With CHARLIE HARPER
The other day someone wrote “Trump 2020” in big yellow chalk letters in the middle of a street in an upscale New York neighbourhood. Within an hour, that slogan had been erased and BLM (Black Lives Matter) had replaced it, also written in chalk.
That pretty much epitomises where the US is these days. Those who support President Donald Trump defiantly proclaim their continuing allegiance to him even as he appears to spin ominously out of control and gives little indication that he cares whether he leads the country into the dark vortex he is creating for himself and his floundering re-election campaign.
But in erasing Trump 2020 from the street, his foes demonstrated the means to which they are increasingly inclined to resort to get him out of the White House. A durable tenet of liberalism in America has long been advocacy of the nation’s First Amendment right to free speech. While erasing Trump and his crooked cronies, incompetent administration and fractious policies may be a laudable objective for many, denying the President and his supporters their due free speech is hypocritical.
Most observers have thought for years that no matter whom the Democrats nominated in 2020, this would be a dirty, mean, nasty campaign. On the evidence so far, it looks like they were right.
Trump’s early ineptitude is a surprise, though. He has not done well in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic or the related economic recession. He has responded poorly to the outrage over George Floyd’s needless death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. It is difficult to award even passing marks to the President on these major public policy issues. He has failed miserably at dealing with each of them.
But in his obdurate adherence to a game plan that well suited his 2016 status as a political outsider who could hardly be blamed for the situation then prevailing in the US, he ignores the reality that the Washington swamp he still proposes to drain has been enlarged and made much more fetid under his administration.
He has become the reality he railed against so effectively four years ago. It’s not a good look, and Trump’s falling poll numbers should shake him out of his complacency. But this has not yet happened.
Also, Trump is not running against an African American man or a white woman, as he was basically doing from 2008-16 during the pioneering presidency of Barack Obama and the subsequent candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Trump’s suspiciously racist, nativist, isolationist, autocratic and misogynistic tendencies are considerably less applicable when his current opponent is another septuagenarian white man whose outlook is at its core probably not so very dramatically more liberal than Trump’s own world view.
The result so far is a presidential re-election campaign that may go down in the history books as one of the most incompetent, clueless efforts in modern American electoral annals.
The Trump campaign, led by this mercurial President, has been firing pollsters after discouraging internal polls were leaked. These polls showed Trump trailing Biden in several swing states, just as everyone else’s polls are showing.
Trump has also expressed displeasure with Fox News numerous times in recent months. A couple of months ago, he complained the network was not doing enough to “help me, and other Republicans, get re-elected.” Now there are reports the President is “cutting ties” with Fox.
While such stories may make headlines and stimulate internet watches, a Trump-Fox divorce seems pretty unlikely. These two really need each other.
Back in 2015, as Trump began to gather steam in his long-shot bid for the presidency, there were many reports that if he were somehow to succeed, he would hate the job. Trump is obviously a man who lives to do and say exactly what he wishes and never mind the consequences. Many observers five years ago concluded he would, therefore, hate being President. The American presidency is a position that, perhaps more than any other, circumscribes the incumbent’s ability to either do or say much beyond scripted limits.
Trump obviously hasn’t received that memo. Not that he’s the only one: President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with intern Monica Lewinsky gave pretty clear evidence that he didn’t feel too many behavioural constraints either.
Popular MSNBC morning talker Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Pensacola, Florida, is taking credit for a new theory that is gaining a bit of currency these days. “Morning Joe” says maybe Trump will just bow out of the race and his presidency after Labour Day if he judges his loss to Biden has become inevitable.
Scarborough’s idea is Trump hates to lose much more than he enjoys winning, so he will do anything to avoid losing to Biden. Trump’s message as he walked out the White House door would be something like “I’ve given the country its best economy ever (blah, blah) and this is the thanks I get! I’m too good for this job.”
It says here that such a theory is nonsense. It ignores competitiveness, which might just be Trump’s defining characteristic.
Apart from all the noise, divisiveness and rancour that fills the airwaves during this American election season of stay at home orders and COVID carelessness, there is one reality that is emerging. That reality is that almost no matter what issue most engages or vexes a particular voter or region, Donald Trump has provided ample evidence that he neither represents a solution for that particular issue, nor has he any serious interest in working toward a solution.
Most Americans seem to recognise that. The result is seen in dramatically sagging poll numbers that appear to presage a resounding defeat for this beleaguered President, notwithstanding all the advantages US Presidents seeking re-election always enjoy.
Want to know what people think? It’s all in the numbers
Washington and New York are full of “think tanks.” In theory, these collections of academics and out-of-favour politicians can provide unadulterated policy research and guidance for overworked government executives, including the president, who have neither the time nor resources to concentrate on the vaunted “big picture”.
In reality, most think tanks skew liberal or conservative depending on their founding principles and funding sources. The American Enterprise Institute is no exception.
Founded in 1938, AEI’s stated mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism, limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defence and foreign policies.” Officially non-partisan, AEI is a conservative, GOP-aligned organisation. All of which makes the following discouraging AEI compilation of Americans’ current attitudes much more credible, since it all reflects badly on the current Republican administration in Washington.
US is on the wrong track now: 67 percent. (In 1973, at the nadir of the Vietnam War and in the midst of Watergate, the figure was only seven percent higher.)
Happiness index: 14 percent of Americans say they are “very happy”. This is the lowest figure ever recorded in the surveys.
Race in the US: 35 percent think American race relations are good. 66 percent thought so during the Obama presidency.
US Economy: Three months ago, the respected Index of Consumer Sentiment at the University of Michigan registered the largest decline in American consumer confidence in the history of the poll.
Patriotism: 63 percent of Americans are very proud of their citizenship. Just 20 years ago, the percentage who felt proud to be an American was registering over 90 percent.
These attitudes can of course change fairly quickly, and many observers believe they will change for Americans as soon as the current administration leaves office.
Maybe that will happen. But the economic, public health and societal ills that have been exposed and exacerbated in recent months are unlikely to disappear even if president Trump fails in his reelection bid. Inevitably, his supporters will blame others for their part in the current American decline. And none of these central issues will find easy solutions under any administration or political party.
The US is likely in for an extended slump. And few nations around the world will be immune from its effects.