Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Mixed Messages Still Abound About Trump Trajectory

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, October 19 / 20

Zack Gross

It’s just two weeks away now from the US Presidential election, and political pundits and supporters and detractors of each candidate continue to send mixed messages about who will win and in particular, what will happen after a winner is declared.  As our Prime Minister said recently, all we can hope for is a clear-cut decision in order to avoid confusion and instability.

Trump represents himself as the Law & Order candidate, while attempting to deliver a strong economy through the private sector.  He is not interested in offering a social safety net buttressed by government support.  Nor does he take a stand on issues like COVID from a national point of view.  He says it is up to the state or the individual American to do what they think is safe.  Is that liberty or a cop-out?  People’s ability to thrive or survive is based on how fast they can move in the rat race that is daily life.  As we’ve seen, many have no health or property insurance, and crises like COVID, a bad storm or serious illness can derail their lives.

Biden is a proponent of greater government spending on behalf of citizens, such as through the Affordable Care Act of President Obama, and sees recent civic violence as evidence of social wrongs that need to be addressed rather than of radical trouble makers plotting revolution.  In the Canadian context, however, he is no radical.  We, and many European governments, steer further to the left than the Democratic Party.  Biden does come across as a decent person, and a calm presence.

Anne Applebaum, a conservative historian and author of several books on the crimes of Communist governments in Russia and Eastern Europe, recently published a volume called The Twilight of Democracy
.  She sees current politicians and media personalities on the political right in Europe and North America as wanting to overhaul our society and our politics.  She puts the United Kingdom’s Brexit movement and Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in that category.  She sees Trump as very attracted to the way Putin rules Russia – the “Strongman” model.

For ordinary people supporting Trump, she says, it is often a fear of the complexities and nuances of democracy that frighten them.  They wonder “Who is in charge?”  While they talk about liberty and freedom, it is a clamp-down that they want on social progress, and a return to the good old ways of thinking, rather than having to deal with people’s complaints about poverty, racism and climate change.  Applebaum says that many current leaders, whom she knows well given her own involvement in the political right, see this as an “us vs them” war for the future direction of our world.

She sees how Trump, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Johnson and others have attacked their civil services, their teachers and international cooperation institutions in the name of doing things more efficiently.  She sees a rise in anti-Semitism, anti-immigration feelings and white supremacy.  She sees a growth in conspiracy theory adherents, one example being that Trump is leading a secret crusade against devil-worshiping child traffickers.  Anyone on social media will run into that one all too often.

She wonders how many far right followers actually believe these ideas, and how many have jumped on the bandwagon for personal advantage.  While she has worked and socialized with many of these people in the past, she likely is no longer popular with any of them, now that her book is out!

Applebaum paints a picture of Trump that generates fear he will destroy American democracy if re-elected next month, and that he represents a strong move globally toward authoritarianism.  However, a New York Times article just out is more relaxed about what Trump means and what he is capable of.  The newspaper, which has endorsed Biden, says that Trump isn’t smart, organized, or powerful enough, and thus should lose the election and won’t be able to hang onto power despite his threats to do so.  The article assures us that Trump does not have the support of his own party, nor of the army or much of the media.  Meanwhile, his rival, Biden, has been seen by most citizens as a welcome relief from the drama-a-day Trump.

But there is still a good two weeks to go, so anything is possible.  For those of us in Canada, it might seem intriguing or even a little stressful waiting to see what happens.  For people in the US, it is late in the third period of a closely fought game, one team ahead by a goal but the other team looking for any advantage to tie things up and maybe ultimately jump ahead.  The prospect of overtime is truly frightening!

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Manitoba-based international development organization.

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