By Isaac Lopez
Questo articolo è apparso sul blog della rivista americana "Telos. Critical Theory of Contemporary", nel quadro di una discussione sulle elezioni presidenziali statunitensi del 3 novembre 2020.
Donald Trump will win in November because the same forces that propelled him to victory in 2016 are even stronger today in 2020. This year is shaping up to be the most turbulent in American history since at least 1968, if not 1941: we are living in the era of black swans. But if you keep spotting them, are black swans still so rare? Common sense dictates that Trump will lose resoundingly in November given the chaos of the past eight months, public fatigue from the last four years, and near-daily October surprises. Then again, common sense also dictated that Trump and his campaign would have gone the way of the 9-9-9 Plan and Original Mavericks within three weeks of descending the escalator at Trump Tower. At the risk of eating my own words in a bit less than one month, here is the quant- and wonk-free case for why Trump will win, poll numbers be damned.
The reason for Trump’s 2016 victory is simple: support of Donald Trump was and is a reactionary backlash against eight years of progressive overreach during the Obama administration and twenty-five years of weak Republican leadership. Donald Trump is crude, ill-tempered, unprofessional, and unfit to be president—much less a cultural figure—but was elected almost exclusively for these reasons. Contrary to the media catechism, Russia did not throw the election to Donald Trump, fake news articles from Macedonian click farms did not convince hordes of Baby Boomers on Facebook that Hillary Clinton leads a ring of satanic pedophiles, and 46.1% of voters in 2016 were not white nationalists. Trump won because enough voters hated the elite class so much that they were willing to vote for such a man just to humiliate the GOP in the primary and the overall political establishment in the general. Trump’s victory was because of voters’ frustrations, and any retrospective analysis of 2016 applied to the current election year must start and end with them.
A simple conversation with most Trump supporters would show that they are often mundane centrists or conservatives who find Trump’s personal and (un)professional conduct repulsive, but mostly they support him for lack of a better option. Indeed, Trump’s strongest base of support in the primary was actually registered Democrats who vote Republican, which typically lines up with the “working-class whites” who have been economically left behind by technological globalized society and politically abandoned by a woke-obsessed Democratic Party. It is far more telling that Trump hovered in the low 30%s until the GOP primary field narrowed to 3.5 candidates than that he was successful in winning the nomination. A common sentiment is that “Trump supporters aren’t racist, but they decided racism isn’t a deal breaker”—that supporting Trump equates to agreement with the worst of his rhetoric and the vilest corners of his voting base. However, this refrain is primarily echoed by the same people who only half-jokingly say they would vote for Mickey Mouse over Donald Trump, or for that matter any Republican. Supporting a politician with whom you more closely align does not mean you wholeheartedly embrace all of their views: political support is a compromise, not a marriage. Most left-of-center people are not anti-Semites or Marxists, but antisemitism and open support of neo-Marxism in the upper echelons of Black Lives Matter (the organization) does not stop many in the Democratic Party—including its presidential ticket—from openly supporting that group. Equating political support for Trump with racism is a weak perspective built on a poor understanding of and lack of empathy toward those with differing viewpoints. Political ideology is entirely determined by socialization, experiences, and self-interest; to deny this is ignorance draped in pretension and zealotry.
Republicans and disenfranchised centrist voters came to support Trump in a two-phase reactionary backlash over the course of the last ten years. The first phase was in response to passage of Obama’s stimulus bill with votes from no Republican house members and only three Republican senators—one of which being the aforementioned Maverick—and later Obamacare without the support of a single congressional Republican. The passage of these bills spurred the formation of the Tea Party movement, handed Republicans the largest congressional victory since the Roosevelt Recession flipped the House in 1938, and ultimately birthed a much more reactionary, ideologically fervent brand of conservatism than the preceding neoconservatism.
The second phase of the backlash began almost concurrently with Trump’s campaign launch. In late June of 2015, the Supreme Court released the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized gay marriage nationally, and King v. Burwell which upheld Obamacare. The Obergefell decision came when national momentum for gay marriage was well on its way, but to religious conservatives fearful of what legalizing gay marriage would spell for religious freedom or who were still cold to the idea, having Obergefell undemocratically thrust on them by the Supreme Court—and a nominally conservative court at that—served as a reminder that even a right-leaning court does not ensure conservative rulings. The Obamacare decision similarly upheld a paradigmatically unpopular piece of legislation using a convoluted legal argument that sounded to conservatives as if Chief Justice Roberts was looking for an excuse to side with the liberal wing rather than writing a constitutionally defensible opinion.
The Obergefell majority opinion, the greatest liberal court victory since Roe v. Wade, was written by Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy, and the King decision by Bush 43 appointee Roberts. Older conservatives also remembered David Soutter’s appointment by Bush 41 and subsequent drift leftward, eventually becoming a reliable member of the court’s liberal wing. What is the point of electing Republican presidents, conservatives asked themselves, if their Supreme Court appointees are just going to hand the Left victories anyway?
The Masterpiece Cakeshop case has since validated some of Evangelicals’ fears of Obergefell’s implications for religious freedom—a sentiment echoed in a recent statement by Justices Thomas and Alito—and hardened their desire to make sure reliably conservative justices are appointed to the court at all costs. Couple this with Bush’s disastrous handling of the Iraq War and oversight of the 2008 savings and loan crisis, exploding government spending throughout the 2000s, McCain’s embarrassing campaign performance and even more destructive elevation of Sarah Palin to national prominence, and Romney’s narrow loss to Obama—which easily could have been a victory with a 47% smarter campaign strategy—and normal, neighborly conservatives finally saw their leadership for the hapless charlatans that they are. By mid-2015, many on the Right were anxious to embrace a new ideology and new leadership that might for once have their interests in mind.
This is the backdrop to which Trump launched his campaign on June 16, 2015. Is it any wonder that he quickly rose to the top of the GOP primary polls? While Jeb Bush was trying to add exclamation points to his first name to distract from his last and Marco Rubio experienced public aphasia with the Spanish language, Trump was railing against China, mass immigration, condescending liberal elites, and political correctness. While the rest of the GOP was apologizing for everything conservatism has done for the last thirty years and attempting to tamp down the never-ending accusations of racism or sexism or homophobia from the media and Twittersphere, Trump unapologetically embraced the stereotypes, daring the public and the media to judge him for what he is.
Now, to be clear, this was five years ago: ancient history, especially in the Trump-era news cycle. There is a strong argument to be made that Trump has worn out his welcome; every traditional indicator currently shows that Trump will lose next month. The polls, first and foremost, show Biden with a commanding lead: no candidate has ever won while being this far down in the polls three weeks out from the election. Biden may be in contention with Michael Dukakis for the least inspiring candidate since Jimmy Carter, but The Donald is also no George HW. Meanwhile, the economy—previously Trump’s paragon accomplishment—is, to put it technically, in the toilet. Unemployment is around 8% and could actually climb as a secondary round of layoffs and an autumn coronavirus wave start to decimate middle-income white-collar jobs. Geopolitically, the world today is starting to look a lot like the world in 1931, with the formation of a Russia/China/Iran axis looking to fill the void of global power left by two decades of a delinquent United States.
And then there’s civil unrest. Whether it is the mask wars at Walmart or the burgeoning culture war in response to the death of George Floyd—which for a lot of the (predominantly white) rioters is probably just in response to covid cabin fever—America is in the throes of a modern day Maoist cultural revolution, complete with newspeak, struggle sessions, and unpersoning of political and cultural dissidents. If we replace the Twitter blue checkmarks with Red Guards, we are within a first order approximation of 1967 China; replace the Vietnam War with systemic racism or wealth inequality and tonight’s Portland looks like 1968’s Berkeley.
We are at a nexus where four of the tensest moments of the twentieth century—the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, the build-up to World War II, and 1968’s social unrest—are repeating themselves simultaneously. That Trump is unequipped to handle this moment in history is a given. This point in history requires a Churchill or a Roosevelt, and unfortunately there exists no leader in the West who measures up to that standard. So that leaves us with Trump and Biden.
The fundamental question with respect to the 2020 election is whether voters will act like we are in a war or a revolution. Will they keep the same president in a time of crisis, or vote out the current administration in an attempt to upend the established order? History seems to suggest the latter: 1920 gave us Harding, 1932 brought Roosevelt, and 1968, Nixon.
Despite all of these factors that point toward a Trump defeat, the cultural forces nevertheless suggest that Trump will still sail to victory. First the poll numbers. A consistent explanation for why Trump overperformed in the 2016 primaries and Hillary lost the Midwest despite leading in the polls is that many voters would not confess their preferences to pollsters. Trump’s 2020 poll numbers do not track with lockdowns or coronavirus case numbers: rather, his support in the polls tended to decline when Americans saw progressively more people having their careers, livelihoods, and even physical safety threatened for openly supporting him. There is strong evidence emerging that Trump’s milquetoast polls are, like in 2016, due to reluctance to admit support for Trump rather than an actual lack of support. To paraphrase Senator Feinstein, the shy voter dogma lives loudly in the poll numbers.
The rule of the Silent Majority is not the only historical precedent at play in 2020. There is also popular disdain for the political establishment that has only continued to grow in the last four years. Biden is even more of an establishment candidate than Hillary, he was even less popular than her during the primary, he is even more uninspiring, and his occupation of the Oval Office lacks any historical significance. Trump is batting 1000 for beating unpopular establishment candidates, and the only argument for this trend stopping is the fate of other unpopular incumbents. However, unlike Humphrey (in lieu of Johnson), Carter, or Bush Sr., the one thing Trump has above all else is voter enthusiasm from his base and resentment toward the other side of the aisle.
Which finally brings us to that resentment. Trump was on track to lose back in May. The public was tired of the nightly doom-and-gloom news broadcasts, the draconian pandemic restrictions garnered no alternative response or guidance from the Trump administration, and his daily press briefings culminated in the commander in chief extemporaneously suggesting injecting bleach to fight coronavirus. However, some of Trump’s initial support at the pandemic’s onset has started to return, in large part because of the blatant hyperbolicity and hypocrisy coming out of left-leaning media and Democratic politicians on everything related to the pandemic. Trump pushed to restrict travel with China while De Blasio was telling everyone in his city to go out and Pelosi was busy masklessly touring Chinatown intimating that you are a racist and a moron if you think coronavirus is worse than the flu. Then, Pelosi et al. along with her media sycophants switched their position to be that you’re a moron if you don’t take COVID-19 seriously, making this pivot almost as quickly as you can say “Buttigieg drops out.”
Every news broadcast now serves as a gentle reminder of the overt media bias and science elitism that drove voters to support Trump four years ago. Democratic governors and nebulous “public health experts” told the public for months that the virus would devastate the entire country like it did New York if we did not follow the WHO guidance—an institution not uninfluenced by the Chinese Communist Party—to lock down, diligently socially distance, and economically self-immolate until a vaccine becomes available. Now though, even states that did not lock down or have largely reopened have comparable or even fewer deaths per capita than states such as New York. We were warned that schools must close because they were likely to be super-spreading hubs, but so far there appears to be no evidence of this effect. At the end of this pandemic, many blue state governors will boast both some of the worst death statistics and strictest lockdown policies. In the eyes of many voters, the media’s pandemic hysteria is beginning to feel more like fake news in service of a political agenda.
The most potent cultural current running in Trump’s favor though is civil unrest in response to George Floyd, and perhaps more importantly the media’s response to this unrest juxtaposed with the ongoing pandemic. After months of reminding us that we are selfish and ignorant if we go to the grocery store too often, see friends, or attend a church service, the media and many government officials began telling us that it is okay to break social distancing if you are protesting for a cause with which they agree. Contact tracers in New York City won’t ask you about attending a protest, and over 1,200 public health officials in the United States, Canada, and Britain even signed an open letter condoning the protests in the name of public health. The sudden leap to rationalize large-scale protests in the midst of a pandemic showed many voters that both the protests and lockdowns were not fact-driven public health policy but rather a continuation of 2016’s political correctness writ large.
The overt media bias from 2016 has now turned into providing cover for real-life political violence, and the overly politicized culture of four years ago is now inescapable inundation verging on indoctrination. Antifa thugs demolishing and defacing statues are portrayed as peaceful protests, Department of Homeland Security officers arresting protestors are framed as unidentified agents kidnapping citizens into unmarked vans, and it seems that every corporation—even some who literally have slaves in their supply chains—cannot rush fast enough to upload a monochromatic version of their logo. Your acceptance of leftist ideology in all aspects of your life is required, and noncompliance justifies harm or violence. The culture wars from four years ago are now a scorched-earth campaign.
The DNC’s endless pandering to Black Lives Matter (the organization) and Bernie supporters show that even though Biden is nominally a moderate, power in any Biden presidency will be held by the far left. The AOC wing of the party is now in charge, and no amount of Biden tacking to the center from the center of his basement is going to reassure the public that the patients won’t be in charge of the asylum once a Biden administration is installed. You’re not electing Blue Collar Joe from Scranton, you’re electing his puppet masters who openly want to dismantle police departments, pay reparations, pack the Senate and Supreme Court, and convert the entire economy to be carbon neutral even if it destroys your career. These are the same people who unironically argue that Planned Parenthood can and should be an integral part of a comprehensive community safety plan and believe that meritocracy and the nuclear family are vestiges of white ethnocentric society. They are heralding the same fundamental transformation of America that brought us Trump in the first place, sans Obama’s class and charisma.
There will be a reactionary backlash to all this, and that backlash, much like four years ago, will be the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. A lot can change in three weeks: a lot of bad Tweets can be published between now and Election Day, a lot of COVID tests can come back positive, and a lot of bullets can be exchanged by Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. But as it stands now, the winds blow strongly in Trump’s favor. In the span of four weeks over the summer, Black Lives Matter and Antifa, in conjunction with their corporate and media sympathizers and appeasers, managed to hand Trump enough progressive overreach for conservatives and independents to overlook four years of incoherence and mismanagement.
Trump will win in November, and it is entirely because in the last four years Democrats have failed to offer voters anything better than chaos, cancelation, and calamity. There is no forgetting and there is no forgiveness in the brave new Leftist world they have chosen to embrace. Whiteness and slavery are original sin, Trump is the Devil, and protestors and victims of police violence are the movements’ martyrs. Repent or be damned. Or at least canceled. Is this really the country you want to live in? I doubt it. And I doubt most of your neighbors do either, regardless of what they will say if you ask them.