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Larry Donnelly: America's problems go far deeper than Donald Trump

Larry Donnelly says we should not write off Trump in November, but if he does lose, it is merely the first step in a long road back to redemption for the US.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

DO NOT COUNT Donald Trump out. Just as in January, when pundits and bookmakers were premature in their often definitive forecasts that this unprecedented President of the United States would win a second term, those who now claim that he is finished in the wake of Covid-19 and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement are jumping the gun.

There is a good bit to go yet.

That said, Joe Biden is in an enviable position in the July of a presidential election year. RealClearPolitics.com, the poll aggregator, has him up by 3% in North Carolina, by 3.5% in Arizona, by 5% in Pennsylvania, and by 6.5% in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. If these numbers were to hold up on 3 November, the Democrat would triumph in a landslide.

In the coming months, however, Biden will come under severe attack from President Trump and his allies. And if precedent is any dictate, it is highly likely that the gaffe-prone former vice-president will commit at least one serious blunder that will bring to the fore the related issues of his advanced age and capacity to be the leader of the free world.

Biden on the up

Biden’s supporters have a fast, furious and logical response: “whatever Joe might do or say pales by comparison with what we already know about Trump!” But that wilfully overlooks the incumbent’s political masterstroke.

Donald Trump has changed the game and plays it by a very different set of rules than anyone else.

In short, while the advantage is absolutely Joe Biden’s, Trump has a chance of making a comeback. It’s not over. Whether the Trump presidency concludes this November or he pulls off another shocker and gets four additional years, it is worth considering the trajectory of American politics after he leaves the White House.

Both major parties are divided and face into an uncertain future. In this respect, they are a mirror image of their country and its citizenry. Indeed, there would never have been a President Trump in the US were it not in the midst of a fraught period in its short history.

The Lincoln Project

Much is being made in traditional and social media of prominent Republicans who abhor Donald Trump and are disseminating powerful ads against him in the hope that some fellow travellers on the right will lend their votes to Joe Biden this year. One such group has branded itself the Lincoln Project.

lincoln-project-ad-bounty A video capture of the Lincoln Project's latest anti-Trump ad entitled 'Bounty'. The Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by Republican operatives, is dedicated to stopping Trump in November. Source: Brian Cahn

A founder of the Lincoln Project, John Weaver, was a top strategist in the presidential campaigns of the late Arizona Senator, John McCain, and the former Ohio Governor, John Kasich.

Married to a Mayo woman and a frequent visitor to Ireland, Weaver commented recently on the RTÉ States of Mind podcast that he “would rather be dragged up the Cliffs of Moher than work for Donald Trump.”

The Lincoln Project is comprised of traditional conservative Republicans who lionise President Ronald Reagan and champion America’s highest ideals. Generally speaking, they are outward-looking, internationalist, pro-free trade, pro-growth, pro-immigration and fans of laissez-faire economic theory. To them, Trump is a profound embarrassment as a person and an ideological foe as a politician.

The difficulty for disciples of the Lincoln Project is two-fold. First, exponents of their fundamental beliefs, such as the aforementioned McCain, Mitt Romney and most of the 17 presidential hopefuls in the 2016 GOP primary, have been comprehensively defeated at the ballot box.

Opinion surveys consistently show that a majority of voters reject US interventionism – militarily and otherwise – and are sceptical of the once-presumed benefits of trade agreements.

Second, Donald Trump still enjoys the support of more than 90% of registered Republicans. While the Lincoln Project may retort that many “principled conservatives” have abandoned the party, it is hard to dispute the truth that its grassroots have overwhelmingly embraced Trump and all that his “America First” mantra entails.

It is entirely possible that Republican primary fights will be referendums on “Trumpism” in the short term. Unless there is a precipitous shift in the broadly shared perspective within the party, my suspicion is that the president’s defenders will prevail in most of them.

On the other side of the aisle, even assuming that Joe Biden vanquishes President Trump, Democrats are at a crossroads. How far left, in an American sense, will the party go? Its younger, progressive wing has been energised to a phenomenal extent and continues to try and “take out” out reliable, long-serving Democrats – who are typically older white men – and install more diverse and leftist standard-bearers in their stead.

They want action on the causes most important to them and they want it immediately – to hell with what more experienced advocates say are rather intractable obstacles.

Democrats shifting left

There are genuine risks in this tack. On hot button, cultural issues, what about “old school” Democrats and Latinos, both of whom have been gravitating to the Republican Party? On wallet or pocketbook issues, what about blue-collar women and men, as well as what remains of the labour union movement, who feel let down by their mother ship and see plenty to like in Trump’s “America First” economic nationalism?

Biden’s just-unveiled “Buy American” initiative is a shrewd manoeuvre and suggests that he will make a concerted effort to reconnect with them.

Whether the Democratic primary electorate did so consciously or subconsciously, I think they begrudgingly went for Joe Biden this time because they deemed him best-placed to reconcile these conflicting factions and competing priorities. Yet the Herculean nature of this task should not be underestimated. The impending choice of a running mate will send significant signals to the party’s key constituencies in this regard.

Republicans and Democrats must deal with these internal matters while the US, as a society, must confront the following realities. Extraordinary, and mounting, income inequality has been precipitated by the twin forces of technology and globalisation and amplified by provisions of the tax code favouring the wealthy.

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There is an increasingly imminent threat posed by climate change. An overdue reckoning with the vexed topics of race and racism is playing out as we speak. A global pandemic has had a near uniquely devastating impact. The rise of insularity and indifference to the rest of the world seems inexorable.

In this frightening context, the current state of American politics is complex and its future direction impossible to predict, to put it mildly. Contrary to what some may wish, beating Donald Trump, who has sadly and successfully exploited the palpable and understandable fears stemming from this milieu for his own gain, will not fix things.

The problems are far, far bigger than him. Sending him back to Trump Tower would merely be the first step on a better path.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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