This year in America
Updated: Nov 8
In a generous estimation, America had a mixed first half of the year. They exploded into the 20s with the killing of Iran’s most powerful military commander, General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. This escalated the 2019-20 Persian Gulf Crisis, increasing tensions and military personnel in the Middle East as a direct war between Iran and US became significantly more likely before the middle of January. This ultimately stemmed from oil interests with ship attacks and drone strikes amidst a rising military presence in the region, including in Iraq. On 11th Januray, Iran admitted to mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian plane departing from Tehran. After further scuffles, including the deaths of two American and one British solider in March, tensions seem to have settled for now.
The country entered 2020 with impressive economic growth. GDP increased by over 2% in 2019 and unemployment hit historic lows. Stock markets also reached dizzying heights, Tesla and Virgin Galactic among the most dazzling (and risky) examples.
American confidence began to crumble with increasingly checked prestige.
Stocks shot sharply down in a bear market, the worst fall since the Great Recession. Their rather fast recovery since has raised its own concerns amidst hope and very cautious optimism. Unemployment remains high after a sharp increase in spring. Needless to say, the cause of this fiasco was not economic, but the COVID-19 pandemic. Or rather, responses to it. After all, man (or in these woke times, the more cumbersome human) is the greatest variable. Densely populated and underdeveloped Vietnam scored victory with its remarkable response to COVID-19, while President ‘economy back by Easter’ Trump has presided over the worst nationwide example of the pandemic this side of the galaxy. Vietnam is about the size of New Mexico and has a population of nearly 100 million. The latter US state weighs in at just over 2 million, but alone has experienced over 500 COVID-19 deaths to Vietnam’s 0, even as the latter borders the origin country. Notwithstanding other reasons than state-based responses to the pandemic, this is simply unacceptable in 2020. In fairness, our own weak and short-sighted response was scarcely better if better at all. Keen to clap healthcare workers and more recently blame care homes, the Government diverted eyes from Britain’s apparent inability to close or even check the borders, for example. This was until its sudden ability to do so come the end of March when it had a newfound confidence to cock everything up. Until then the example of Italy was apparently a myth; since, we have become the basket case of Europe. For its short-sightedness, the Government has cocked everything up more in the long-term. Did you know that not so long ago the Tory slogan was long-term economic plan?
Enough of Britain for now, this article concerns the US. By the end of May, the latter country faced another problem. The death of George Floyd occurred in a context of racism and racial history somewhat peculiarly American. Flouting social distancing rules, crowds of protesters (opportunists certainly amongst them) carved the country, tore down statues and offered a glimpse of life in the state of nature. Far removed from justice for George Floyd and the black community, they have abided a cancel culture, virtue-signalling and iconoclasm in more ways than one. Along with COVID-19, these events and tensions have dominated the UK and US media landscape since June.
How does all this bode for President Trump, who faces either re-election or dismissal in November? In my lifetime, there has not been a US President who has served for only one term, but for Trump this looks to be an increasing possibility. The President is no longer the challenger and liberal mockery of him from the other side has been wisely hushed. In 2016, I believe these were key reasons for his success, Clinton’s disastrous ‘basket of deplorables’ a mere surface-event over the deep and running mockery of Trump and his followers by metropolitan elites and establishment figures, perfectly exploited by Trump in rousing phrases like ‘drain the swamp!’ and ‘crooked Hilary Clinton’ (sometimes he would just say, ‘crooked’ and we knew exactly to whom he was referring). The Democrats will do well to steer clear of patronisation and mockery, instead emphasising the shortcomings of Trump’s incumbency as the latter engages in a culture war, possibly re-posing as the challenger. The numbers are looking good for Biden, with Trump’s approval ratings below 50% and his person generally trailing by double digits to Biden’s. These figures include those in polls conducted by Fox News. The latter is also more likeable than Clinton, but further to the centre than Bernie Sanders. Trump himself admitted that Biden is not radical left and Biden’s record supports this. Democrats are hoping Biden will reclaim the lost ‘Blue Wall’ comprised of states like Michigan and Wisconsin, both won by Trump in 2016, as well as swing states like Ohio, again won by Trump in the last election. Currently, it is not easy to see how Trump will pick up the points he needs from swing states.
However, the Democrats cannot sit comfortably. At least one thing favours Trump: time. We saw similar numbers to today in 2016. Who can forget a summery Rachel Maddow smugly declaring that Trump was performing so poorly that he was tied with Clinton even in South Carolina? Clinton’s emails and corruption, Trump’s promises and James Comey raged on and delivered his win. Simply, it is far too early to properly assess Trump’s chances. His overall approval rating, while below 50, is very close to it for economic performance. If Trump can keep the economy afloat and drive home his previous economic successes, emphasising stability and continuity but scrambling to reclaim some outsider and challenger status, his re-election is not beyond the realms of possibility.
If there is a normal year in modern history, this is certainly not it. Other numbers do not bode well for Trump, not least the COVID-19 death rate and ensuing economic calamity of the pandemic. Trump needs luck, blunders from Biden and a speedy COVID-19 recovery. Signs of calm and relaxed race relations will also serve him well.