- Siddharth Kaushik
The Race to the White House
During the Democratic National Convention held in August this year, Senator Bernie Sanders said, “This is the most important presidential election in the modern history of this nation.” I thought to myself that that is a bold statement to make. I backtracked a little in time and looked for similar statements during other presidential elections. Much to my surprise, such statements have been made almost every time with different pretexts. In 2016, Trump acted as the messiah of the American people saying that this election will decide whether America will become ‘great’ again or turn into a socialist state.
Similarly, Obama in 2012 and 2008, appealed to the cause of economic stability. Bush and Clinton before him, all have had their own reasons as to why that particular election is the most important in the modern history of America. But, this time, even though I was surprised at Sanders’s statement, I did not dispute it for a single second. My understanding of this particular elections’ importance arises from the concern for the democratic institutions that have acted as key features of American democracy and have in some form or the other, influenced democratic institutions all over the world. There is no refuting the fact that the race for the oval office is the most important democratic election across the globe, simply because it is the election of the most powerful leader of the free world. This time, however, there is an air of bizarreness around everything. The factors behind this particular situation are varied. For an overview, things like the COVID crisis, the social unrest over black lives matter and the subsequent debate on policing reforms and lastly the economic slowdown also begs for change.
The 2020 US Presidential election has been as unsettling as the year itself, but I firmly believe that is not because of the strange nature of the year but the two candidates. I look back at some of the previous elections that I have studied and never have both the candidates been as incompetent, incapable and remarkably unworthy of taking up the Oval office. And to be honest, it is the candidates themselves who, in the presidential debates, have convinced me so. Let’s take an example. Biden, in one of the debates, said that Trump is a racist, non-believer of climate change and a radical protector of the billionaires. And I couldn’t find a way to disagree with him. Then, Trump said that Biden is a corrupt, racist politician and I found it hard to argue against that as well. On that note, let us briefly look at the presidential debates.
The first one was filled with utter chaos. Futile interruptions and a lack of coherence in the debate made it difficult for me as well as countless others to get through the entirety of it. A key highlight was Trump refusing to denounce white supremacists. Even though I do feel that Trump is a racist, it can easily be argued that this particular point has been used in a manipulative manner by the media. If one goes through the official transcripts, it clearly states that Trump asks the Proud Boys( a far-right white supremacist group) to stand down. The question that lingers is- Is such a muffled statement coming from the US President at a time when the whole of America is raging in protests enough? He denounces them for half a second and goes back to slandering the Black Lives Matters movement. Even though the issue has been falsely worked upon by the media, I still feel they are not far away from the point.
Going to the second debate, which was much more civil but still lacked any coherence. The questions being asked were mundane and only facilitated both the candidates’ objective of rhetoric. Nonetheless, strong points for corruption cases were made against Biden, and the issue of Trump’s tax returns was raised, both which might have had more potential than what was used in the debate. Also, an awkward minute where Trump compared himself to Lincoln saying that with the possible exception of Lincoln, no other president had done more for the Black community than Trump. I laughed at that point but was instantly reminded of Biden’s incompetence when he decided to make a joke out of such an absurd statement instead of taking the debate to Trump from that point onwards.
To summarise, the two debates were filled with useless rhetoric, unsubstantiated allegations and counter-allegations in every phase/section of the debate. The cherry on the top is both accusing each other of taking money from Russia. I don’t think there has ever been a series of debates as futile as these without any proper discussion on any policy whatsoever.
Now, I will try to better understand the two candidates before moving into the more technical part of the election, including the polls and who I think will win.
First, for Joe Biden. I’ll acknowledge the elephant in the room. Yes, Joe Biden has been a racist for the majority of his political career with the exception of the last 15-17 years. In 1993, when passing the crime bill, he said that there were ‘predators on the street’ who are ‘beyond the pale’. He even called Obama the first clean-cut American African candidate; however, I feel it is taken out of context nearly every time. Still, historical precedence suggests that Biden has been a racist. But it seems that he is trying to make amends. During the Obama administration, he oversaw economic growth for the Black community, and he has Kamala Harris, an Indian African as his Vice President. And I do feel that Harris will help shift marginal votes on Biden’s side, but not enough to win him the presidency on her own. Biden however, has played smart coming into the last few weeks of the elections. Another Democratic candidate would have surrounded their campaign on slandering Trump. He did it only when it served him. He reluctantly agreed to work on the Green New Deal with the Sanders and AOC camp of the democratic party. He even made a commitment by assuring that the COVID vaccine will be provided to everyone at concessional rates. He has been able to win over the Hispanic, American African and other non-white communities and that is visible in major states like California and New York. If the Democrats can win the Senate and maintain the majority in the house, I can see Biden being a much stronger president than I had given him credit for. I still, however, don’t see him as a president who can bring bipartisan deals.
Moving on, Donald Trump has been a consequential individual ever since he first chose to run in 2016. However, comparing what he is today to what he was in 2016 against Clinton, I don’t see much difference in terms of campaigning, to say the least. But if it worked last time, what is it to say that he won’t win this time? Well, I do admit he was an underdog coming into the 2016 election, and it seems like he still is. But the critical difference is that the portion of the US population which was on the fence last time has now starkly shifted to the Democrats’ side. I won’t call it Biden’s side because it is more to the malicious acts of Trump which have played into his favour rather than his positive. Now, destructive actions; a lot to cover but let’s get started. The rudimentary detriment of his presidency has been the deterioration of the democratic institutions. The most prominent example being the media.
Trump has made facts look like opinions, and therefore anyone who provides facts which don’t align with his are by order of Trump, fake news. This has had a negative impact on Trump more than he would have initially thought. Next, the issue of race; Trump will never admit it but he has handled the BLM issue in the worst possible manner and it is without a doubt, the manner of a racist. Trump retweeted white supremacists time and again and labelled the protestors as terrorists. From a President, I would have expected some initiative. If not legislative, at least deliberative. This has nearly put the majority of the African Americans on Biden’s side. He has not even been able to maintain good relations with Republicans despite being a Republican himself. Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, voted to convict Trump during his impeachment trial. At this point, a lot of Republicans support Trump only because he’s a republican and because they would rather have him instead of a Democrat. There are so many more negative aspects of his presidency. Even though I feel the economy was something he could have built his campaign on, the corona virus and the inevitable economic slowdown that came along has proven to be his Achilles’ heel instead of his one few positives. And yes, Trump has poorly handled the pandemic. There was a much bigger need for stricter lockdown and health measures like mandatory usage of masks. India was able to better manage the pandemic than America and seeing introspectively, how many times are we able to say something like that. The handling of a pandemic should and will play as a negative against him.
Lastly, I will bring back Bernie Sanders at this point. He has claimed that this November it shouldn’t be Trump v Biden, but rather Trump v America. I will turn it a notch higher and say it is Trump v Democracy at this point. I will also admit, and at this point, I have made it quite clear up that I am not a fan of Biden whatsoever but what Trump offers at this point is not just a threat to American democracy. Still, it has become a wave which has affected Britain across the pond, Brazil and all over to India. As much as we try to move away from the facade of Western control on our lives, we have to admit that the west plays a considerable role in our lives. And that remains true even for our political systems. America has been a pioneer of democratic ideals for years and today as much as the democratic institutions face a threat, an equally more significant risk is to the very ideals of democracy.
By Siddharth Kaushik
The featured image originally appeared on Axios and is an illustration by Sarah Grillo for Axios with the original pictures from Getty Images.