The 2020 election is likely going to be the most important presidential election for at least a quarter century.
The United States is in the midst of a number of moral, economic and social challenges including a climate crisis, huge economic disparities, systemic racism and of course the devastating consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. I am English and have no American heritage, but I do think it is important to emphasize the global significance of the U.S. election.
America is often considered an ideal; a nation founded on strong principles of freedom, democracy and diversity and whilst these ideals themselves can be critiqued until we’re blue in the face it would be naive to assume that the collective decisions that America makes does not affect the rest of the world, because it absolutely does. (Zinn and Arnove, 2015) The United States is the largest military power on the planet, one of the largest global economies and often sets the standards of democracy, justice and social progress. (Fischer, 2010)
I remember vividly watching the 2016 election closely and thinking “who Americans choose as the next president will affect us all” and it did, the election of Donald Trump set off a global wave of nationalist politics, increased racial tensions and normalised the anti-immigrant sentiment which had been bubbling under the surface for some time. (Jordan, 2016)
Donald Trump rose to power on a platform of populist politics not seen since arguably the 1820s with President Andrew Jackson, who Trump often cites as one of his political heroes. (Baker, 2017) Trump represented something different, he was the ideological opposite of President Obama. He was not a politician, and many attribute Trump’s huge rise to power to deep systemic divides within American society that vehemently rejected an era of establishment politics that shut out and essentially ignored the working class, white non-college educated Americans. (Zurcher, 2016)
This was one of the reasons why Trump was able to flip Hillary Clinton’s ‘Blue Wall’ in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania which won him the election. All three had not flipped red since 1988. (Ballotpedia, 2016)
With all of this in mind, is Trump’s path to re-election a clear one? and what are the crucial elements of this election that will affect the American an global political landscape for the next twenty-five years?
- The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of the United States of America is the highest court in the country, and has the power to instate and repeal laws without congressional, senate or presidential authority. Some landmark cases which made it all the way to the Supreme Court include Roe v. Wade which legalised access to abortions for American women in 1973, Brown v. Board of Education which deemed it unconstitutional to segregate schools in 1954 and Obergefell v. Hodges which legalised same-sex marriages in 2015.
The decisions that Supreme Court Justices make have an immediate, and often lifelong impact on American’s lives. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor will likely be Amy Coney Barrett, who Trump officially nominated late last month; she would be a hyper-conservative justice compared to her staunchly liberal and feminist predecessor, who would likely tip the balance of the court to staunchly conservative for at least 25 years. Barrett has openly stated she’s not opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade which would be catastrophic to the rights and liberties of over 160 million American women. The Supreme Court is also due to vote on a case later this year which would put former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in jeopardy which if repealed, would take away healthcare from 20 million Americans.
- Covid-19 and the Economy
After the White House’s stunning announcement on Friday that the President and the First Lady have tested positive for Covid-19, the stakes could not be higher. Trump’s seemingly dismissive approach to the pandemic has had disastrous economic effects and left 200,000 Americans dead. Donald Trump’s approach to handling coronavirus has been to largely downplay it, and to go against the advice of medical advisors and scientists. Covid-19 has also caused mass unemployment across the United States and with little signs of any economic relief, thousands of Americans now face eviction as rent and mortgage payments are due. The rate of unemployment is now higher in the United States than it ever was during the Great Depression. A stunning prospect to consider in the 21st century.
Joe Biden’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic should he win, would be to try and control the virus. He has proposed a $15 dollar minimum wage, 12 weeks paid family leave as well as ensuring equal pay for men and women (outrageous we still even need to fight for this). For the virus, Biden has pledged to put in place a federal mask mandate and free rapid testing for all Americans; Biden has also stated he is not opposed to a nationwide shutdown if this is advised by the scientific community. A stark difference to the Trump Administrations approach to handling the pandemic, which included little to no federal mandates, allowing state Governors to choose if and when to shut down in the first place.
Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal Obamacare now seems far more feasible than it ever did, and with no definitive plans to replace it with another more robust system millions of Americans face losing their coverage, including 20 million Americans with pre-existing conditions which were protected under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Joe Biden’s healthcare plan whilst it is sadly not the ‘Medicare for All’ plan his running mate Kamala Harris supported in the primary, it does appear to be a better alternative with Biden pledging to drive down healthcare costs by expanding Medicare to include everyone over the age of 60, and ensuring a cap of 8.5% or less on insurance premiums allowing broader access to quality affordable healthcare for some of the lowest income Americans.
- Criminal Justice Reform & Race
This is a complex issue which both candidates have approached in differing ways. In the United States there is a federal mandate that requires minimum sentences be served out. Both Trump’s First Step Act and Biden’s proposed legislation should he win in November appear to tackle this issue; The First Step Act, which Trump signed into law, expanded judges’ discretion to ignore mandatory minimum sentences in some cases.” (Politico, 2020) this is opposed to Biden who wants to work with Congress to abolish them completely.
Biden has flip-flopped on the death penalty for years but as the nominee for president, he has vowed to abolish it completely, whilst Trump wants to make it more commonplace and has praised China and the Philippines for its use of capital punishment to curb drug dealing and non-violent crimes. (Politico, 2020) Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have also pledged to legalizing marijuana in the United States should they be elected. Drug related convictions disproportionately affect people of colour in the United States, making this a great first step in the right direction to healing the racial divides in America.
- Climate Change
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement 2017 leaves the United States basically unaccountable for damaging the environment at rapid rates. Trump himself during his 2016 presidential campaign called climate change a ‘hoax’ and has no plans in his 2020 campaign to curb climate change. The United States is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gasses on the planet which is having devastating effects on U.S. soil and abroad. Wild fires have ravaged Australia, The United States, Argentina, regions of West Africa, and even the Arctic all as a result of rapidly increasing global temperatures. Biden has vowed to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement and make the United States carbon neutral by 2050 which sadly passes the 7-12 year time frame scientists have estimated we have to reverse the effects of climate change globally.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for what is on the ballot in November, Americans must decide whether they want another four years of Donald Trump and Mike Pence or a (somewhat) different brand of leadership with the former Vice-President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris. This election is not just about leadership and competency which of course is important when approaching and getting done some of what I have mentioned above.
But the success of a President comes down to a number of factors such as political affiliation, their ability to work across the aisle and their ability to handle an unprecedented crisis. A lot of this comes down to which party is in power in the other two branches of the United States government which can either spell legislative success and progress or total gridlock. Now is not the time to be bogged down by the lesser of two evils, the media circus or the utter chaos that often culminates in a U.S. election year.
Now, more than ever is the time to VOTE with your head and your heart. Bring in the change you want to see, by casting your ballot . . . and God bless America.
Politico.com. 2020. Biden Vs. Trump: Who’S The Actual Criminal Justice Reformer?. [online] Available at: <https://www.politico.com/interactives/2020/justice-reform-biden-trump-candidate-policy-positions/> [Accessed 3 October 2020].
Fischer, C., 2010. Made In America. A Social History Of American Culture And Character. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp.1 – 14.
Zinn, H. and Arnove, A., 2015. A People’s History Of The United States. 5th ed. New York: Harper Perennial, p.675.
Baker, P., 2017. Jackson And Trump: How Two Populist Presidents Compare. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/us/politics/donald-trump-andrew-jackson.html> [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Jordan, E., 2016. The Real Reason For Trump’s Rise. [online] Time. Available at: <https://time.com/4264942/donald-trump-response/> [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Zurcher, A., 2016. Five Reasons Donald Trump Won. [online] BBC News. Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37918303> [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Ballotpedia. 2016. Presidential Voting Trends In Pennsylvania – Ballotpedia. [online] Available at: <https://ballotpedia.org/Presidential_voting_trends_in_Pennsylvania> [Accessed 1 October 2020].