election.

But while these may be the closest and most interesting states at the moment, they are not the most important. Biden doesn't need to win any of these states. If he does, then it is almost certainly game over for Trump, but Biden could lose them all and still quite handily win the election.

No the key states, as in 2016, will be the rust belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and in particular, Pennsylvania. These are the must-win states that will determine who wins the election. If Biden wins them, he will almost certainly be President. If Trump wins them, he will almost certainly be President. The problem for Trump is that right now all of them show pretty decent Biden leads.

Of these, Wisconsin in particular looks rough for Trump. As one of the nation's worst-hit Covid states, Wisconsin was always going to be in an anti-incumbent (and anti-Trump in particular) mood. But the real damage was done in Kenosha over the summer where Trump was widely criticised for his handling of peaceful protests, which ultimately resulted in several dead at the hands of armed right wing militia. Wisconsin is a state that had been shifting right for several years now and not too long ago appeared to be Trump's most favourable in the region, but at this point it looks a safe bet to be carried by Biden.

Michigan is another state that Trump just about edged in 2016, but in which he has been polling poorly throughout this cycle. The most left-leaning of these three states, run by a popular Democratic Governor with whom Trump has inadvisedly insisted on waging a war of words, to the point where he almost appeared to have called for an armed rebellion, an accusation that can't have been helped by the recently foiled attempt by right wing militia (see the pattern here?) to kidnap the Governor.

But let's not mince words, Pennsylvania is the state. If you watch one state this election, it's this one. With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is one of the most electorally valuable in the country. Trump has basically no plausible path to victory that doesn't involve winning this state. Conversely while Biden does have a plausible path to victory without it (by way of Arizona), he arguably becomes the underdog if Trump carries the state (also taking into account that if Trump overperforms in PA, he likely also overperforms in other demographically similar states). There is simply no state that is as important to this election as PA and there is a very good chance that this will be the single most determinative state.

To be quite frank, Pennsylvania also has a Republican controlled legislature and bizarre electoral laws that block the counting of any early or mail-in votes until after election night. So if there is any state where Trump could conceivably pull some shenanigans to block or overrule the popular vote, it's this one. To be clear, I still think this is incredibly unlikely to happen (or to work if it does happen), but tragically in today's America it can't be ruled out as a possibility.

Fortunately for Trump, Biden's lead in Pennsylvania has also been narrower than his lead in Michigan and Wisconsin. Despite being a sort of second home state for his opponent, Trump has managed to avoid making the sort of catastrophic blunder here that may have well have put WI and MI beyond his reach. To be clear: Joe Biden does lead the polls in this state and has done so consistently, but the race is close enough that it would only take a larger than normal polling error to put it into play, and the entire election along with it.

But just as this race could plausibly move in Trump's favour relative to the polls, it could equally do so in the opposite direction. Incredibly, Trump appears to be holding leads in deep red states like Montana, Kansas and (above all) Texas that are at least as narrow, if not more so, as the key rust belt states he needs to take from Biden. So yes, this is still a map where Trump could conceivably win, but it's also a map where Joe Biden could run the board and produce a truly historic landslide.

Whichever way you look at it, this is a bad map for Trump. Trump really has only the one plausible path to victory through Pennsylvania, but Biden has several potential options. More importantly, Biden leads in all the key states and either leads or is close enough in enough non-key states that you would expect him to pick up a few of those as well. That the closest battleground states appear to be the likes of Georgia, Iowa and Texas, rather than Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania is a very, very bad sign for Trump. He is playing defence at a time when he is already behind, and time is running out for him to turn it around.


House of Representatives Verdict: Democratic Majority

2020 us congress election house senate gerrymandering rigged illegalCurrent House Map: Democrats - 232, Republicans - 197.
Predicted House MapDemocrats - 240, Republicans - 195.
Approximate Net Change: Democrats gain 8-12 seats.

This is going to be the shortest part of this article. Very few analysts consider the Republicans to have any chance at all of taking back the majority in the House, and I concur.

In 2018, Democrats rode a blue wave to a House majority with a historic 8-9% national margin. This result was achieved despite the fact that midterm elections are typically less favourable for Democrats and despite the fact that House is gerrymandered to the point where Democrats need a strong majority of the vote just to break even (see my 2018 post for a reminder of what "gerrymandering" means and why it is an antidemocratic stain on the country). In 2020, the national environment appears to be at least as favourable as 2018 (or at most 1% or so worse), plus the addition of the inherent benefits that the Democratic party typically sees in higher-turnout Presidential years. It is also material that progress has been made in numerous states to end the practice of gerrymandering. 

All these factors suggest that Democrats should not only hold onto their majority, but are even poised to expand it further, even with all else remaining equal. My expectation is for a modest gain in the region of ten seats. No fewer than five, but no more than fifteen.


Senate Verdict: Democratic Majority

election 2020 biden trump senate map forecast
Current Senate Map: Democrats - 47, Republicans - 53.
Predicted House MapDemocrats- 51, Republicans - 49.
Approximate Net Change: Democrats gain 4 seats.
Key states to watch: AZ, ME, CO, NC, IA, GA, KS, MT

If there has been one silver lining for the Republican party these last two years, it is that they managed to retain control of the Senate against the blue wave of 2018. This was not a surprise, even with a national situation that was highly favourable to Democrats that year. The Senate map in 2018 was one of the most lopsided in recent memory, very favourable to Republicans with Democrats defending several seats in deep red states. The 2020 map, in fairness, is also a decent Senate map for Republicans, though not nearly so much as in 2018. The combination of a more favourable Senate map plus strong national conditions make Democrats a slight favourite to win a majority of the Senate.

There are 35 Senate races this year. Democrats need to pick up a net of four for a majority, or three if they also win the Presidency (with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote). It just so happens that there are three clear pick up opportunities where I would consider the Democrats to be favourites to win: Arizona, Colorado, Maine.

First Colorado. This is, for me, a non-race. Colorado has been a solid blue state for the last few elections and it looks especially so in 2020. The Democratic candidate is John Hickenlooper, a huge name in Colorado and a popular former Governor. I'm not going to beat around the bush here, I don't see any shot for Cory Gardner. Given the national mood and where the state is at in 2020, Democrats should pick this one up comfortably and I really can't see any other outcome.

Arizona is a pretty interesting one. Historically a fairly deep red state, Arizona has been low-key shifting towards the Democrats over a few electoral cycles. 2018 proved to be the breaking point, with Democrats very narrowly winning a Senate race, the first statewide race the party has won in many years. But 2020 has been a completely different beast, with Democrats leading consistently and comfortably in both the Senate and Presidential races for basically the entire cycle. The Republican party's self destruction in this race has been baffling to watch, appointing the losing candidate of 2018 Martha McSally to this seat (and thus to become the presumptive party nominee). Losing candidates rarely do any better the second time around, especially when they've been holding the seat by appointment without having won it in the first place. She is an awful choice for a candidate and she has run an awful race. By contrast, her opponent is Mark Kelly, former astronaut and national hero without a political bone in his body, whose wife is a beloved former Congresswoman and mass-shooting victim. It seems incredible to say, Arizona is not a race in which the Democrats expected to be competing, but they're winning this race and at the moment they are doing so quite comfortably.

Then there's Maine. The Republican incumbent Susan Collins has been in big trouble since her vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I don't think there's anyone in the world who would envy the tightrope she has had to walk as a Republican in a solidly blue state, but even under challenging political conditions she has done an exceedingly poor job of it. From her much derided, fawning speech announcing support for Kavanaugh, to her flip flops, she has (whether fairly or unfairly) become a poster-child for spineless sycophancy in politics, and it looks like her luck may have finally run out.

So that's three pick ups. But Democrats are almost certain to lose a seat in Alabama, where incumbent Doug Jones only eked out his unlikely victory by merit of being up against an accused pedophile (and even that was narrow). So they need at least one more, preferably two. But beyond these three, the map starts to look tougher for Democrats. 

Cal Cunningham had been looking a tidy favourite to win in North Carolina, but recent polls have shown that race (and the state as a whole) narrowing in recent days in tandem with a minor sexting scandal that Cunningham has faced. He still leads in this race, but it's tight, and with the momentum arguably against him I don't think Democrats can rely on this race.

Elsewhere, Democrats appear to have taken something of a surprise polling lead in Iowa and trail narrowly in a Kansas race that has proven divisive on the Republican side. Montana, of all places, appears to be a pure toss up, with popular former governor Steve Bullock running neck and neck with the Republican incumbent. Then there's Georgia, a state that is not only crucial in the Presidential race, but also features two Senate races and polling that appears to be trending in the Democrats' favour in recent days. Both races in that state appear to be tied at the moment, with Democrats either slightly ahead or slightly behind depending on which poll you look at. The Georgia races represent good pick up opportunities, but it should be noted that due to Georgia's run-off system, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote on election day, the top two candidates head into a run-off at a later date, by which point the political environment may not be as favourable for Democrats.

These are the key races, but there are a few more that are still worth watching. First up is Michigan, one of the few states that Democrats are defending and a potential GOP target if they have a good election night. Currently, as in the Presidential race, Democrats look to have a consistent if modest polling lead, but it's worth watching. Keep an eye also on South Carolina, of all places, where Jamie Harrison has staged an unlikely, record breaking insurrection against prominent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

So there's a good six or so close races here, with Democrats only really needing to pick up one or two. All else being equal with such a number of close races, historically you would expect them to prevail in at least a few of them. Democrats will feel good about picking up the additional two seats they need.


Conclusion
So there it is. By no means a foregone conclusion, but the polling right now strongly suggests an election night that results in a Democratic trifecta, perhaps as much as a 7 in 10 likelihood. The unique conditions of 2020 and unprecedented threats being made against the democratic process are certainly setting a national mood of uncertainty. But for all the drama and theatricality, more often that not these things end up going more or less as expected. I understand the doubt, but ultimately expect the polls to be proven correct. 









Saturday, 24 October 2020

Developed by Paradox Development Studio
Published by Paradox Interactive
Genre Grand Strategy
Platform PC, Mac OS

crusader Kings 3 III 2 paradox europa universalis 2020 mac pc game

So I finally conquered Europe. It took more than a century of carefully planned marriages, more than a few strategic assassinations, and a faustian bargain with an old mystic, who in hindsight may just have been a crazy person. Either way, it's done. Now I just need to keep my greedy siblings from ganging up to overthrow me and find a way to defang that one powerful vassal of mine who's always an asshole just for the hell of it. Plus my beloved horse died after some dozen years and it's sending me into a mini-mental breakdown. 


This is the world of Crusader Kings III, the latest in a series of strategy games quite unlike anything else you will have played. The specific genre is grand strategy and what sets it apart from other strategy series like Total War or Civilization is its focus on people rather than factions or states. You don't play as, for example, England or France, but the king of those countries. If you fancy it, you can play as a lowly count or duke in charge of a more local province instead.

The significance of this focus is twofold. One: the political mechanics of this game are far more robust than what you would normally see in a strategy game. Rather than a single united entity, each country is a melange of different leaders, nobles and other assorted characters, each of whom has their own talents, interests, and ambitions. Two: by playing a specific character, your focus is less on painting the map and more on developing your character's skills, reputation and dynasty (characters marry, have children, and create huge branching dynasties - spreading your dynasty to seats of power across Europe can be as rewarding as actual conquest). In that respect, the Crusader Kings series is as much of an RPG as a strategy game and the newest iteration of the series leans heavily into that aspect.

Many of Crusader Kings III's features are a matter of evolution more than revolution from its predecessor. This ensures that the game feels immediately familiar to long time fans of the series. At the same time it is clear that a great deal of effort has gone into streamlining and simplifying at least the interface, if not the actual mechanics. In particular, the addition of an actual in-game tutorial helps introduce newcomers to the myriad of basic features that can otherwise seem daunting. It's not perfect; I can recall a few occasions where I (an experienced player of the series) struggled to find how to execute important functions because they were inexplicably and illogically placed in the interface, or mapped to unclear and easily missable random buttons. No doubt this will improve further as the game is patched. 

The result of these efforts is that this is easily the most accessible game developer Paradox Interactive have yet put out and should be both familiar for longterm fans and easy for newcomers to pick up. Once you've played a bit more, however, it becomes clear that Paradox have actually added quite a lot of additional depth that reveals itself over time. 

Many of these new features are ideas taken from the previous game's expansion packs that have now been rolled into the base game, notably alliances, religion customisation, ruler "focuses", and the more complex interpersonal relationships brought in by later expansions. CK3 adds to the formula with a number of bold additions of its own, particularly with respect to the RPG-like features of gameplay, which now includes full blooded skill trees to further develop and fine tune your leaders/dynasty. However the most significant (and brilliant) new feature has to be the stress system. 

In previous games, ruler personality traits were little more than a skill point modifier. Players still ultimately had total agency in the game, meaning that a leader with cruel or arrogant personality traits could still just go ahead and act in kind, humble ways if the player so chose. The stress system fixes this apparent incongruity, with leaders now generating stress any time they act in such a way that is contrary to their personality. Accumulate enough stress and your character can have a psychotic break, with bad things happening as a result.

There have also been substantial improvements in presentation. Previously characters in this game were depicted in static portraits that would only change at certain age points (birth, 16, 30, 50), leading to numerous memes of cute children suddenly metamorphosing into fat, hairy men in a single day. In CK3, portraits are animated and dynamic, constantly changing and reflecting not just age but weight, health and other traits. In-game events are also depicted through more than just text and an image, with the scene fully depicted using the animated portraits and various backdrops. These might seem like minor, superficial changes, but cumulatively they really do make a big difference to immersion, whether its actually seeing the scars and bruises of my warrior-knight, the silver radiance of my albino warlord, or simply seeing the characters actually in a bar or royal hall when the story calls for it.

My criticisms mainly relate, perhaps unfairly, to features from the game's heavily expanded predecessor that have not been implemented here. Most notable is the lack of the ruler designer that allowed players to create their own characters and dynasties rather than use one of the pre-existing ones in the game. This had become such an essential part of the Crusader Kings experience that I was honestly surprised to recall that it had not always been a base feature of the game, and I was additionally surprised not to see it rolled into the base game for this sequel. There is also currently a general lack of flavour for characters in settings other than the classic European Catholic leader, which becomes more apparent if you try playing as someone in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. These are all things that will undoubtedly be fleshed out further in future expansions, but for the time being it results in a game that is undeniably lighter in depth than its predecessor.

In fairness, it is always difficult making a sequel to a game like Crusader Kings II that has been so heavily expanded over the years. No matter how much work you put into the sequel, there is no way it will have as much content as its predecessor with ten years' worth of expansions and patches. This dilemma is what leads to the much derided "Sims" model of development, where each iteration strips back to the same barebones base game, and then sells players the same handful of expansions over and over again. Crusader Kings III definitely has this issue and it can be jarring right now to switch from the old game to the sequel and realise just how many of the predecessor's features come from expansion packs, but at the same time it is clear that Paradox have made a concerted effort to include many of the expansion features of CK2 into the base game here and they should be applauded for that. 

The Crusader Kings series has always been, at its core, a story generator. In this newest iteration, Paradox Interactive have created one of the greatest story generators in gaming. The story events are richer and more vividly presented, while the sense of place and character generated by the game's clever mechanics mark a substantial evolution from what has come before. While there are plenty of features still to be fleshed out, the base game here is arguably the most impressive they have yet put out in terms of features, and welcoming both to experienced players of the series and newcomers alike.











Friday, 9 October 2020

America is (quite literally) burning. The nation has never been more divided, weaker and less influential. Its officials self-deal and abuse the vital services of government for their own personal enrichment. For a hundred years it has not been so wracked by economic crisis and never in its history been brought to its knees by so rampant and ill-handled a health crisis. The people take to the streets for justice while unshackled armed vigilantes sow murder and carnage. Enough is enough, the chaos must end.

2020 election trump biden endorse democrat republican florida ohio pennsylvania coronavirus covid

I have been thinking a lot lately about the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, a key theme of which is the extent to which people adapt to and normalise even the most horrific of circumstances. The constant threat of nuclear war in the 1960s, the threat of terrorism throughout the early 2000s, even something as fundamental as the inevitability of death, all things that from another perspective might seem horrifying and unacceptable, and yet we accept as simply an ordinary part of life. 


I was thinking about this the other day while watching A Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Instead of the usual grand auditorium, there was Colbert filming his show from an office with a cheap handicam, chatting with his wife off-camera and interviewing his guests via intermittent Zoom connection. What struck me as odd (aside from the obvious) was how no one was mentioning just how unusual this arrangement was, it has simply become a normal way of doing a late night talk show. Four years seems like a long time ago. It is easy to forget that things were not always this way. That the America of 2016 was a stable and functioning nation seems almost unthinkable. 

Economic crisis, hundreds of thousands dead from an uncontrolled pandemic, a never ending circus of scandal and corruption, and civil unrest tearing the country apart. This is the "normal" in Donald Trump's America. Let's be clear, Donald Trump absolutely deserves criticism for all of this. 

In 2017 Donald Trump entered took the reigns of a healthy country with a robust pandemic response infrastructure, one that had successfully kept the ebola outbreak of 2014 at bay. He gutted that infrastructure and the result is a nation in chaos with millions of known cases and hundreds of thousands dead. He inherited a booming economy and record low unemployment rate, now we have an economic crisis and unemployment that hit double digits (and yes, there were economic problems even before the pandemic: record inequality, high regional unemployment, market instability). 
In 2016, America was a stable, prosperous nation and a world leader.  Now it is a pariah state, isolated and quarantined from the civilised world, beset internally by flames and carnage. 

When it comes to the man himself, so much has already been written that really what more is there to add? I could talk about Trump's moral failings, his racism and sexism, his rampant dishonesty, his petulance and ill temperament for the job. I could talk about his scandals, the abuse of power for which he was impeached, the obstruction of justice described in the Mueller Report, the well-documented campaign finance violations with respect to Stormy Daniels, and the alleged tax improprieties for which he is currently under Federal investigation. 

I could write a whole piece on all of these points and still only be scratching the surface and frankly what would be the point? Everyone already knows all of these things, they've been discussed to death over the past four years. By this point everyone in America has already heard these things and either decided that this behaviour is abhorrent or totally fine and will vote accordingly. I won't waste any time rehashing these things. Instead I will simply focus on one key point: the most abhorrent legacy of Trump is his corruption of America's institutions. 

Over the last four years this country has transformed into one where every facet of Government exists solely to benefit the ruling party (and in particular its leader). An FBI Director forced to make a loyalty pledge, an Attorney General chosen to act as the President's personal fixer, IRS directors whose sole purpose is to protect the President from investigation, a President who insists that criminal charges should not be filed against members of his party, NASA directors who conjure up phony and impossible moon missions timed conveniently for immediately after the election, a postal service whose directive appears to be to disenfranchise voters. 

Every part of Government, even those which historically have been completely apolitical, has been corrupted for the sole purpose of serving the personal interests of the President. Gradually America is being transformed from a nation of law and democracy into a sham mafia state that more closely resembles the petty autocracies of nations like Belarus and Russia. Such things have no place in America.

Let's be blunt. There is no good reason to vote for Donald Trump. There are a million reasons to vote for anyone who runs against him regardless of who they are. But equally as important as why Donald Trump needs to be removed from office is why Joe Biden is the best man to guide us out of this mess.

What America needs right now is a calm head. Someone who will do what is right even if it doesn't directly benefit them. No election is going to magically make the pandemic or other crises vanish, but at the very least the country needs a leader who won't exacerbate our problems further with their ego and desire for attention.

That Biden is an experienced set of hands goes without saying. The man has spent years in the highest halls of power. He knows Government and he already knows the key players and world leaders personally. He is ready to hit the ground running on day one and pick up from where the country left off four years ago. But it's not just experience, it's good experience. As Vice President, Biden was part of an administration that shepherded the country out of our last national crisis into an era of record prosperity. He was part of an administration that established one of the most robust public health and pandemic response systems in history, which successfully held both swine flu and ebola at bay, and most likely would have significantly mitigated the tragedy of Covid-19. Joe Biden is a known quantity, and one whose track record shows that he perhaps more than anyone else is capable of handling the problems that currently wrack the country.

But most importantly, Joe Biden is a good person. An authentic everyman in a world of political cynicism, for decades he has been a tireless fighter for working families. His commitment to bipartisanship and unity may seem naive in today's America, but it is a view that he is right to advocate. He represents the lost ideals of America, the ideals that we want the world to see in our country once again. 

Four years does seem like a long time ago. That the America of 2016 was a stable and functioning nation truly seems unthinkable. But it was, and it can be again if we do the right thing. This isn't a difficult decision guys. This administration has been a failure of historic proportions. Vote this laughing stock out of office so that America can rebuild and get back on track.








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