Donald Trump isn’t done yet, either at home or abroad. Five months from a pitched re-election battle, his detractors are afraid that the bottom hasn’t completely fallen and his supporters think that there is a lot more “greatness” in store. But it is hard to dispel the impression that America is tearing itself apart in 2020, echoing the turmoil linked to the Vietnam War in last year of Lyndon Johnson presidency in 1968.
Adding racial tensions to a colossal virus death toll amid towering job losses makes for a toxic mix. Trump did not create those circumstances, but he has played a role in aggravating the situation. Deploying US military on US soil to quell unrest is not without precedent. But conflating protesters with looters and threatening the use of military force so provocatively on them has inflamed emotions across America.
There has to be some cold calculation at work, for there is usually a method to Trump’s madness. Despite a historic fumbling of the coronavirus crisis, Trump’s approval ratings among the public seem intact. As of May end, about 45 percent of the public approved of Trump’s performance, as per latest RCP poll average. This rating is similar to when Trump commenced his presidency. Clearly, Trump’s base is intact.
However, it doesn’t mean that Trump’s personalized pandemic response has cultivated favors with “truly independent” voters that make up about 10 percent of the electorate. Meanwhile, African Americans and Hispanics seem to be placed in Joe Biden’s corner. While the latter block has borne the brunt of deportations and slander under Trump presidency, the former is now experiencing the might of the state.
Perhaps the re-election calculus is to fight the upcoming election on racial lines, with a Bible-holding Trump positioned as a “law and order” president, modeled on the lines of Richard Nixon in the 1968 elections. That might deliver over two-fifths of the electorate, which will do it for Trump if there is a left-wing third-party candidate, who can chip away at the liberal support base that is leaning towards Biden.
The divisiveness may still complicate things for Trump, who was casting himself as the leader who would bring economy roaring back and deliver a vaccine in record time. Biden, who was holed up at his home in Delaware, unable to hold any political rallies due to the virus, has finally found the media opening to drive home his message of uniting America and restoring its “values”. Watch out for latest polls in swing states.
While that battle unfolds, the rest of the world may have determined that America is no more exceptional. Poor governance, racial oppression, police excesses, electoral manipulation, mixing politics and religion, and multilateral cooperation are some of the issues that American presidents used to lecture other countries on. Leading Democrats are at pains to point out “this is not who we are”. Almost half of the country doesn’t seem to agree with them. Has coronavirus hastened the decline of a democratic empire?