Reflecting on 2016-2020
In January 2017, Donald Trump took the office of the United States presidency, carrying with him the promise to “Make America great again”. Somehow, it feels like Trump has been there for a lifetime, while simultaneously having arrived just yesterday. Four years have passed since the 2016 elections and, in retrospect, it surely feels like it was a decisive moment in time. Brexit had just happened, right-wing populism was gaining traction throughout Europe, and Donald Trump seemed to be going all-in on his presidential campaign; overall, there was a huge wave of uncertainty, a collective feeling that something big was about to happen, and that nothing would ever be the same. In November, Trump’s victory pointed towards this change. The defeat of the Democrats was supposed to mean a greater landmark – the categorical rupture of the status quo, a definite breach in the politics of the establishment – or so it was portrayed by Trump and his team.
Four years have passed, and we recognize a fragile, divided America. A nation fiercely hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, disrupted by boiling racial tensions, alarmed by the uncertainty of a perilous recession and, amidst all, the distressing political environment over in D.C.. Once again, the American people will go to the polls and decide who will lead them in the next four years. The questions to be raised should reflect an interrogative posture toward the change that Trump promised, whilst reflecting on the economic achievements of the current administration, the social attainments to better the lives of the population, which encapsulates the management of the pandemic outbreak.
The purpose of this article is to provide an insight on Trump’s time in office, whilst simultaneously analyzing his and Joe Biden’s campaigns, the ideological contrast between the two, reflecting on the decisiveness of the result. Has Trump’s America experienced a structural shift, when taking into account the political history of the US, or is a hitch-like phenomenon present, where a country reminisces over a past that never was?
The Promises and Misadventures of Donald Trump
President Trump has been rather consistent regarding his controversial character and erratic persona. He has been able to remain in the spotlight throughout his four-year term, whether we take into consideration cases like his 2020 impeachment process or his contentious posture towards the media, his opponents, and his political counterparts. Economically, the US has achieved some important goals, from drastic tax cuts to historically low unemployment rates. Trump has been somewhat successful at putting his protectionist agenda into practice, renegotiating trade deals, and positively impacting domestic manufacturing industries. However, Trump’s action towards healthcare, environmental policy, social matters (gun laws, abortion), immigration measures, have all been subject to severe criticism and have induced concern from national and foreign politicians.
One should question if the USA is any different from when Trump took office or, in other words, whether America has become great again. The impact of the Trump presidency has been felt, but did it really disrupt the political paradigm? Has the swamp been drained? In many crucial issues, the President has been unable to reverse the position in which America is placed. The US has gravely increased its trade deficit with China. It has not cemented a particularly stronger position regarding foreign policy. It has yet to make a strong reform on many issues Trump committed to, concerning health, crime and justice, among others. The President’s campaign this year emphasizes the major improvements of his term, while continuing to promise big boosts in employment, tax cuts and American foreign affirmation, mainly concerning his Chinese counterparts. Is this enough?
All the turmoil that hit the US in 2020, from the Covid-19 pandemic, to the racial division, which caused riots all over the country, indicates that we should understand the direction in which the country is moving. In 2016, America felt it needed Trumpism – it craved for disruption. Has that necessity been expanded, or is it time to return to normalcy?
The Case for Joe Biden
Former Vice-President Joe Biden is the embodiment of this return to normalcy. In a way, he is the representation of a traditional American politician. He rose to the Senate at a very young age, held numerous important public positions and he has to him an old-fashioned appeal and a charismatic honesty, which has always allowed him to connect with the working-class, blue-collar community. His politics serve as an ideological alternative to Trump, leaning towards a moderate approach to solving the problems of the USA, to water down these turbulent times and to heal together. Incidentally, these bases are the ones which the Democratic Party intends to present as the Trump alternative. We must analyse what a Biden presidency would really represent for America.
Biden’s campaign has placed focus on Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic. The USA has the most cases and deaths across all countries, and the Democrats have pointed to the President’s recklessness and late action as a major cause of such impact. Furthermore, Biden is focused on improving and building upon the Affordable Care Act, ensuring an equitable solution for the health and the economic crisis and is overall aligned with the usual Democratic Agenda. This comes to show Biden is not proposing anything particularly innovative or different from the usual politics of the US. His campaign is far more ideological, emphasizing a message of rebuilding the country and “soul of America”, starting over and starting better.
However, Biden has had quite a controversial side to his demeanour. For once, his age is being pointed out as a major drawback, as his health conditions, regular gaffes and blunders are often in the spotlight. Besides, he has been under a number of controversies. Past ones include sexual harassment allegations and conflicts of interest in his action in the Ukraine involving his son. Presently, he stirred turmoil by questioning the identitary legitimacy of African-Americans who failed to cast a vote for the Democrats.
Joe Biden has an appeal to him. Many consider him to be “the lesser of two evils”. However, it should be enquired – is he truly offering something that America has never had?
A Final Note of Hopelessness
Many Americans are questioning how it got to the point where they have to choose between two unloved figures. One can blame the whole structure of American Politics and the two-party system. Some say the ruling party changes whilst nothing else does. Others say these tendencies lead to extreme and populist positions. Yet, the truth is that there is a sense of hopelessness in the politics of America. These sentiments are strikingly reflected in the reactions to the first Presidential Debate, as the majority perceived it as a circus-like show displaying the absurdity of politics.
Polls are suggesting a Biden victory, not only on the popular vote, but also in the majority of the so-called “swing states”, fundamental to win the Electoral College. The Senate polls also give a good chance of a Democrat win. Should they be able to conquer the Presidential position and the Senate, while maintaining the House, the Democrats would have a clear upper hand in the decision-making process within the US.
Whether we take into consideration the populism within Trump’s “Law and Order” rhetoric, or the “return to normalcy” approach by Biden, it is crucial to comprehend the lucid limitations of these elections. The structural shift Trump promised is rather questionable, whilst his campaign has been lacking the strength and efficiency we witnessed in 2016. On the other hand, we must look at the America Joe Biden is promising to heal. Surely, one should question – isn’t the status quo politics what caused the US to hurt in the first place?
If America is constantly facing a cycle of booms and contractions, an unwanted loop in the socioeconomic core of the country, Americans may be questioning not only their politicians, but also their political system. Nonetheless, the American people shall make themselves heard on the 3rd of November.
João Sande e Castro