US Election – Trump and Biden Crush Policy Ideas and Initiatives in Televised Clash

Trump-vs-BidenIn the US, the number of covid-19 deaths has rushed past 200,000 whilst worldwide more than one million people succumbed to the disease. As the second wave of the Corona Pandemic gathers pace, it remains eerily quiet on the vaccine front. However, warnings abound that the virus may roam freely for another six to twelve months. It could mutate whilst doing the rounds, and become less deadly in the process, but that – for now – seems an idle hope.

In Europe and elsewhere, people are showing signs of corona-fatigue. Though the recalcitrant fringe of deniers has failed to attract many converts, ‘normal people’ are becoming weary of the restrictions, retightened in the face of the increased infection rate, creeping up after a mid-summer lull.

Though a pandemic is raging, the ‘leader of the free world’ has taken a leave of absence. Judging by the cheap theatrics featured in yesterday’s televised clash of the two US presidential hopefuls, that leader is not returning any time soon and may, in fact, have abdicated altogether. The powers that be in Beijing and Moscow can easily be imagined wringing their hands over the demise, or moral collapse, of their rival.

Throwing caution to the wind, President Donald Trump chose to verbally assault and overpower his opponent with an impressive display of tone deafness and a near-complete disregard for the rules of engagement and common courtesy. Sounding more like a bullying streetfighter than a holder of high office, Trump refused to entertain any notion of failure, repeatedly touting his superior administrative competence and infallibility.

Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden had a few moments and at times looked vaguely presidential but was unable to pin Trump down and allowed himself to be dominated and pre-empted during the ninety-minute brawl. Though most pundits agree that Trump never landed a knockout punch, his transparent strategy of vigorously spouting half-truths and naked lies to overwhelm and cow his opponent into submission worked well and managed to paint a picture of ‘Sleepy Joe’ for all to see.

Machiavellian

Contemporary US politics is no longer about issues, ideas, or policies; it is the image that counts – and the perception. Many Americans want a raging bull as their leader, not a nuanced, cautious, and considerate politician who talks rather than dictates, and suggests rather than commands: A strong man willing to lay down the law and obliterate anything or anybody standing in America’s path to greatness. Biden’s strategists have still not grasped that their adversary is in it to win it – at whatever cost and by whatever means. Trump may not be Machiavellian in his rather unidimensional political deviousness, he unwittingly honours the Italian master strategist by adhering to the maxim he purportedly coined in the 15th century – the ends justify the means.

What Joe Biden and his team lack is a thorough study of the ‘princes mirrors’ (specula principum) that were mandatory reading for prospective rulers in the High and Late Middle Ages. These texts are usually full of noble ideals – good for public discourse and sustaining conversations at the dinner table – but leave no doubt that opponents and possible rivals need to be ruthlessly cast aside before and after securing power. Statesmanship, Machiavelli concludes, must be held completely independent of morality.

Trump has an innate understanding of this truth. Biden does not and that may cost him the election. During yesterday’s debate, and at different occasions prior to that clash, Trump made it very clear that on November 3, US voters face two choices – and Biden is not one of them. He either wins the election outright or delegitimises the vote by claiming fraud – and possibly mobilising the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups he asked to ‘stand back and stand by’ to safe the nation from assorted ‘leftists’.

At no time before in its history has the United States faced such a direct threat to its prized, and in many ways exemplary, democracy. The script has been written, unveiled, and set in motion, yet the Biden team is looking for a high road that no longer exists. Instead of hammering on a few key points – Trump’s risible income tax payments, his support of right-wing fanatics, his denial of scientific fact, or even his $70K haircut – Biden’s strategists homoeopathically dilute their message to the vanishing point. It is not as if President Trump’s convoluted half-truths are particularly hard to expose.

Whilst President Trump shoved the responsibility for the fires devastating California onto environmentalists and local authorities for failing to properly manage their forests, Biden remained mute. He could have shut his blustering opponent down by simply pointing out that two of every three acres charred by the fires in California, Oregon, and Washington are owned by the federal government and managed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Biden may, of course, still win the race for the White House and return the United States from the brink. That will, however, require a supreme effort to overcome the sharp division within society. Confined to their respective social media echo chambers, right and left have stopped talking and abandoned the political centre. According to some estimates, floating voters, those that have not yet made up their mind and may be swayed either way, represent just five to seven percent of the US electorate. The extreme polarisation of the political landscape is, perhaps, not uniquely American. It has been replicated, to an unsettling degree, in the United Kingdom although along different lines.

The challenge is how to govern split societies which only find common ground in the fears stoked by a pandemic that will likely persist well into 2021 but cannot agree on a course of action. After yesterday’s ‘debate’ had concluded, Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris echoed the questions of many on both sides of the divide when she wondered out loud how her country is going to tackle the three crises it now faces: The Corona Pandemic, the economy, and climate change. The answer to that is a blank stare. The best that America can hope for over the coming months is to preserve its democracy intact. That already appears to be a tall order.


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