Nicholas Goldberg wrote an interesting observation in the Los Angeles Times on Nov 4. “But this much is clear: On one level, Donald Trump has already won. He’s won because he has sown exactly the kind of discord he thrives on. He’s won because he’s divided us still further in ways that will stay with us long after he has left office. He’s turned adversaries into enemies, undermined our democratic institutions and convinced us we’re cheating one another. At the moment, he is continuing to undermine the electoral system itself with unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud.”
Though it’s still uncertain who will occupy the White House on January 20, 2021, assuming Joe Biden wins, the path ahead of him is daunting: an electorate divided; a likely Republican Senate disinclined to compromise; and a Trump-enhanced Supreme Court poised to frustrate him at every turn. Biden has, wisely and appropriately, promised to govern as President for all Americans — that is, the opposite of Trump’s divisive approach. But even winning the popular vote does not erase the fact that Biden would inherit a country whose citizens are as angry and polarised as at any moment in the recent past.
At least three important developments played a key role in the elections and it is necessary to know them to understand the voters’ perspective. This may also provide us some first signs of what type of a shift one may expect from the new US government.
Poor Economic Policy
As we all know, the economic policy of the Trump administration is characterised by individual and corporate tax cuts, attempts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), trade protectionism, immigration restriction, deregulation focused on the energy and financial sectors, and responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A key part of Trump’s economic strategy was to boost growth via tax cuts and additional spending, both of which significantly increased federal budget deficits. The positive economic situation he inherited from President Obama continued, with a labour market approaching full employment and measures of household income and wealth continuing to improve significantly.
Trump also implemented trade protectionism via tariffs, primarily on imports from China, as part of his ‘America First’ strategy. However, two important implications of these policies were that because of cuts in Obamacare, the number of Americans without health insurance increased under Trump, while his tax cuts worsened income inequality. The administration’s most direct and craven contribution to growing inequality, of course, is the 2017 tax cut. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, $205 billion of the roughly $325 billion in revenue foregone by changes to the tax code went into the pockets of the richest 20%. Under $40 billion went to the poorest 60% of American taxpayers—about the same share that went to foreign investors.
Since the beginning of this year, pandemic concerns and mitigation measures resulted in over 40 million people filing for unemployment insurance until the end of March 2020. This has resulted in rapidly widening inequality in wages, incomes, and wealth where the poor and vulnerable were hit hard. For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of uninsured persons under age 65 rose from 28.2 million in 2016 to 32.8 million in 2019, an increase of 4.6 million or 16%.
Trump’s failures during the pandemic run the gamut from the rhetorical to the organisational. Every time the President speaks, he seems to add to the fear and chaos surrounding the situation: telling Americans it was not serious by asserting his “hunches” about data, assuring people that everyone would be tested even when there were very few tests available, telling people we are very close to a vaccine when it is anywhere from 12 to 18 months away, etc.
Bombastic and Racist
Trump was bombastic and racist from the outset, openly courting White xenophobic voters by falsely blaming immigrants and foreign nations for many of America’s woes. It seemed hardly a recipe for political success in a nation proudly built by immigrants and their descendants and led at the time by a Black president who, like Trump himself, was the son of an immigrant.
The peak situation was that there were more than a thousand protests—most of them peaceful, though some devolved into violence—which swept across America caused by outrage over the death of George Floyd, recorded as a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down. Floyd was one of approximately 1,100 people killed annually, most of them African-American, by police use of force in the US in recent years.
The US, on November 5, became the first country across the globe to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015, with nearly 200 nations signing it to ensure and encourage a global response to the threats posed due to climate change. The US government, under the leadership of Trump, officially ended its association with the Agreement, over three years after the decision was first declared.
According to a report by BBC, the US represents around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions and remains the world’s biggest and most powerful economy. While on one side, Trump withdrew from the Agreement, his political rival Biden took to social media and made a contrasting announcement. Biden announced that the US government, under his leadership would be rejoining the Agreement “in exactly 77 days”. This is a good sign not only to strive towards improving the global climate but also a real hope that global cooperation towards a more peaceful, fair and egalitarian world can be expected from this global leader in future.
(The author is MLA, and Humboldt Expert in Agriculture, Environment and Cooperation)
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