DOING BETTER AMONG WOMEN AND THE YOUNG THAN HILLARY DID, BUT LOSING GROUND AMONG CATHOLIC VOTERS.
POLICIES MATTER MORE THAN THE CANDIDATE’S OWN IDENTITY
UNIFYING AMERICANS WILL NOT BE EASY
The US Presidential Election nears an end.
I took a close look at latest IBD tracking poll shows Biden ahead by 49.5% to 44.7%. This same polling company was one of the few to foresee a Trump victory in 2016 when it showed him ahead of Hillary Clinton by 45% to 43.4%. So this is good news for Joe Biden. Biden seems to have made particular gains in the Mid West and the South by comparison with Hillary Clinton.
Digging down into the poll, one sees some contrasts. Biden is ahead of Trump among the 18 to 44 age group by 12 points, whereas Clinton won among that group in 2016 by only 6 points.
Trump is beating Biden by 8 points among male votes about the same margin by which he defeated Clinton in that group in 2016. But Biden’s margin over Trump among females is 17 points, whereas Clinton had a margin of victory among females of only 4 points.
So it is American women who are enabling Biden to do better than Clinton did. The fact that Clinton herself is a woman seems not to have helped her that much.
Biden is doing better than Trump among Americans of all income levels, but Trump defeats Biden among Americans who have only High School education by 55% to 43%, which suggests the divide is not strictly about money. There is a resentment of meritocracy based on academic credentials among those who left school early.
Trump leads Biden by 4 points among Catholics, whereas Clinton defeated Trump in 2016 among Catholics by 7 points. This is notwithstanding the fact that Biden himself is a practising Catholic. Trumps approach to judicial appointments is important here. There is little sign here of an Irish American Catholic constituency for Biden.
As with Clinton among women voters, the identity of the candidate himself is less important than what he/she is perceived as representing.
Rural dwellers opt for Trump by a margin of 63% to 33%. He led Hillary Clinton by a similar margin among that demographic. Rural voters feel excluded from the national conversation.
Overall the trends displayed in the 2016 Election seem to be being accentuated even in 2020 but with the margin favouring the Democrats this time.
If Joe Biden wins and wishes, as he says he does, to unify Americans he will need to reach out especially to the groups of Americans who did NOT vote for him.
But this may not be what his Congressional caucus or his party activists will want him to do
I found an article published by Aaron Miller and
Richard Sokolsky in Politico on the policy of the Trump Administration in the
Middle East to be both alarming and convincing.
Miller and Sokolsky said;
“ The administration is focused like a laser beam on irreversibly burning U.S. bridges to Iran and administering last rites to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
They say that these two policy changes will be
irreversible by a Democratic Administration.
A HARDER LINE THAN BEFORE
During his Presidential Election
campaign, there were moments on the campaign trail when Donald Trump expressed
interest in negotiating a better nuclear deal with Iran and brokering the “deal
of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than killing
prospects for both.
He even offered several times to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions to negotiate a new nuclear accord.
Then last year, Secretary of State Pompeo laid out
12 extreme demands that Tehran would have to meet before the Trump
administration would agree to re-engage with Iran.
These demands would have required Iran to give up all its rights under the Nuclear Accord it had reached with President Obama and to stop pursuing what Tehran sees as its legitimate interests in the region—for example, helping to stabilize Iraq and supporting the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq.
These orders were swiftly and angrily rejected by the Iranian government.
Miller and Sokolsky argue that the administration’s extreme demands have established a standard that will be used to judge any future nuclear agreement a Democratic, or different kind of Republican, administration might negotiate with Iran.
That means a president who fails to meet these standards would, they believe, be accused of appeasement, making a new agreement far more difficult.
The administration’s decision to designate Iran’s
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, once
done, will be nearly impossible to undo.
A successor US administration, if it were to try to
undo the designation, would find itself vulnerable to the charges of enabling
The imposition of the total embargo on Iranian oil exports, if successful, will inflict even more economic misery on the Iranian people, hardening the perception that the U.S. government is an enemy not only of the ruling regime, but also of the Iranian people.
Miller and Sokolsky even argue that
the Trump Administration is doing everything they can to goad Iran into a
military conflict with the U.S.
There is a growing risk that U.S.
forces and Iranian IRGC units and Iranian-backed militias could stumble their
away into an unintended conflict, especially in Iraq or Syria but also in Yemen.
MAKING A TWO STATE SOLUTION IMPOSSIBLE
Miller and Sokolsky also argue that the Trump Administration is doing all it can to kill and bury the long-standing policy of seeking a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
two-state solution would return the majority of the West Bank to the
Palestinians—based on borders from before Israel’s 1967 seizure of that
territory—and a physically undivided Jerusalem hosting capitals of both states.
The two state solution would make it possible for
Israel to be a Jewish state forever. A one State solution would turn Israel
into a multiethnic state.
The US Administration is taking
concrete steps that make the two state solution impossible, and the one state
Over the past year, it has closed the
PLO office in Washington, withdrawn U.S. assistance from the U.N. agency .
The administration’s decision to recognize
Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and open an embassy there inflicted serious
damage on U.S. credibility as a mediator, and marginalized the Palestinian
Authority as a key U.S. interlocutor.
MAKING A ONE STATE SOLUTION INEVITABLE
The long-standing diplomatic
assumption—that settlement activity would be constrained during the period of
negotiations and that 70 to 80 percent of West Bank settlers who are in blocs
close to the 1967 lines would be incorporated into Israel proper in exchange
for ceding other land to Palestinians—has been undermined.
After an initial drop during 2017, Israeli settlement construction activity in the Occupied West Bank has increased 20 percent in 2018.
There is zero chance that any
Palestinian leader—let alone one as weak and constrained as Mahmoud Abbas—will
accept these conditions on the ground as part of a deal.
So, if a two state solution is
rendered physically and geographically impossible by Israeli settlement
activity, the only remaining option is a one state solution.
ALL PALESTINIANS IN WEST BANK TO BE GIVEN A VOTE IN ISRAELI ELECTIONS?
This would mean Israel annexing the
entire West Bank, and, consequently,
granting all the Palestinians living there Israeli citizenship and the right to
vote in Israeli elections.
That is not something that either the
Trump or Netanyahu Administrations want, but it is the logical outworking of
the policies they are both following.
If Israel annexes the West Bank, I
cannot see how it could deny all the residents there the right to vote.
I do not see how the United States, with its
Civil Rights principles and its long struggle for the right to vote by African
Americans, could support such a denial by Israel.
The fact that the President of the United States has suggested that he might use his power to grant Presidential pardons to shield himself and his family from possible prosecution shows that he does not understand the constitution of his own country, or the “Western Values” which he vowed to defend in his recent speech in Warsaw.
A basic tenet of the rule of law and of Western values is that justice requires that one not be a judge in one’s own case.
In autocracies or absolute monarchies, the autocrat or monarch could be the judge in his or her own case. That does not apply in a constitutional democracy.
If the President is contemplating awarding himself or his family a pardon, he is acting as judge in his own case.
The United States institutions need to show they understand and are capable of applying these basic rule of law principles. They need to show that the President is subject to the Constitution.
This is necessary , if the United States is to continue to give the sort of moral leadership to the world that its citizens believe it is capable of giving.
Meanwhile the European Union faces its own problems over judicial independence.
Last Thursday the Polish Parliament passed a law that will allow for the sacking, and selective reappointment by the President, of the entire Constitutional Court.
This politicises the legal system of Poland, in an unacceptable way.
It may mean that court judgements in Poland will, in future, be driven by nationalistic or other politically motivated considerations, rather than by the words of the law.
If that were to happen, it would affect the rights of individuals and firms from other EU countries in their dealing with the Polish authorities.
What can the European Union do about this?
Article 7 of the EU Treaty allows the Union to sanction a member state which is in “clear breach” of the values of the European Union.
The values of the Union are defined in the Treaty as
“respect for human dignity freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and
respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”.
Some of these six values are open to widely differing interpretations, depending on one’s ideological preferences.
So the EU institutions be very cautious, and maintain an objective detachment, in the use of these powers under Article 7.
Of all of the values specified, the one that is easiest to define objectively, and with least controversy, is the value of the “rule of law”.
Indeed , without the rule of law, it would be hard to see how the other values could be effectively upheld.
So the European Commission is right to use its full powers in this matter, no matter what difficulties that may cause for it.
Poland has had fair notice of all this and should not be surprised. Other EU member states will be watching. Authoritarian tendencies are not confined to Poland.
Of course, any action that is taken will be condemned as “interference from Brussels”, but sometimes interference from Brussels will be what will be needed to uphold basic values.
I visited Washington this week and was here for an eventful week.
At a time when there is persuasive evidence that drought is causing a huge famine in East Africa. Yet the Trump Administration is announcing plans to scale back America’s already modest contribution to the battle against man made global warming.
Under the Paris Agreement of 2015, the US committed itself to cutting its CO2 emissions by 26/28% compared to 2005 levels.
The new Administration wants to increase fossil fuel production in the US.
The limitations on CO2 emissions by US power plants will be cut.
Coal production will be boosted .
One study suggests that the policy changes will mean that the US will only cut its CO2 emissions to 14% below 2005 levels , rather than 26/28% below as it had promised under the Paris Accord.
Meanwhile in East Africa, lack of water is causing crops to wither and animals to die of thirst. I heard former Vice President Al Gore claim recently that a similar drought in the Middle East contributed to the start of the Syrian Civil War because of the hardship it caused. Lack of water leads to poor sanitation. This, in turn, leads to diseases like cholera. This risk is especially high in camps, where climate refugees congregate.
A human being can survive for weeks without food, but can only survive for five days without water.
And global warming evaporates water. That is the price paid for CO2 emissions in wealthy, water rich, countries.
As Isaac Nur Abdi, a nomad in Southern Sudan, said
“There is no such thing as free water”
A FAILURE ON HEALTHCARE
Meanwhile President Trump has had to withdraw his Health legislation because of a lack of support.
There is no doubt that US health policy is in need of reform.
It is exceptionally costly.
The incentives in the system are often perverse. Over prescription of painkilling pharmaceuticals is generating major addiction problems.
The proposed reforms would have put some check on the open ended growth of the cost of Medicaid, a health programme for lower income families. There would have been losers from this.
But the cost of Medicaid has risen from $180 billion in 2005 to almost $360 billion today, but without any clear evidence that it improved health outcomes.
The cost of providing health care for ageing populations will eventually pose a threat to western democracies, because democracies have difficulty making choices in this field, as demonstrated again in Washington this week.
There will be many explanations offered in the days to come for the surprise victory of Donald Trump. The United States is such a diverse country that it is hard to come up with a single or a simple explanation.
Trump was much more eloquent than Hillary Clinton. He came across as comfortable with himself, whereas Hillary Clinton appeared anxious at times.
He felt he could allow himself to be spontaneous, whereas she did not.
People listened to him, partly because they did not know what he was going to say next. He did not worry about what the media described and “gaffes”, or worse. His electorate made allowances for him, because they felt he was authentic. Authenticity is very much in the eye of the beholder, and if people like what they hear, they will consider the speaker “authentic”.
But the Trump victory was about more than a livelier personality and better rhetoric.
My own sense is that it was primarily a cultural, rather than a narrowly economic, statement that the Trump supporters were making.
A majority of Americans are anxious about the pa ce of change, and about the fact that the familiar world, in which they grew up, is disappearing. Americans felt that, by voting for Trump, they were taking back their own country. In a sense, they felt he would return them to an imagined past, in which they would be more comfortable.
Trump supporters no longer felt in full control of their future. They felt that traditional institutions, like trade unions, could no longer protect them from the forces of automation and immigration, or allay their worries about the affordability of entitlement programmes. These factors explain the Trump gains in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump appealed to American nationalism, a nationalism that provides Americans with a sense of belonging and mutual security in an uncertain world. This nationalistic surge is not confined to America. English nationalism is behind the Brexit vote. Nationalism is likely to play a part in the French Presidential election, with potentially disastrous results for the European Union.
Trump’s victory also was a rebellion by those, who had not had the benefit of a college education, against being patronised, and told how to think, by those who had. This resentment has been aggravated by the prohibitive cost of college education in the United States, which has shut so many people out of the “American Dream”.
It is much harder to start poor, and become wealthy, in the United States today, than it was 50 years ago. Trump explicitly sought to appeal to this discontent. He was able to do this simply by repeatedly attacking elites, but without putting forward specific policies that would increase social mobility.
Actually applying his policies will be the real challenge for Donald Trump as President.
If he implements 45% tariffs on imports from China and 35% on Mexico, this will start a trade war. US corporations who have invested in supply chains involving these two countries will face major disruption. The likely abandonment of the Trans Pacific and Trans Atlantic trade and investment deals will slow the growth of world trade, which already has weakened by the slowing of the Chinese economy. This is bound to have negative effects on European exporting nations, like Germany.
He will not get Mexico to pay for the wall, so it may never be built. The status of illegal immigrants in the United States will not improve, but I doubt if we will see mass deportations. The present situation is deeply unfair, and an affront to the rule of law, but it will probably continue.
On the other hand, his commitment to invest heavily in the tired infrastructure of the United States will give a boost to global economic growth.
His tax cuts for richer Americans will not do much for growth because the better off people are, the more likely are they to save, rather than spend
He has the power to implement his policies. He will not have many excuses .He will not be able to blame a hostile Congress for blocking him, because Republicans have a majority in both Houses of Congress.
He promised the repeal, and replace, the Obama health insurance programme, which is proving to be more costly than expected. Repealing it will be easy, but replacing it will be really difficult.
Whatever system of paying for healthcare is chosen, the costs seem to be rising inexorably. This is because people are living longer, and expecting, or are being recommended ever more complicated treatments. I think this will be Donald Trump’s most difficult domestic policy challenge.
The most difficult thing to assess is President Trump’s foreign policy. Clearly he will be looking for allies of the United States to pay more for their own defence. But previous Presidents did the same. His trade policies will work against this. A trade war will weaken the ability of allies to pay more for their own defence.
In way, thanks to fracking and the increase it has made in US domestic energy supplies, the US is much more independent of the rest of the world than it used to be. An early sign will come when President Trump has to decide of his policy on the war on Syria. If he decides to ally himself with Putin, he will put himself on a collision course with Saudi Arabia. This could draw Turkey into the conflict because of its strong opposition to Assad.
Donald Trump has raised so many expectations that may be impossible for him to live up to them. Populism in power may not be as popular as populism on the campaign trail. Only if that happens, will the democratic world return to evidence based politics.
Most observers believe Hillary Clinton did better in the recent television debate than Donald Trump.
But not everybody did.
The Republican supporting “Washington Times” newspaper claimed that Trump did better because he focussed on America’s (perceived) global weakness, and because he “projected authority”, and “appeared every bit the non politician”.
He did appear to me to me to be more spontaneous than Hillary Clinton, who sometimes appeared to have memorised her lines.
But the price of being spontaneous is that he said some things that were barely coherent , and were sometimes inaccurate.
Given that the United States is a democracy governed by politicians, rather than by bureaucrats, it is worth reflecting on the preferred system of government of anyone who thinks being a “non politician “ is a plus.
In the 1920’s in parts of Europe, “anti politician” rhetoric like this was often a prelude to something much worse.
The Washington Times also argued that Clinton had not been asked the hard questions about her record as Secretary of State in the Obama Administration on
the attempted “re set “ of relations with Russia and
the rise of China.
I think the intervention in Libya, although motivated by humanitarian concerns, may have led to even worse humanitarian results than non intervention, but that is hard to prove. Trump may bring that up in later debates. Mrs Clinton support for the Iraq war ,as a US Senator, is not quite on the same level of responsibility, as Mr Trump’s alleged initial support for it as a private citizen, and she got away with pretending that it was
It is hard to argue that an attempt should not have been made to improve relations with Russia, although these have proved fruitless.
It is not clear what Mrs Clinton’s critics would have wished the Obama Administration to have done about the rise of China. It did attempt to negotiate a Trans Pacific agreement to draw the rest of Asia closer to the US and away from China, but both Trump and Clinton now oppose that .
Trump’s plan to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports to the US would certainly slow China’s rise, but would hurt America too. That issue was not explored in the debate, which was a great pity. Mrs Clinton seemed to be more interested in Mr Trump’s business past, than in his potential future trade policies.
The race will be fought in a few battleground states.
To win the Electoral College, Trump must win all four of the following states
Florida (where he is 0.5 points behind in the latest polls),
Pennsylvania (where he is 1.8 points behind),
North Carolina (where he is 0.8 points ahead), and
Ohio (where he is a more comfortable 2 points ahead)
He needs a major win in the debates to achieve this, and so far he has not achieved that.
I am in the United States this week, and finding out how people here feel about the Presidential Election.
Although the candidates have been selected through a primary process, in which the voters themselves have had the final word, they now find themselves deeply dissatisfied with the choice they have given themselves.
Everybody is looking to the debate on Monday night, as a signal for the momentum of the campaign.
The debate may enable Hillary Clinton to re establish the lead she won after the Conventions. Or it may confirm the more recent trend, of increasing support for Donald Trump.
One influential person told me he thought more Americans will be watching the debate than have ever watched any event on television before.
In past Presidential Elections, the first debate has also had a disproportionate influence.
Under the Electoral College system, a narrow win in the popular vote can gain all the electors of that state for the winning candidate. The margin of victory does not matter. The winner takes all. Because of the way her support is spread throughout the country, this system gives Hillary Clinton the advantage.
The system means that the candidates will tend to focus their appeal to certain “swing” states. One seasoned observer said to me that the election comes down to just four swing states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. He said that, to get a majority in the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton just needs to win one of these swing states, whereas Donald Trump must win all four of them.
As a European, I have found the depth of the hostility, in some quarters, to Hillary Clinton surprising. Concrete evidence of specific wrongful acts is absent. But the negative feelings towards her are very strong. Her own campaign advertising against Trump is itself very negative, which feeds this.
In the case of Donald Trump, it is his personality, rather than his policies, that attract attention.
His policies include
Imposing 35% tariff on imports from Mexico
Imposing a 45% tariff on imports from China
Ending the trade agreement with South Korea
Considering US withdrawal from the World Trade Organisation
These trade policies of Donald Trump are a radical departure from the traditional policies of the Republican Party.
They have been analysed by the Petersen Institute for International Economics (PIIE) in Washington DC, who say that , if implemented, they would ignite a trade war, because retaliatory tariffs would be imposed on US exports.
They say that, if elected, President Trump could implement these policies even without the approval of Congress.
PIEE have calculated which states within the US would lose most from the trade war a victorious President Trump might initiate. Washington State, home of Boeing, tops the list, with a loss of 5% of all jobs. Other big losers would include California, Connecticut, and Illinois.
But two “must win” states for Trump, Pennsylvania and Texas, also stand to lose more jobs than most, if his policies lead to a trade war.
Support for Donald Trump, and for his anti trade policies, derive from an instinct that many Americans have, that globalisation (the free movement of foods, services and money around the world) is reducing their personal job security, and rendering their skills redundant.
In the 1990’s, when world trade was growing at 5% a year, and everyone’s income was rising, Americans were willing to put up with the disruption and uncertainty brought by the opening up of markets.
Now, with the emergency caused by the banking crisis receding, and world trade growing at only 2%, more people are willing to take the risk of voting for a radical anti trade candidate, like Donald Trump.
A similar willingness to take big risks, to make a point, was evident in the 52% vote for Brexit in the UK.
Donald Trump’s policy of making the allies of the US pay more for their own defence also strikes a chord with many Americans. While he wants to “make America Great again”, Trump does not believe the US should pay, as much as it does at present, for other countries’ defence. This explains why some East European countries are pressing for the EU to take a bigger role in defence. Ireland, as an EU member, will have to take account of these trends.
Trump, who is spending a lot less on his campaign than Clinton is, is also tapping into a dissatisfaction among voters with the disproportionate role that money and fundraising play in US politics. From the moment he or she is elected, a new member of Congress must spent three times as much time, every day, on the phone, raising money for the next election, as he or she does on legislative business or in meeting ordinary constituents.
All this explains why this is an angry election, on both sides of the divide.
The news that Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator, is beating Donald Trump by 10 percentage points in the latest polls in Iowa, increases the possibility that he will be the eventual Republican nominee.
Iowa will host the first contest of the Primary season. It will be followed by New Hampshire where Trump still leads the Republican field by a large margin.
Also according to the latest research, Cruz would be 2.5 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton is a General Election contest confined to the two of them, and probably further behind if Donald Trump were to enter the race as a third party candidate. Trump would be even further behind Clinton in a two candidate race.
The potential Republican Presidential candidate most likely to beat Hillary Clinton is a head to head is Ben Carson, and that is by just 0.4 percentage points over a range of polls.
Senator Rubio of Florida has also been ahead of her in some polls.
Jeb Bush would lose to her but by a narrower margin than most of his Republican rivals, but the early primaries are not ones in which he can be expected to do well.
Cruz has a poor record of working with fellow Senators and some Republican leaders have suggested they might not even vote for him in November.
He gave a speech in the Heritage Foundation recently which sets out his foreign policy approach.
He wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and raised the spectre of “terrorists swimming across the Rio Grande”. He says that 40% of illegal immigrants in the US are visa overstays.
He says the US needs “moral clarity” in it foreign policy. “That starts with defining our enemy” he claims.
This is a mistaken view. Moral clarity, I would argue, starts by defining one’s OWN values rather than by defining ones enemy. But defining one own values is much harder work, than is picking an enemy.
He argues for a foreign policy based on pursuit of America’s interests, and against making democracy promotion a central goal. He is thus critical of US support for regime change in Egypt, Libya and Syria. “We do not have a side in the Syrian Civil War” he states frankly.
In many ways Ted Cruz is appealing to the same core views as Donald Trump. Both are addressing anxieties among the American middle class that America’s standing in the world, both materially and psychologically, has diminished.
It is something that is important to them, and goes to the heart of their identity. This sense of decline is accentuated by the fact that middle class incomes in the US have stagnated, while the top tier of society has gained.
Hillary Clinton would like to address this question, but many of her financial backers would lose if she did so. While she is well ahead in most Democratic contests, she could lose to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Sanders is from the neighbouring state of Vermont.
She also has to cope with the conclusion of the FBI investigation into her use of a private email for State department business. Disclosure of classified information to outsiders would be a serious matter if it is found to have occurred, inadvertently or otherwise. Evidence of any subsequent attempt to cover up mistakes would also be a big problem.
One has the sense, at this stage, that the Presidential Election next November will not settle things, and the United States will remain deeply divided, with at least one house of the Congress continuing to resist the President of the day.