President Donald Trump does little but aggravate other world leaders. He is incapable of leaving any country without first attempting to extort it — either politically or financially — and has broken the system of rules that has enabled the international community to operate effectively, or, at least, as effectively as it did before he arrived on the world stage. At home, he continues to offend minorities and make enemies of the press in a way never before seen in the history of the country. In spite of all that, the path is paved for Trump to return to the White House in 2020.
Everyone interested in American politics needs to ask the following question: How could the American people possibly send Trump to the White House for a second term?
The American media have focused on the fact that the economy is in good shape under Trump, with unemployment as low as it has been for decades and the economy growing despite the ongoing trade wars with China, Europe and the rest of the world. At the same time, however, the media warn that Trump’s approach could steer us into a global economic recession, potentially spelling doom for his chances at reelection.
The economy has long been the reason why any given American president has or has not won a second term in office. Two examples of this fact can be found in the defeats of incumbents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. The popular phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was a key campaign slogan for Democratic candidate Bill Clinton and explained why his victory over Bush was inevitable. Ever since then, political analysts have repeated the mantra whenever they attempt to explain the success or failure of a presidency to reach its second term.
But in the case of President Trump, there are reasons to suppose that the issue is more complicated.
First, President Trump won his first election when the American economy was already strong. A healthy economy should have indicated the opposite outcome, i.e., that Americans would vote in another Democrat in order to continue Obama’s successful economic policies. Instead, American voters preferred a president outside the Democratic Party, confirming that the strength of the American economy was not the deciding factor in choosing Trump.
Second, the American media play an enormous role in how voters approach an upcoming presidential election, whether by highlighting the advantages of a given candidate and the disadvantages of his opponent, or through more subtly biased coverage in favor of the media’s preferred choice. In the case of Trump, the media reported far and widely in favor of Hillary Clinton, and yet voters still preferred Trump.
Third, it is often said that the personal conduct of presidential candidates also plays an important role in an election. Are they embroiled in moral scandals? Do they love their families? Do they display some general sense of culture or distinction? On this account, Trump has been defined by exactly the opposite: moral outrage, shallowness, pettiness, and crude racism. The latter can be clearly seen in how Trump has consistently appealed to an aggrieved white audience for support.
Trump’s success has run counter to everything previously known about American presidential elections. On that basis, it is impossible to predict his success or failure in 2020 using those same factors.
For people who follow American affairs, it is apparent that Americans want a fundamental, radical change to the established political and economic system. Trump was a candidate who came from outside the political establishment, outside the elite classes of both the Republican and the Democratic parties. He was elected because many Americans were attracted to his open hostility toward the status quo, which they hated. By contrast, Hillary Clinton embodied the very establishment Americans wanted to change.
Hypothetically speaking, if Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election had been Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton, perhaps Americans would have elected Sanders over Trump. Like Trump, Sanders was the complete opposite of the ruling establishment. However, unlike Trump, Sanders did not direct his anger toward immigrants, or blame America’s trade deficit with other countries to explain the poor economic circumstances of many American citizens. He pointed instead to the fact that wealth in America is highly concentrated in the hands of a few elites, and argued that a redistribution of this wealth was the solution to the problems faced by the majority of Americans.
Thinking along similar lines, we should come to see that Trump’s success or failure in 2020 also rests on who his opponent will be. If his next opponent comes from the American political establishment and works to preserve the power and dominance of the 1% who currently possess more than 40% of the entire country’s wealth, then Trump’s racist rhetoric and policies will continue to resonate widely among many voters seeking a solution to the country’s economic issues. On the other hand, if Trump’s opponent can offer an alternative radical solution to these issues, namely the redistribution of this highly accumulated wealth, he or she will have a very good chance of defeating him.
The problem with the American media is that they are part of the same establishment that is fighting to hold onto its power. This is why it has promoted Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s former vice president and current Democratic presidential hopeful, as the candidate with the greatest chance of beating Trump in 2020.
But Biden does not offer any kind of fundamental solution to a broken system, one where a medical treatment that costs $15 one day can cost $500 the next purely because American capitalism permits it. Nor does he offer any solution for American workers in need of a living wage, nor for the fact that America is the most powerful industrialized nation and yet has the highest poverty rate of them all. Nor to the fact that America holds the highest percentage of organized crime and mass killing in the world, propped up by a powerful weapons lobby blocking an assault-weapons ban and/or any other effective gun control measures. American politicians are more than happy to look the other way if it means they can continue to profit from special interests.
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