The Divided States of America
Tuesday's presidential debate was embarrassing and nauseating in equal measures, I'll confess that after an hour I could no longer stomach it and turned off. The two candidates for the leader of the free world spent 90 minutes hurling abuse at each other while an exasperated moderator tried to remind them that they are not children. Commentators are all agreed, Biden won the debate (if you can call it a that) and Trump did exactly what we expected; he doubled down on his divisive rhetoric. At best he came across as an incompetent petulant child who insisted on having the last word and at worst he confirmed the fears of those who view him as a dangerous demagogue who's determined to hold on to power, whatever the cost.
The world watched in stunned horror when Trump defeated Clinton in 2016, how did this happen and surely it can't happen again? At any other point in time this debate would mark the final nail in the coffin of a disastrous presidency. Of course Trump is going to lose, how could he not after his performance in the White House? Over the last four years America has regressed and the country has not been this divided since the civil war or the civil rights movement a hundred years later. Trump has taken every opportunity to stoke the flames of division and in the run up to November 3rd this has gone up a gear. Then there is coronavirus, obviously Trump can't be blamed for the virus but responsibility for the shambolic handling of the crisis which has resulted in over 200k Americans dead can certainly be landed at his doorstep. So against this record a Biden victory should be a dead certainty, to the extent that no campaigning is required, the Biden/Harris team can sit back and let Trump bury himself.
Despite this and all the polling indicating a Trump defeat, I think the outcome is far from certain and rather than Tuesday's debate representing a presidential campaign in disarray, Trump has the electorate exactly where he wants them - divided. Trump doesn't need any help to stir up his base but two weeks ago he was handed a gift he couldn't resist. 87 year old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after serving as a justice on the US Supreme Court for over a quarter of a century. The death of this liberal icon and Trump's battle to replace her before the election has become symbolic of what this election means to America. There is a genuine feeling that at stake in this election is the soul of the USA. Amidst the disaster of the pandemic Justice Ginsburg's death presented Trump with an opportunity to reframe the debate of the election back to comfortable territory - his fight against the 'hard left'. In many ways this is more important than the election, if he succeeds in appointing conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett that will be his third supreme court justice and will secure 6-3 majority on the bench. These appointments are for life and regardless of who wins his appointments will be shaping public policy for a generation.
So Trump could lose the election but his vision of America could endure through the supreme court. A Biden victory is not a sure way of ending the Trump era and erasing the last four years. Biden could win but face a socially conservative supreme court which has its sights on ending Obamacare, expanding gun rights and threatening a woman's right to choose. Also important to remember is that there are congressional elections in November as well, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for grabs. This election is still up in the air and there are a number of possible outcomes, but unless one party sweeps everything (which is highly unlikely) the divisions which are plaguing America will continue.
Then there's the question of the result and whether either side accepts it. Unless it's a clear landslide, which I doubt, we're in for a long drawn out legal battle for the White House regardless who wins. This fight will pale in comparison to the 2000 election scandal and don't expect Trump or Biden to do a Gore and stand down for the good of the nation. How far both sides are willing to go is not clear but it's not going to be pretty.