The US Presidential Election 2020: Last Lap Reflections

We have analysed speeches, manifestos and, crucially, voting records in the compilation of this chart. As the campaign proceeds, the chart will be amended to reflect policy changes and other relevant developments.

While the volume of correspondence prohibits us from engaging in communications concerning particular placements, all emails are nevertheless carefully read.

27 October 2020

For the vast majorority of voters, this extraordinary election is more like a referendum on the incumbent. You’re either for Trump or against him.

Being against Trump is a whole lot easier than being for Biden. Joe’s lacklustre persona was painfully evident during the last debate, when he scrambled an alarming number of his words, and recited the Covid-19 death toll as if he were memorising a shopping list.

The truth is that he has difficulty thinking on his feet. When the President ludicrously equated himself with Lincoln in anti-racist achievement, Biden didn’t think of reminding him of LBJ’s Great Society. When Trump chanted his mantra against ‘socialised’ medicine, Biden might have mentioned that when Roosevelt introduced social security, Republicans hurled the same S word. You could be forgiven for wondering whether, in the top offices of Democratic Party HQ, there’s actually a real appetite for winning this election.

Americans tend to like their Presidents to be assertive, positive and with an energetic presence. Alas, they also almost always elect the taller candidate. Trump, in all his awfulness, ticks those boxes.

Even Obama’s vigorous campaigning for Biden may backfire. It seems to underline the comparative inadequacy of the carry-over from the previous administration.

For the bulk of Biden’s career, he’s been an unswerving upholder of the status quo. Despite recent attempts to reinvent himself to accommodate the ascendant progressive wing of the party, Biden remains at heart an unimaginative conservative who, among much else, was a driving force for the catastrophic invasion of Iraq.

Despite the deeply troubled state of the world, there’s been barely a mention of foreign policy in this appallingly shallow campaign, except for Trump’s rabbit-out-of-a-hat role in finding new friends for Israel in unexpected places. Trump has barely mentioned a single policy of any kind as he blows fuses in every fact check machine.

Beyond the President’s well-known voter base, however, there may be a sleeping body of better educated voters who won’t admit to the pollsters that they’re opting for the most vulgar, isolationist and authoritarian of any president in living memory. Motivated more by personal tax breaks than anything else, their electoral weight will perhaps be countered by Americans abroad, who are more sensitive to the scorn and ridicule rightfully heaped on their President by the outside world.

Two questions should be foremost in the voters’ minds, regardless of whether they opt for orange or beige.

The first is why these two models of mediocrity are the best that the US can offer its electorate and, indeed, the world, at a time when wisdom and vision are so desperately needed.

The second is whether the real enemy of US democracy might lie within. The electoral college and the absence of proportional representation constitute, by any democratic criteria, the most absurd system for producing both the head of state and the government.

Trump has made it clear that he will not accept the election result if he is not declared the winner. The chilling image of street fighting and an out-of-control president clutching to the Oval Office furniture as he’s dragged away is in the minds of those who warn of a fascist future.

However far-fetched this scenario may be, it is worth remembering that a classic prelude to fascism has always been an enfeebled opposition.

The Political Compass is a universal tool, applicable to all western democracies. It shows the whole potential political landscape, not simply one within the confines of any particular country. For example, Bernie Sanders is popularly perceived in his own country as an off-the-wall left figure; in other western democracies he would sit squarely within the mainstream social democratic parties that regularly form governments or comprise the largest opposition. Conversely, a US candidate who believes in unfettered market forces or capital punishment may be seen at home as mainstream, but ‘extreme’ in other developed countries. Similarly, ‘Obamacare’ is seen as a liberal/left initiative in the US, while in other developed countries it is viewed as a tepid version of the long-established universal public health care systems that are broadly supported by conservatives as well as social democrats.

Sanders’ unexpectedly strong showing, despite an overwhelmingly hostile media, has reinvigorated the progressive wing of the party.

In the initially crowded field of candidates in the US 2020 primaries, there were some interesting clusters of attitudes. For example very few candidates were opposed to increases to the military budget, including some who are nevertheless also against foreign intervention. Some with a strong commitment to countering climate change nevertheless uphold an equally strong commitment to unlimited economic growth, and sometimes even to the further deregulation of corporate polluters.

The Democratic camp offered a more interesting diversity of ideologies than usual, with Sanders generally more at home with Green Party policies. By contrast to Sanders, Joe Biden portrays few solid convictions, beyond a sense of entitlement to the nomination. Steyer and late-emerger, multi-billionaire Bloomberg, were candidates closer to the ideological heart of today’s neoliberal Democratic Party. It’s a matter of bewilderment to us that Bloomberg has been described as a socialist in some quarters. Whether you see this description as complimentary or contemptuous, it’s certainly ludicrous. Notwithstanding his vast wealth and close Wall Street ties, Bloomberg’s unswerving commitment to balanced budgets and market forces place him on the hard economic right. While he holds some (undoubtedly) socially liberal positions, as New York mayor he also took certain authoritarian positions, especially regarding law and order. The more socially liberal Steyer, on the other hand, professes a late conversion from the economic values of his hedge fund past.

With the exception of Weld, there were few significant differences between Republican candidates. Weld, like the Libertarian Party’s Jo Jorgensen, has an especially strongly-held libertarian outlook on the economic scale. Jorgensen’s opposition to the Covid-19 lockdown as a social libertarian issue may be hotly debated during the campaign, although it’s a position more likely to win support in America than in any other western democracy.

With the candidates now decided, the big surprise was that a majority of Christian fundamentalists favoured the candidate that Jesus would almost certainly be least likely to choose. On the other hand, Trump’s extraordinary behaviour throughout the Corona-19 crisis might tempt more moderate GOP voters to opt for the comfortably conservative Biden.

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