As the United States head into another presidential election, the state of American politics has never felt as divided as it does now. With racial tensions at an all-time high, the Coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc, the Supreme Court making headlines, and the future of the American healthcare system hanging in the balance, the issues which this election will determine has turned out to be quite diverse. The seriousness of these matters will not only hand either Donald Trump or Joe Biden the keys to the White House, but will also set the course which America will take for generations to come.
To say that “this is the most important election of our lifetime” is straight out of a politician’s handbook to the extent that it has become a cliché – one which US presidential candidates use time and time again. However, when one considers the severity of the events which have unfolded throughout this year, the use of this phrase is as apt as it is fitting. With the stakes of this election being as high they are, you can’t blame Trump and Biden for wanting to capitalise off the problems which are currently dominating the political arena, and whilst doing so by producing appropriate and convenient rhetorics.
Trump and Biden have both conjured their own rhetoric to push forward their personal agendas, especially when concerning COVID-19. Be it in terms of the massive loss of life, the economic shutdown which it resulted in and the strain which it put on the USA’s healthcare system. Throughout the course of the pandemic, Trump adopted a confrontational approach towards China in relation to the origins of COVID-19, whilst also issuing several statements which led to many doubting the severity of the virus, which was coupled with a nation-wide mishandling of the pandemic.
However, many political commentators purely attributed this failure to Trump, without considering the de-centralised and federal political system of the US, which is a variable that can be applied to other countries alongside other factors.
Apart from heavily critiquing Trump’s approach to addressing COVID-19, Biden’s approach towards the pandemic can be viewed as the polar opposite to his adversary. Biden has pledged to emphasise mask-wearing by means of a national mask mandate, implement an effective testing and contact tracing system, provide a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensure the involvement of scientists and public health experts in crucial decision making procedures. The contrast between both candidates is not only seen here, but also in how Biden organised campaign events with the observance of the COVID-19 measures in place, whilst Trump organised mass rallies with little to no mask-wearing and/or social distancing being observed. The latter would certainly not go down well with the Maltese population should such an event be held in Malta right now, despite Biden being perceived as a sign of a struggling and tired campaign. Obviously, only the result of the election will tell us which campaign strategy paid off, and which one didn’t.
In terms of the issues which will determine the outcome of this election, a lot of attention has been thrust onto the US Supreme Court, following the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the subsequent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in her place.
These events not only shifted the ideological balance of the Court, but also directed the national conversation towards abortion as decided by the landmark case in 1973 known ‘Roe v. Wade’, and whether this decision will be overturned in light of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court Bench. The American healthcare system as a whole was brought to the forefront of the Court’s agenda, specifically in relation to the future of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise commonly referred to as ‘Obamacare’, as the determination of a Republican-led Senate to repeal this piece of legislation and have it replaced remains undiminished.
Moreover, the agenda of the country as a whole has been consumed by the emphasis on police brutality and racial equality (or lack thereof). The growth of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement in the aftermath of several police shootings ushered in a focus towards race-related issues given by both presidential candidates, together with attempts to ease rising tensions across America, as was shown with widespread looting and riots which spiralled out of control.
With all this said, the upcoming presidential election will not just provide an assessment of Donald Trump’s first term, and more importantly what has happened this year, but will also offer an indication of which direction America wishes to head in. A Trump victory would undoubtedly symbolise a strong endorsement of the manifesto which he has implemented since 2017, and the actions he took during this past year. A Biden victory would suggest an unapologetic condemnation of the handling of the impact which COVID-19 has left on America, as well a need to undo any errors which were committed in the past 4 years. These are of course all hypothetical outcomes, as what happens next is out of the hands of political commentators, but in the hands of the US citizens and electorate at large.
Written by: Jacob Callus