Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? It Ain’t Over till It’s Over

Voter turnout is the secret sauce for fending off the far right.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 5am ET. You can read past issues here.

It Ain’t Over till It’s Over

Despair is good business for mainstream media, and apparently also for us. We saw a spike in newsletter sign-ups over the past week, likely a “can someone tell me it’s all going to be okay” hangover from a presidential debate that was widely considered disastrous.

We will know soon if President Joe Biden will remain the Democratic nominee. In the links section below, many members of The Progress Network (TPN) make the case that he should step aside.

In this part of the newsletter, however, we typically try to stay out of the partisan fray. There are already plenty of screeds published on whether Biden should stay or go. Adding another one to the pile doesn’t feel helpful.

While we are not partisans, we are big believers in small-l liberal democracy, the basic premise of which is that a government cannot run roughshod over the freedom and rights of its people. So when we do step into politics, it is often to discuss the preservation of democracy. These days, that means we end up talking a lot about far-right populism, like Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, which during its time governing remade the laws of a nation to preserve its own power.

Which brings us to former President Donald Trump. Perhaps it’s the native—others may say naive—optimist in me, but my hunch is that even if he wins the United States presidential election, we’ll still get to the other side of it with our democracy intact. (This “dispassionate but detailed” viral analysis of the Supreme Court immunity decision helped gird that stance.) But better to avoid that high-stakes, risky game, with its side serving of mass stress.

To that end, the “crisis of faith,” as Heated newsletter writer Arielle Samuelson put it, that Americans seem to be having post-debate is deeply worrying. So is the assumption, coming from Democrats like Maine Congressman Jared Golden ($), Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, or the actor George Clooney ($) that the election has already been decided for Trump.

The threat level of another Trump presidency; the deep uncertainty of the Democratic party’s path forward—the environment may be chaotic, but our democracy is still kicking. If Trump wins in November, he will have won a fair and free election. That hasn’t happened yet. This is not the time to give up.

There are several recent elections in which the far right has been turned back, defying expectations. The news cycle between the time that French President Emmanuel Macron called a snap election in late June and the actual result a few days ago was dominated by headlines that the far-right National Rally party would score big. Instead, voters rejected the prospect of a far-right government. In Poland, PiS was voted out last autumn. 

Those are just two examples. There is a common thread between them and among many of the elections in which the far right has been fended off, and that is voter turnout. In France, “turnout, at 66.63 percent, was the highest in a parliamentary second round since 1997,” reports the BBC. In Poland, it was over 74 percent, the highest in the country’s history of democracy.

What about all the polls that are breaking for Trump? As TPN Member Isaac Saul wrote this week in his newsletter, Tangle, “Democrats have continued to outperform polls and win competitive elections since 2016. Until that pattern changes, I think polling is just one piece of a much larger puzzle—it can guide us, show us trends, and give clues about what lies ahead, but voters will write the final chapter.”

Unfortunately, we can’t assure you with certainty that it’s all going to be okay. But we can share the lessons of France and elsewhere: with a united front, you can make it so.

What Could Go Right? S6 E12

Promotional image for S6 E12 of the What Could Go Right? podcast, The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of New Media with Ben Smith

Has social media peaked? How is media different now compared to the early days of Twitter and Facebook? Are there too many social media options? Zachary and Emma speak with Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Semafor, founding editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, and author of Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race to Go Viral. Journalism’s recent online progression, social media fragmentation, and the Facebook news evolution are discussed here today. | Listen now

By the Numbers

40%: The year-to-date decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon compared to 2023

50%: The share of the EU’s electricity that came from renewables in the first half of 2024, up from 45% in 2023

3M: The number of Indonesians lifted out of poverty in the last 10 years

Quick Hits

🚘 The US is entering a new phase: the used electric vehicle era. Previously owned EVs come at a much more accessible price point than new ones, and the market for them is beginning to pick up steam. (The Atlantic $)

📈 The World Bank has released their income-level classifications (high, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low income) for 2024–2025. Several countries have gotten richer—one notable exception is the West Bank and Gaza—and you can also see how the world has gotten richer over time.

👶 Forget maternal or paternal leave. Sweden will now allow parents to “transfer” their leave to grandparents, who can be paid for up to three months of childcare during a child’s first year.

🏳️‍🌈 Namibia’s high court has decriminalized consensual same-sex relations. Japan is airing its first same-sex dating reality TV series ($). President Biden has pardoned former US service members who were convicted under a 1950s-era law that criminalized sodomy.

🧬 Scientists have found a new way to edit genomes, called “bridge editing,” that can make larger changes than CRISPR without breaking DNA. It’s not yet clear if it will work in human cells, however.

🩸 Attempts to create blood “substitutes” have failed in the past. But a freeze-dried powder that is compatible with all blood types has shown enough promise that the US military has dropped $46 million into its further development. Called ErthryoMer, the fake blood is used to hold a patient over during an emergency situation, for instance during combat, until they can receive a transfusion.

📱 Google is nearly doubling the number of languages supported by Google Translate, including Cantonese and Punjabi. It comes with a price, however, as the company’s greenhouse gas emissions have soared due to their use of AI.

🏝️ Despite worry that low-lying tropical island nations like the Maldives would be sunk underneath rising seas, recent research has shown the opposite. Over the years, these islands have shifted in shape, but by and large not lost any of their size as waves have “kept piling sediment” on their shores. (NYT $, but you can read a free summary here)

💡 Editor’s pick: Is there an effective drug for alcohol use disorder that doctors aren’t prescribing?

TPN Member Originals

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.