Donald Trump is ‘down’ but not ‘out’ though his re-election appears increasingly doubtful  

His approval ratings are down. Republican leaders have publicly disapproved of his handling of protests. But a lot can happen in the next five months before November 3

US President Donald Trump (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
US President Donald Trump (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
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Ashis Ray

Are the wheels coming off for the most unworthy president of the United States in history? Five months – which is the period still to unfold before the presidential election in the world’s most powerful country takes place – is a long time in politics. Strange, wholly unexpected events could occur.

Less than a month before the vote four years ago, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a 17% lead; but was undone by an unwarranted, if not unlawful, announcement by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation about an inquiry into her exchange of emails as Secretary of State outside the government’s secure system. The probe failed to unearth any wrongdoing. But the damage done proved to be irreparable.

It is, of course, presently evident that after a tumultuous fortnight following the effective murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a white policeman in Minneapolis – and President Donald Trump’s outrageous response to the incident, his prospects of re-election look dim. But that is not to say his fortunes are irreversible.

A CNN poll published on 8 June indicated 57% of Americans disapproved of his handling of the presidency, while 38% did. No sitting president with such an approval rating at this stage of his term has ever been returned.

In the race for the top job, 55% of registered voters supported Joe Biden, who is now confirmed as the Democratic nominee, versus 41% for Trump. 63% disliked the incumbent’s approach to race relations; 65% said his reaction to protests in the wake of Floyd’s death was more harmful than helpful. Two-thirds of respondents felt racism was a big problem in the US, up from 49% in 2015.

Stalwarts of Trump’s Republican party have lined up against him. These include George W Bush, a two term President, Mitt Romney, a former presidential candidate, and Colin Powell, an erstwhile Secretary of State. The public reproach of such big names in one’s own fold is almost unheard of. But it needs to be remembered Trump was elected in 2016 in spite of heavyweight grandees being against him.

From being enslaved to being unequal in the eyes of the law, black Americans have historically been at the receiving end. In 1955 Rosa Parks, a black woman, was settled on a seat designated for blacks in a bus in Montgomery in the southern state of Alabama.

When a white man boarded the transport and couldn’t find a seat in the ‘white’ section of the vehicle, the driver instructed Parks and three other black passengers to vacate their seats. Parks rightfully refused, but was arrested. This ignited a civil rights movement for which Martin Luther King Jr is celebrated. A 381- day boycott of the Montgomery bus system resulted in the US Supreme Court in 1956 declaring segregated seating as illegal. In 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower signed a Civil Rights Act into law

In practice, though, prejudice persisted. 1963 witnessed a March on Washington led by King which culminated in a rally of an estimated 200,000 people and his intoxicating ‘I Have a Dream’ address. Following this, President John Kennedy initiated legislation to establish the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which entered the statute the following year after his assassination.

The Voting Rights Act passed by President Lyndon Johnson empowered blacks further. King was conferred the Nobel Prize for Peace; but was also assassinated in 1968, as was Robert Kennedy, John’s progressive younger brother and the Democratic presidential candidate, the same year.

Over the years, injustice to and particularly killing of blacks have evoked demonstrations, sometimes violent. But the scale of the unrest covering each of the 50 states of the US as triggered by Floyd’s death is unprecedented. 84% of Americans have signalled the public anger is justified.

Trump inherited an economy that had largely recovered from the 2008-09 meltdown, indeed taken off. Corresponding comebacks in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia guaranteed the momentum, although there has gradually been a slowdown.

The second quarter of 2014 in Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama’s presidency hit a peak of 5.5% GDP growth. This had slumped to 2.1% in the last quarter of 2019 under Trump.

Now, ravaged by the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, the American economy is officially in recession. Unemployment, which rose to 14.7% in April (the highest since the Great Depression of the 1930s) and which after partial lifting of the lockdown was 13.3% at the end of May (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics), is unlikely to revert to pre-covid status before the presidential election.

Trump’s tackling of the health emergency has bordered on the dangerous. He has blamed the predicament on China, the World Health Organisation, indeed anybody other than himself. With more than double the number of deaths than of any other nation, the only one to record a mortality in six figures, the question the US electorate might ask is, could this catastrophe have been avoided?

For a prolonged phase he was in denial about the impending threat. Subsequently, his urgency to lift the lockdown has been in reckless disregard of a potential second wave of infection. Even some evangelical whites – a segment he heavily relies on – are disappointed with his performance. A columnist in the Irish Times voiced that for the first time in centuries the emotion towards the US is one of “pity”.

In sharp contrast, Biden’s stock has risen. A section of his enlarging backers are people determined to defeat Trump. Indeed, the Floyd family made it starkly clear where they stood by inviting Biden to meet them ahead of his funeral, where over and above his video message was to be screened. “I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain,” he pledged. About his opponent he remarked: “He remains completely oblivious to the human toll of his indifference.”

Trump’s tactics are identical to Narendra Modi’s. To divide rather than unite society and exploit this partition. In a peculiar new world such methods flourish where previously they would have been frowned upon. They thrive because of the ugly phenomenon of social media, which exposes billions to disinformation, falsehood and imbecile opinions which a large number absorb unsuspectingly. Today’s election strategists quite simply carve the canvass into ‘us, them and the undecided’. They then target the third category with a fusillade of influencing weapons to swing it favourably.

Intelligence agencies of countries have since time immemorial interfered in electoral processes of other countries to expand or sustain their spheres of control. The jury is still out on whether there was such intervention – through digital technology - in the 2016 US presidential election. Clinton would certainly have been a tough cookie for some powers. What Trump’s personal weaknesses were, which made him vulnerable and malleable to other capitals, will perhaps eventually be known.

But Trump’s dirty tricks department is bound to meticulously comb through Biden’s political career in expectation of skeletons in his cupboard. Already an ex-staffer Tara Reade has accused him of sexually assaulting her. This is commonplace in the high stakes contest for the White House. Judicial Watch, a rightwing organisation, is threatening legal action if University of Delaware, which preserves Biden’s 31-year senatorial record, withholds documents contrary to law.

But Trump’s dirty tricks department is bound to meticulously comb through Biden’s political career in expectation of skeletons in his cupboard. Already an ex-staffer Tara Reade has accused him of sexually assaulting her. This is commonplace in the high stakes contest for the White House. Judicial Watch, a rightwing organisation, is threatening legal action if University of Delaware, which preserves Biden’s 31-year senatorial record, withholds documents contrary to law.

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Published: 13 Jun 2020, 12:01 PM
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