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OP-ED: The most consequential election in American history?

  • Published at 05:55 pm October 13th, 2020
File photos of former US president Donald Trump, left, and incumbent US President Joe Biden, right Reuters

What happens in November could completely change the US as we know it

On September 29, the two main candidates for president, the sitting President Donald Trump and the former Vice President Joe Biden, participated in their first debate. The result was shameful. As an American, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame that this spectacle was presented to the world.

In brief, Trump acted like a little child, interrupting, lying, talking louder to keep the moderator Chris Wallace and candidate Biden from speaking. This bad little boy disrupted an attempt to conduct a debate to help Americans decide for whom they will vote for. 

If the debate settled any undecided voters, Biden gained. Trump’s behaviour certainly convinced any woman thinking about the election that this was a terrible man to have as president. 

I feel sorry for all of the officials of the United States around the world; fine men and women who now stand confused and dismayed at the face the United States presented to the world. The United States’ political system has become a joke.

I feel so sorry for intelligent men and women like the secretary of state and the attorney general who have struggled to keep the United States on a reasonable path, who now have seen the man they serve disgrace himself and his country. For men like Barr and Pompeo, there is only one path of honour -- resign and flee this man Trump.

What is the purpose of these debates? It is to present to the voters a short but hopefully meaningful summary of what these men would do on the big issues if they were to be elected president. 

Underhanded tactics

The moderator Chris Wallace posed appropriate questions but President Trump ignored the agreed program and proceeded to bully, insult, and scream at both Biden and Wallace. It is hard to exaggerate the crudeness, lack of kindness, and nastiness Trump demonstrated. There is no longer any reason to respect Trump despite the office that he holds. 

On character, Trump was a zero. Biden was the shell of a good man. If you live long enough, you collect victories and defeats, and you experience the joys and dismays of the unexpected lives of your family and of yourself. Biden carries the scars of life, as do all men and women of his age. 

Picking at the private parts of a person’s life is a vile action. Biden was man enough not to raise Trump’s dysfunctional family despite Trump’s provocations. That was one of the few good things of this terrible debate.

Nothing on key issues

On the key issues of the United States, we heard nothing of interest as there were few if any complete thoughts. On the management of the virus, we heard only of the past, not the future. With the United States desperate for leadership on the virus, we have been offered two wimps.

On the short-run economic issues, again we heard little. The importance of another package of support to the disadvantaged was not discussed in any meaningful way. Trade policy, another important short-run problem, got no attention. There was no discussion of the financial condition of state and local governments that are running out of money, yet are expected to fund medical facilities, schools, and police forces. 

On the longer-term economic issues, again little clarity. The moderator tried to bring out the issues of global warming but got little response from Trump. While there was quite a lot from Biden, it was impossible to understand his words as Trump constantly interrupted. 

Vital questions of the decline of competition and the dominance of a handful of tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft) were ignored. The problems arising from unregulated social media were ignored.

The third major issue was the question of racism. Again, the real issue of how to assist minorities to better economic and educational performance to be more or less the same as white people was given no attention. They screamed about riots, police brutality, and law and order. But the deep issues of ensuring equality of opportunity for all Americans received no attention. 

The records of the two candidates were meaningless. Such records are of interest insofar as they help us understand the character and behaviour of the candidate in the next few years. We can draw some conclusions. 

Trump’s life is of consistent deception, self-serving behaviour, exploiting his family members. His business practises should have landed him in jail, and he is a weak intellect with no moral component to his life. Trump should not be president. 

Biden is old and unlikely to manage the stress of the presidency. He has managed his life with reasonable integrity and overcome tremendous family tragedies. But he is not up to the task of becoming president.

The issue of the nominations for the Supreme Court is not a real issue. Either party would do what they will to maximize their power, regardless of the merits of the issue. Wasting time on the Supreme Court issue was a mistake.

The final point covered in the debate was the “integrity of the election.” This is a Trump issue as there is no reason to worry about the election. Trump has already blocked the useful actions to improve the election procedures. He is only interested in making trouble in the voting, hoping in some way that this will enable him to continue as president without winning the election. 

There is nothing useful to debate. I think it is quite obvious that Biden will win the election; if the process of counting the votes leaves us with no outcome, then Nancy Pelosi will become president. A debate on that outcome would be really interesting.

Of the six issues to be debated, we learned little on the intentions of the candidates. The failure of the debate was caused by Trump who deliberately sabotaged it. Let us, therefore, turn to reality.

Trump’s strategy

He has the understanding that he cannot win an ordinary election. He has to increase the percentage of his supporters who vote for him, and decrease the percentage of his opponents who vote for Biden. 

To do this, he will take hard lines against those who are opposed to him (about 50% of the voters). Most important is the attack on voting by mail, attempting to disrupt this process -- for example by reducing financial support for the US Post Office and challenging in court the voting procedures. 

These actions are aimed at reducing the percentage of his opponents who will actually vote. He wants to get as many of his supporters (about 40% of the voters) to vote as possible. To achieve this, his strategy is to verbally attack his opponents through rallies and the debates; to make racial slurs against the Black community; and to encourage conflict over the protests to raise the importance of law and order issues. Trump is not trying to get more supporters; he is trying to manipulate the voting rates.

Biden’s strategy

Biden’s strategy as the leader in the polling is to keep encouraging his supporters and the people who are undecided to vote for him. At the local level, he is developing procedures to help people with mail voting and to raise the percentage of his supporters to vote. Biden has to avoid making a big mistake. Trump’s attempts to get him to say the wrong thing failed at the first debate, but Trump will continue to employ this strategy.

With only a few weeks before the election, and Biden clearly in the lead, Trump is desperate. His behaviour to influence voters is defined by the above description of his strategy. It is a difficult strategy to make work but he is trying hard. He will become more strident and announce more outlandish actions as the election nears.

If the outcome of the election is that Trump wins with dubious counting of mail ballots and the intervention of the current Supreme Court, while Biden wins the popular vote by 6-7% the consequences will be fearful. 

The United States will no longer be united. California, New York, and a few other states (that together represents 70% of American GDP) will try to leave the union. There will be a widespread refusal to pay taxes. The capital markets in New York will be closed and in tremendous confusion. 

The computer systems of companies, banks, and the government will be hacked by the very people that run them. The dollar will collapse with the US government no longer receiving much revenue, and the market for government securities will vanish. Interest rates will rise sharply. 

There is no way the military or police will contain the situation as the computer systems will cease to function from insider-led disruption. The Russians and the Chinese will join in.

Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

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