The pandemic is drowning out the election it may decide

This was excerpted from the July 27 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)By now, balloons should have tumbled from the rafters at the Democratic National Convention onto Joe Biden and his new vice presidential pick. And Donald Trump should be setting the swing states on fire with rowdy rallies designed to drive supporters to the polls. But the pandemic is drowning out the election it may decide.

Party conventions have moved online. The President just cancelled his planned nomination speech, which he had moved to Florida to ensure big crowds. At this point, the three presidential debates scheduled to begin in September may be as close to a "normal" election season as America gets this year.
A sense of disequilibrium is exacerbated by the fact that we rarely see Biden, who is limiting himself to virtual or socially distanced events. The former Veep is apparently hoping Trump dooms himself with his disastrous handling of the worst health crisis in 100 years. But at some point, Biden will be duty bound to make a more proactive case about how he would lead the way out of the current mess.
    The contest isn't completely invisible -- combined spending by the campaigns has already burned through a billion dollars, and that's not counting ads by rich political action committees. Trump's obsession with reelection can also be seen in everything he does, like sending federal agents to Democratic-run cities, and half-heartedly embracing masks after months of ignoring the coronavirus nightmare.
      The President has problems. It's not too late, but with such dismal polling, a Trump victory in November would shred conventional wisdom far more comprehensively than he did in 2016. Trailing in battleground states, he's under pressure in Republican bastions like Texas and Georgia. A scorched earth campaign, race-baiting and claims that Biden is senile are not working. His failings on the pandemic are overshadowing everything.
        New CNN polls reveal his plight: Trump is down in Florida, Michigan and Arizona. If Biden wins the first two of that critical trio, he'll almost certainly be President. And he still has multiple other routes to victory.

        A farewell to Hemingway look-alikes

          In this handout photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, previous Ernest Hemingway look-alike winners including Chris Storm, left, and John Stubbings, right, eye contestants in the 2015 "Papa" Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Florida.
          The coronavirus bell has tolled for Key West's annual Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest. Organizers were concerned about potential virus transmission to contestants, who tend toward the older side, said Andy Newman, media relations director for Key West, the southernmost tip of Florida's archipelago and Hemingway's old haunt. "For the first time in 40 years, there weren't 135-plus burly, bearded contestants and their screaming fans at (bar) Sloppy Joe's," Newman said.

          'American hero'

          Throughout his life, John Lewis pushed for unity behind worthy causes. As a 25-year-old, he was the youngest leader of a legendary 1965 civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifty-yards further from the point pictured above, their march was halted by state troopers and Lewis was beaten unconscious by police."I gave a little blood on that bridge," he said. "I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death."
          But his sacrifice was crucial to the passing of the Civil Rights Act and his status as a political icon endured during three decades in Congress. After the 80-year-old's death last week, former colleagues united in a rare moment of agreement, as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lauded him as an "American hero" and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi eulogized "one of the greatest heroes of American history."
          On Sunday, 55 years after the march that catapulted him onto the national stage, a red-wheeled carriage carried Lewis over the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time.

          'Keep Portland weird'

          Before the spotlight fell on violent clashes between Portland's anti-racism demonstrators and federal officers, the Northwestern city was generally thought of as an easygoing, eccentric place -- vegan-friendly, street-musician-friendly, bike-friendly, lots of cozy flannel.
          But the city also hosts about 200 demonstrations per year -- though only "a very small percentage" result in violence and arrests, according to Mayor Ted Wheeler. And when Wheeler inhaled a face full of tear gas from federal agents after addressing protesters last week, something unusual happened, CNN's Jason Kavarik and Sarah Sidner report: The city's top official went from years of managing protests in the city to becoming a protester himself.
          Speaking to a crowd, which occasionally drowned him out, Wheeler called the presence of federal law enforcement in the city an "unconstitutional occupation," describing them as outsiders who weren't qualified to respond to Portland's protests.
          "Our informal motto is Keep Portland Weird, so we like people who aren't sort of mainstream folks," said Randy Blazak, a former professor at Portland State University. "And that has allowed a lot of room on the margins, including the political margins."
          He says the "Portlandia" image -- of 1990s slackers driven by liberal ingenuity -- isn't entirely true to the city's history. "We have communists and anarchists and we also have neo-Nazis and fascists," said Blazak, who also chairs the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes. That petri dish of extremes has made Portland a hotbed for recent protest.
          He says the region is also home to several militia and anti-government groups. And its predominantly White population, nearly 80%, makes it attractive to White supremacists who see the city as fertile ground for an all-White ethnostate.
          While the city may have a liberal reputation, its demographics come from a discriminatory past. "It starts with the Oregon trail, when the land that was given was to White settlers only," Blazak said. "It was a state that would remind us of being in the deep South, except it was in the Pacific Northwest."


          Over recent days, senior Department of Homeland Security officials have taken to the airwaves and social media to amplify Trump's message of law- and-order, using Portland as an example. But the administration's increasing use of the term "terrorism" puts it in some dubious company.
          "Domestic. Terrorism." -- In a string of tweets last week, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli retweeted videos and images of Portland, dubbing the unfolding situation "terrorism" -- echoing Trump's retweet of a letter that dubbed Washington protesters "terrorists" last month.
          "They have already constituted serious violent crimes and have begun to show signs of terrorism" -- That's how Yang Guang, a spokesman for China's top office in Hong Kong, characterized pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous city last year.
            "Aiding a terrorist group" -- After mass anti-government protests in Egypt last year, thousands were arrested on charges of "aiding a terrorist group" as well as "disseminating false information," "misusing social media" and "participating in unauthorized protests," according to Amnesty International.
            "The terrorists have created further situations of violence by torching government and business buildings" -- that's according to Thai army Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd as Thai military forces cracked down on anti-government protesters in Bangkok during protests in 2010.