The most remarkable thing about US President Donald Trump is not the amount of enemies he accrues. Nasty attacks on opponents is his way of doing politics. The remarkable thing is that he’s willing to throw all his friends under the bus at a moment’s notice; he has no loyalty to anyone.
“I’m not a big fan of Fox, I’ll be honest with you,” Trump said in an interview with the news outlet on Sunday, describing a Fox poll showing Joe Biden ahead in the US Presidential race as “fake”. Fox has been the President’s TV attack-dog since 2016, frequently going above and beyond the call of duty to slander Trump’s opponents in zealot-like displays of deference to the blonde-haired real estate mogul. But it too has found itself trampled underneath The Donald’s mountain of vanquished allies, at a time when you think the President would be trying to keep as many TV stations on board as possible with the count-down to November’s presidential election under-way.
Trump won’t care as long as he still has enough allies among the American people. However, most pollsters agree with Fox; Biden appears on course to win the US Presidential election. But a more fine grain analysis of state-by-state level suggests it would not take much for the President to repeat his 2016 trick of losing the overall vote but winning the key battle-ground states. That sounds implausible given the extraordinary depths of the economic crisis, the government’s callous mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis and the enormous presence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which looked at in combination appear like a recipe for electoral defeat. But as Trump augments his message towards “the Great American comeback”, signs of economic recovery could convince enough Americans that Trump might be a bad guy, but at least he’s their bad guy. Trade wars with China and the EU is all part of cultivating the idea among Americans that Trump is willing to fight dirty for America, literally calling himself “a bull in a China shop” in an election TV ad. Having rejected Bernie Sanders’ socialism, the Democrats still don’t have a compelling narrative to sell to the electorate as an alternative to Trump’s economic nationalism.
The election is likely to have profound implications for the direction of post-Pandemic politics worldwide, not least in the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has largely taken his cue from Trump. A Biden presidency would likely see Johnson shape-shift once again, emphasising his centrist and multi-lateralist credentials. A Trump defeat would signal that the rise of right-wing populism has been stemmed; Johnson and other world leaders that have sought to tap in to that momentum without really having any fealty to it will adapt accordingly. Biden would herald an attempt to resurrect the lost middle in world politics.
On the other hand, if Trump does somehow manage to muster a victory in such circumstances, it would be a signal that the shifting tectonic plates in global politics of the 2010s are permanent. That would affect Johnson’s approach to everything, including how he deals with domestic challenges like the Scottish independence movement. The pandemic is almost the pitch-perfect conditions for a new era of authoritarianism to thrive, as digital surveillance and limited civil rights become normalised and accepted consensually as necessary to deal with the health crisis. We have already seen since the crisis began in countries like Hungary, an EU member, a slide towards dictatorship. In an increasingly plutocratic global economy where the super-rich have become detached from the rest of us, there is nothing which says democracy has to survive. The US Presidential election will not decide the future, but it will set the tone for the battles to come.
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