Arvanitakis on American politics: The next few days and the election

| October 31, 2020

“I think the biggest threat to our future sits in Washington, D.C., and not someplace else. The rest of the problems of the world wouldn’t worry me if we had a functional government. And if we had a Congress that could begin to address some of the long-term problems that the country has. I mean, the reality is our problems are deep enough in every category that none of them can be resolved during the course of one presidency or one Congress. So you need bipartisan solutions that can be sustained through more than one presidency and more than one Congress. And we don’t see any evidence of that in Washington.”

These were the words of former Secretary of Defence and former Director of the CIA, Robert Gates who served both the Obama and Bush Administrations. As you read these words, you should remember that they were spoken in 2013 – three years before the Trump Presidency emerged. The words by Gates reflected the sentiment he has expressed in 2011 when accepting the Liberty Medal.

During his speech, Gates attacked the way that the political establishment – including those who he had served – spent more time rigging districts and exacting needless revenge upon each other for political points rather than confront the many crises facing contemporary America.

As we enter the final few days of the election, I have been repeatedly asked, ‘who do I think will win?’ Unless the polls are dramatically wrong again, it is likely to be a Biden Presidency. But no matter the result, the likely outcome is one of ‘four miserable years’ (to quote a former senior State Department employee).

This is because the last four years have been all about revenge: revenge by the Republicans on the ‘liberal’ wins of the Democrats; and all about revenge by the Democrats on a president they despise. The next four years are likely to yield more of the same.

As Gates pointed out, the wounds in the American political establishment are deep. Trump did not cause these wounds, but the style of his Presidency meant they could not heal. For Democrats, their obsession with removing the President and attacking everything he did, meant that when it was election time, the best they could produce was two old white guys who reflect little of American life. They wasted their time on a pointless impeachment and many political witch hunts that yielded no results.

The spotlight turns to Joe Biden

While tens of thousands of pages have been written about Trump, Joe Biden has mostly avoided scrutiny. Biden is a problematic figure. To begin with, Joe Biden has supported almost every bad foreign policy proposal including the invasion of Iraq – something which Trump opposed.

Biden claims to want things to return to normal: but writing for the New York Times, Emma Ashford notes that this is exactly the problem: normal is one of pointless wars. As Ashford writes a return to normal may be tempting, but,

“…we should be wary. Mr. Biden appears less likely to improve America’s foreign policy than to return us to a narrow Washington consensus that has failed our country and the world.”

For all the progressives running around and criticising Trump – and I consider myself one of them – we should remember that Obama continued the support of the wars the Bush Administration started. In contrast, Trump actively searched for a way out even if he did not succeed.

The second concern is that Biden is seen as holding together a coalition that will cease to function if he is elected. Seen to be held hostage by the hard left, Republicans see Biden as a temporary figure that will fail to protect their interests.

And here lies the massive challenge: if some of the pro-Democrat the polls are correct and Biden captures the Senate as well as the House, then revenge against political opponents will again be the order of the day. If the Republicans hold the Senate, we are likely to see four more years of gridlock.

This explains why few Americans are optimistic of the election – no matter who wins.

Three things that could still turn undecided voters

In the few days before the election, there are three things that could still turn undecided voters.

The first is the pandemic. For many older Americans who were part of Trump’s base, the President has failed miserably here. The question is whether they will bring themselves to vote for a Democrat – even if they like Biden.

The second is the economy. While the US has experienced the worst downturn since the Great Depression, Donald Trump delivered real economic expansion. If fact, 60 percent of Americans say they are better off under Trump than four years ago. While the pandemic brought this to a standstill, recent data shows the US economy has recovered much of the enormous ground it lost. This is a positive for Trump.

Finally, Trump’s handling of racial justice issues has been appalling. While most American’s support dramatic reform of the police and systemic racism, the protests, riots and looting has seen many turn away from supporting the Black Lives Matter movement – even if research confirms they are not behind the violence.

Many say this is the most important election in America’s history. The problem, however, is that the outcome is unlikely to change the direction that history is taking us.