US politics needs to move away from the clutches of corporations or single-issue obsessives
Covid-19 is exposing flaws and weaknesses across many different countries and political systems.
For all the predictions of an Asian century, it is the gravitational pull of the United States that draws most attention.
Tellingly, as Donald Trump lives down to the low expectations he has set in office as an impeached president, it is the language of past US leaders -- with talk of Marshall Plans, the moon race, and the New Deal -- that policy-makers the world over are reaching to for answers to the latest Great Crisis.
Apart from himself, VP Mike Pence and their facilitators at Fox News, few now can be surprised Donald Trump is incapable of even the most basic requirements of political leadership.
From frequent untruths and comical boasts to picking fights with swing states like Michigan, his limitations are more starkly apparent than ever. By contrast, the likes of Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York and California’s Gavin Newsom are gaining public trust and acclaim through basic articulacy and candour.
Former Republican strategist Rick Wilson said this week that when he heard President Trump seeking to blame China for the current pandemic it felt to him “like talking about redecorating the kitchen, while the house is on fire.”
However, none of this means that come November Trump won’t still be re-elected as POTUS. Incumbents always have an advantage in American politics. Even more so under wartime conditions. Also, the Democratic Party establishment, which has a long history of batting down progressive forces in its own ranks, has spent more of its energy in recent years arguing with Bernie Sanders supporters than on building coalitions.
Given how broadly spread and deeply embedded Republican party strongholds are across the nation and in an electoral college system weighted against a nationwide popular vote, the Democratic party starts two steps behind. This bias is no mistake -- it was built in by design just like every state having two senators each regardless of size.
Throw in vested interests like the fossil fuel, health insurance, and gun lobbies frequently backing Republicans at local levels, not to mention Trump’s willingness to entertain crowds while pandering to conspiracy theorists, fundamentalist religious groups, science deniers, and bigots alike, and it becomes less surprising his hold over supporters is so tight.
Only with FDR and LBJ-type supermajorities in Congress can any future Democratic president hope to have any chance of seeing through New Deal-style economic reforms past obstructionist Republican lawmakers, let alone thinking of amending the rules. In any case, Trump and Mitch McConnell’s blatant subversion of President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court makes changing rules harder.
Trump’s voter base may have a relatively low ceiling nationally as the Democrats proved in the mid-terms, but it is concentrated in enough of the right places, with enough still loyal GOP apparatchiks for it to keep out another Democratic winner of the popular vote.
It largely does not matter if Trump continues to make blatant mistakes, so long as he can keep his own base engaged with his own talking points. It doesn’t even matter much if Trump backing politicians or media allies make fools of themselves when falling in behind their leader.
The inconvenient truth is that Trump voters have largely already made their minds up. Now tied in emotionally, they will instinctively adjust facts to suit the Trumpian narrative.
Biden will need to find new energy and pick a strong veep if he is to both beat Trump and remove many of his enablers in Congress in the general election. Chances are the first is possible, the second beyond reach, we will know in November.
In the meantime, Trump’s ability to get his own base out and sow doubt among Democrats remains his strongest weapon.
While there are many reasons for ordinary Americans to vote him out, it is more important that US politics is reformed away from capture by corporations and single-issue obsessives.
Triumphing over Trump and overcoming the causes of Trump are both vital goals, but the second can help more people in the long run.
Niaz Alam is Dhaka Tribune’s London Bureau Chief.