Fear has made its entrance, and it looks to be the great protagonist in the two months that in the countdown from now until Election Day in the US.
Among Democrats, it’s the fear of a second term for Trump. The 70 dark minutes of his closing speech at the Republican convention have made this fear all the more grounded, justified and palpable.
Among Republicans, it’s a fear that the president—using the weapons of subversion and diversion—knows how to fuel, especially among his most militant voters and supporters: the specter of a revenge of the hated liberals.
As the latter are supposedly on the side of the Blacks and immigrants rather than the whites, they think such a revenge would wipe out what they consider “their America,” a vision now brought back into focus by Trump, the tireless defender of billionaires playing the role of a hero of the loser whites.
These two kinds of fear are clashing and feeding off each other as the polls are telling a story that is giving the Democratic front hope and alarming their opponents, but which, on closer inspection, is not all that rosy for Biden.
Many are fearing a close finish, down to the last vote in the crucial states, and therefore exposed to manipulation and fraud on Trump’s part, either in order to win outright or to have a good pretext to not accept the victory of his rival, to keep the fight going with an endless barrage of lawsuits and recounts, until he manages to remain in office, however absurdly.
That is an extreme but possible scenario. It adds even more fuel to the fire for the people who fear that their country will be torn apart, at war, no longer able to come together.
In light of the two party conventions, reason would suggest that the path to victory should be an easy one for Biden and the Democrats. The convention of the “donkey party” was a fine example of how politics can find fruitful expression even through new and unexpected forms of communication, such as those imposed by the pandemic.
The Grand Old Party’s convention instead turned into a TV show with only one protagonist, a mediocre media show, politically vacuous, and, despite Trump’s fame as a TV celebrity, also a boring one—four days that have definitively expunged the very idea of the historic Republican party, which had already been in its death throes for a long time. A new, boorish dynasty has taken over, after the aristocratic and warmongering lineage of the Bush era and after Romney’s failed attempt to take its place, with McCain providing an ill-fated side note—the much-exalted war hero who, by choosing the dangerous and unhinged Sarah Palin as his running mate, courted the support of that part of the right that would later give birth to the Trumpian monster.
However, neither one of the conventions seems to have produced the so-called “bounce” that typically occurs in the polls after the enormous media exposure afforded to the adversaries running for the presidency. Thus, the yardstick of rationality shows itself to be of little use if we look at the immediate repercussions of the two conventions, and the performance of the two rival candidates that played a central role: a strong showing by Joe Biden, his best speech since he announced his candidacy, and a particularly boring, irritating, as well as disturbing speech by Donald Trump.
But even in its mediocrity, the show put on by the incumbent president has highlighted a fact that is often misinterpreted, both in its importance and its consequences. What might appear to his opponents and critics as a show of great mediocrity—as we’ve said repeatedly—might have a very different resonance elsewhere, especially if its message will be obsessively repeated as a mantra, as will certainly happen in the remaining time and during the end stretch of the election campaign.
As Nathan Robinson warned in The Guardian, Trump “is not a competent president, but he is a terrifyingly effective one, as the 2020 RNC proved once again.”
Accordingly, we should not forget the lesson of 2016, which the Democrats should have learned and which, apparently, they still haven’t: “do not underestimate Trump, and do not take his general ignorance as a lack of political skill.” But if the numbers shown by the polls are unreliable, and must still be taken with a huge grain of salt, those coming from the economy are rooted firmly in the negative, especially in terms of the consequences of the Covid pandemic, which is still running rampant, on employment.
The number of unemployed who have filled in applications for unemployment benefits has again exceeded the threshold of one million—an important one, not least psychologically—after the number had seemed to be dropping at the beginning of August. This number, together with that of the new cases of coronavirus, paints a dispiriting picture—particularly when we look at the almost 200,000 victims that are the price of the incompetent management of the emergency by the White House.
How important will the pandemic-unemployment combination turn out to be in the days to come? And how much will the communication abilities (or skill for narrative-setting, as it’s called nowadays) of Trump and his democratic challenger count? We also have to wonder if their respective images will carry any weight, especially for the choice of the still-undecided: on one side, the image of a man alone—Trump, with Pence as the fifth wheel—and, on the other, Biden together with a strong ticket partner, Kamala Harris, plus a group of highly respectable political actors, each able to speak to different segments of the electorate: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Barack and Michelle Obama.
An “us” up against a pathologically inflated “me.” Even on the most skeptical wing of the left, this is a choice that should offer a good reason to go vote and urge others to do so.