Trump was not repudiated

Dora Longo Bahia. Escalpo Paulista, 2005 Acrylic on fiber cement, 210 x 240 cm
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By ADAM TOOZE*

Rather than a dismissal of Trump, the election results rearrange the finely balanced and deeply polarized configuration that has prevailed in American politics since the days of Bill Clinton.

Whatever comes out of the 2020 US election, one thing is certain: it did not produce a sweeping repudiation of Donald Trump. The shock of 2016 has not been undone. There is nothing in the result to atone for the last four years' humiliation, shameful vulgarity and lawlessness. Even if Joe Biden is finally sworn in as president, it will be difficult for his supporters to reconcile with the fact that Trump has not been booed in disgrace off the biggest stage of world politics. This is not just an inconvenient truth for the United States; it also has implications for the rest of the world.

“Rather than a rejection of Trump, the election results rearrange the finely balanced and deeply polarized configuration that has prevailed in American politics since the days of Bill Clinton in the 1990s. command an overwhelming majority in the small towns and rural areas of white America. Despite his abusive hostility toward immigrants, Trump has made notable gains among the very diverse group crudely lumped together under the "Latinos" label. Surprisingly, he did well not only in the anti-socialist communities of Cubans and Venezuelans in Miami, but also among Mexican-Americans in Texas. And he continues to garner the most votes from white women and men of all backgrounds.

“In the meantime, no one, inside or outside the country, should have any illusions about the size of the nationalist and xenophobic electoral bloc. The GOP [Republican Party] has entered Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's territory and yet it commands solid support. Indeed, for a sizable minority of the electorate, it is precisely the stridency of Trump and the Republican Party that attracts. They love Trump's aggressiveness and his gleeful slaughter of liberal sacred cows. Now that he has modeled the style, many others will want to follow suit.

“In a divided country, virtually every facet of reality is viewed through a partisan lens. Not without reason, Democrats have tried to make the election a referendum on Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis. But that wasn't a winning letter. Nearly half of Americans disagreed that Trump's disastrous and irresponsible performance disqualified him from the presidency. That does not bode well for the disease control effort, which would be the first task of a Biden administration.

“If there is no collective will to take preventive action, everything will continue to depend on a magic bullet: a vaccine. But even this does not guarantee success. Opinion polls suggest that no more than a slim majority will agree to be vaccinated, with Republican-leaning Americans being particularly resistant. The implication is that the US will falter, not effectively controlling the outbreak and experiencing repeated lockdowns. The impact on communities and small businesses is likely to be devastating.

“Even assuming the virus can be mastered, a Biden administration would face an uphill political battle. Its formidable enemy is the Republican Party in Congress, led by Mitch McConnell, the sulphurous head of the Senate Republicans. Before the election, riding on a wave of excessive optimism about the likely outcome, Nancy Pelosi [Democratic Representative and Speaker of the House] played a dangerous game. The House speaker has championed a massive second stimulus package, more than $2 trillion, but no 'blue wave' has brought Democrats into control of Congress.

“Now, with a reduced majority, Pelosi will have to return to the negotiating table to bargain with McConnell. To Wall Street's delight, he has announced that he is willing to make a deal, but this is an ominous sign. It is more or less guaranteed that any package McConnell agrees to will not address the social crisis facing tens of millions of unemployed Americans and struggling cities and states across the country. And yet, to save the economy from catastrophe, Democrats may well be forced to accept McConnell's terms.

“As necessary as it is, any agreement with McConnell should be considered a poison pill. Every item on Biden's progressive agenda - health, childcare and education - would be up for auction. The world at large would be pleased to see a Biden administration reverse Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. But any talk of a Green New Deal would likely be stalled. Republicans like to talk about infrastructure, but in four years in office, Trump has never introduced an investment program. If Senate Republicans are won over to a Biden green energy plan, it will certainly be tailor-made for the business lobby. There is no chance that the Senate will grant Biden formal ratification of the Paris agreement, a legal victory denied to Barack Obama as it was to Bill Clinton over the Kyoto protocol.

“This would leave the United States unable to credibly commit to zero carbon emissions. The progress of technology and the falling cost of renewable energy can be an asset, but a technical solution can only go so far. Deep decarbonisation could, in due course, open the door to a new green growth model. But in the medium term, it requires painful structural change that will have to be initiated from the top down.

“Any progress over the next four years would depend on makeshift and painful administrative compromises. The Obama administration has taught a masterclass in both the potential and limits of this type of governance. A Biden administration would undoubtedly benefit from that experience, but it would face what may be Trump's most formidable legacy: a court system taken over at every level by pro-business, anti-regulation judges. In a single term, Trump managed to appoint a quarter of the federal judges, who will carry out his agenda for decades to come.

“With obstructions in every direction, we should not be surprised if the real leadership in economic policy continues to rest not with the elected executive branch but with the Federal Reserve. Fed Chairman Jay (Jerome) Powell has been very accommodating. And from the perspective of the rest of the world, the Fed's leadership may not be bad. Cheap dollars ease the pressure on the world economy. But there are distinct limits to what any central bank can do in response to the economic shock caused by the virus. And there are seriously toxic side effects of an endlessly expansionary monetary policy, notably in the rise of speculative bubbles that benefit the fortunate minority who own stocks.

“What the Fed cannot provide is what America desperately needs: a major upgrade in public services, starting with the electoral machine, child care, health care and XNUMXst century infrastructure. Without it, the stalemate of a divided American society and dysfunctional politics will continue. This is the prospect that should most concern the rest of the world. Far from closing the book on the last four years, even if there is a change in office in the White House, this election threatens to confirm and consolidate the poisonous status quo.

*Adam Tooze is professor of history at Yale University (USA). Author, among other books, of The price of destruction (Record).

Translation: Luis Felipe Miguel

Originally published in the newspaper The Guardian

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