american elections

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In addition to the rhetoric of electoral promises, and despite the advantage in opinion polls, a more objective view does not authorize today that Joe Biden is the favorite

Decorated with nationalism and protectionism, Donald Trump's 2016 electoral speech reproduced values ​​of misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia and prejudice against immigrants. The workers targeted by this discourse were white, heterosexual, men and Christians, generally linked to construction, mining and heavy industry, mainly in the so-called Rust Belt. On the other hand, the opposition, especially in the speech of Bernie Sanders, directed its speech towards the public sector and services, incorporating the proposals of the movement of women, blacks and immigrants.

This progressive position was lost when Senator Sanders was defeated, and Hillary Clinton was chosen as a candidate by the Democratic Party in 2016. The immediate allies – immigrants, environmentalists, anti-racists, workers in general, finally the progressives – retreated, considering the alliance with Wall Street that secured the nomination of the former Secretary of State. As voting is not mandatory, electoral abstention ended up favoring Trump's victory.

In the Democratic opposition, the picture is complicated by the existence, in the USA, of conflicting political strategies based on the axis of race, or class. According to the American philosopher Nancy Fraser, it has not yet been possible to reconcile “a strongly egalitarian income distribution policy with a substantially inclusive and class-sensitive policy of recognizing rights to build a counter-hegemonic bloc”.

Still according to her, behind the political struggle in the electoral campaign, it happens that in the USA, and beyond, the transition from industrial capitalism to financial capitalism made the old strategies of resistance, which were based on the action of organized workers, ineffective. Now, the main center for generating value and accumulating wealth is no longer the factory, but immaterial production. Thus, political resistance strategies cannot be based only on production and paid work. They need to take into account the social organization of reproduction – the provision of education, housing, health, a healthy environment, services, transportation, unpaid work that supports families, children and the elderly. It is important to remember that these unrecognized and unpaid forms of work are generally attributed to women.

These considerations can help clarify the electoral landscape in the US in a year marked by the pandemic. Joe Biden wants to be the anti-Trump and is seen as such by a large part of the electorate. Trump scares voters by saying Biden will destroy the suburbs, bring about anarchy and pave the way for socialism. He would be a "Trojan horse" for the leftists who would dominate his party, from Senator Bernie Sanders to Representative (Representative) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who declared to New York Magazine at the end of last year that, “in any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party”.

Democratic socialists' discomfort with sharing a party with centrist liberals is a good example of the criticism of party duopoly in the US. Accused by the right of being a socialist and the left of being a conservative, Biden talks about uniting Americans to save democracy. He compensates for his lack of charisma by exploiting the mistakes and arrogance of Trump, who did not deliver what he promised in his 2016 election campaign. But Biden is weighed down by an accusation of sexual harassment made by a former Senate aide.

Biden's biggest asset, though, is Trump's mistakes. One of them was the reform of the tax code which, instead of benefiting the working class and the middle class, adopted the traditional proposal of the Republican Party, channeling more wealth to the 1% of the population, in the misleading view of the trickle-down economics. Another mistake was the isolation of nationalist politics America First which rejected international cooperation and reduced the hegemonic role of the US, now grappling with the possibility of seeing China become a great power.

The electoral impact of Trump's mistakes will depend, of course, on the political ability of the Biden campaign to show voters the failures of the Trump administration and discredit its successes.

Middle class target

What is known so far about the Biden Program is not much. His economic program was summed up in one sentence: “Save the middle class to save America”. He has also shown signs that he is willing to swing left to win over Sanders voters. He proposed new policies to "ease the economic burden on workers" the day after Sanders pulled out of the race. This is not, of course, a revolution against inequality. “This country was not built by bankers and Wall Street CEOs and money managers. hedge funds. It was built by the American middle class,” he said at a rally that kicked off his campaign.

According to Pew Research, 52% of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2016. While the richest 20% have fully recovered from the 2008 recession, the middle class has yet to reach its previous peak of 2007. Official data says that the uninsured rate increased for the first time since 2008: from 7,9% in 2017 to 8,5% of the US population in 2018. Biden blamed the Trump administration, promising to expand the Obamacare so that 97% of Americans are insured at a cost of $750 billion over ten years.

Biden proposes a progressive tax code. The top 20% (earning about $170 or more) would bear nearly 93% of the burden of the tax increase, and the richest 1% nearly three-quarters. Among the various proposals, notable are increasing the maximum income tax rate from 37% to 39,6%, as it was before, taxing capital gains and dividends at normal rates for those with annual income above US$ 1 million and increase the maximum corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28%.

As for workers' rights, Biden supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and proposes international trade rules that "protect our workers, safeguard the environment, respect labor standards and middle-class wages, promote innovation and address major global challenges such as corporate concentration, corruption and climate change”.

In July 2020, he proposed a $700 billion plan to boost manufacturing and technology innovation. O website of Biden says he supports the idea of ​​a New Deal Green, will re-join the Paris Climate Agreement and wants to ensure the US has a carbon pollution-free energy sector by 2035, with net zero emissions by 2050. It will also create a new Division of Environmental and Climate Justice within the Department of Justice. To build a 100% clean energy economy and create millions of “good jobs under union protection,” he plans to invest in new infrastructure, public transportation, clean electricity, the electric vehicle industry, buildings and housing, as well as agriculture. In all, his climate plan will require federal spending of $2 trillion in his first term. Biden's program also talks about supporting rural communities that make up 20% of the US population, through fair trade agreements, including investing $ 20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure.

Biden's vulnerable flanks

In addition to the rhetoric of electoral promises, and despite the advantage in opinion polls, a more objective view does not authorize today that Joe Biden is the favorite. He will be criticized by Donald Trump on at least three issues: security, immigration and China. As president, Trump has the administrative and regulatory capacity, media authority and hundreds of billions to ease the economic fallout from COVID-19. These are powerful assets to convince undecided voters. With few Republican dissenting votes and $1,08 billion already raised (compared to Biden's $633 million), the Trump campaign has significant offensive power (Le Monde, 6/8/2020).

Let us remember that, despite a comfortable lead in the polls, Hillary Clinton lost the election in 2016, because the left electorate partially abstained, or preferred the green candidate. Donald Trump, by contrast, remains competitive with many votes, including in rural and suburban counties across the country. Rust Belt, this “silent America” that seems always ready to trust him. Furthermore, voters who supported progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren during the primaries remain skeptical of Joe Biden and his dealings with Wall Street and tech companies. Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is already flirting with disappointed voters on Biden's left who are under attack for being too cautious.

Among the disappointed, one cannot forget the young. Having had little say during the primaries, they seem inclined not to vote if a candidate does not reflect their views. In the case of Latinos, not all of them register, for fear of revealing relatives in an illegal situation and, in practice, they face barriers to vote. Thus, one cannot count on a strong vote for the Democratic candidate. In addition, Hispanics in Texas are very conservative and, in Florida, voters of Cuban origin do not forget the “hateful” rapprochement between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro.

Regarding the black movement, which has recently become radicalized in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, after the murder of George Floyd, the choice of a black deputy, the former attorney general of California Kamala Harris, seems right. Criticized for its conservative profile – and, for that very reason, feared by Trump – it may not enthuse, however, a good part of black voters to vote, even more so with the vagueness of voting by mail that Trump tries to manipulate as, in fact, he manipulates all federal public bodies. Thus, the possibility of fraud and judicialization of the election that may end up in the Supreme Court is not ruled out, as occurred in the Al Gore x Bush election in 2000.

Trump is also taking advantage of China's negative image among the American population. He tries to blame China for the health crisis, thus shrugging off its mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tensions with China and tough rhetoric may work in his favor among workers, while Joe Biden has not excelled on this issue. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden appears to be overly cautious in his positions. He often seems indecisive, even “weak,” to quote an indictment of the Trump campaign. Progressives blame him for his stance on police violence, climate change and health. By comparison, Trump seems to have mastered the political agenda and the media well to reach his constituency.

Finally, despite his good image as an honest, dignified, conservative politician who shuns great causes and takes refuge in generalities, Joe Biden never wowed the crowds. And these flaws are likely to appear more as the election campaign progresses. The decisive moment will probably be the confrontation of the two candidates in the first debate on September 29th. Until then, uncertainty reigns.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor at PUC-RJ. Author, among other books, of Identity and globalization (Record).

Originally published on the website of US political observatory (OPEU)

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