100 days and counting

The next 100 days in the lead-up to the US Presidential elections are going to be unpredictable and volatile, warns Nick Lowles.

In exactly 100 days Americans go to the polls to choose their next President. The outcome will have huge political, economic and cultural consequences for the United States and the rest of the world.

Of course, all US presidential elections are always important, given the country’s size and impact on international geo-politics. But this year, coming amidst a global pandemic and the enormous economic impact travelling in its wake, these elections have assumed even greater significance.

The result in November could draw a line under one of the most divisive, confrontational and racist presidents ever, or it could just as easily further divide and polarise the country – either through a Trump victory, and the torrent of disinformation and tension accompanying it, or a refusal (by Trump) to accept the result.

Brits want Trump to lose

And it is an election that the British public – by a large margin – want Donald Trump to lose. Polling carried out by YouGov last week on behalf of HOPE not hate, found that when given a straight choice, 82% of Brits want Trump to lose in November, with just 18% backing him.

Americans will be going to the polls against the backdrop of the tremendous damage that the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought upon their country (which many see as exacerbated by the President), as well as the Black Lives Matter protests that re-emerged after the murder of George Floyd.

Whereas only four months ago Donald Trump was relying on positive feedback from the US economy and huge tax cuts for the better off to help propel him back into the White House, now he appears to be staring at defeat as the American people prepare to give their damning verdict on his handling of the pandemic.

While the pandemic has infected over four million people (the true figure is likely to be many times higher), and cost almost 150,000 lives, plus seen over 40 million people register for unemployment benefit, Trump has at best been in denial and at worst accelerated the problems with his mismanaged handling of the crisis (from claims about “bleach” to briefing against his own leading diseases expert).

The consequences

The outcome of this election will have huge international consequences.

The clear lack of international coordination and leadership is undermining the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and threatening the lives of millions, as well as the livelihoods of hundreds of millions.

In addition, Trump’s hugely controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, coupled with his own refusal to address climate change (he appointed a climate sceptic to head the Environmental Protection Agency as well as a noted climate sceptic to a special Presidential panel looking at the issue), only increases the environmental havoc that is happening and is likely to increase.

And Trump’s disdain for and inconsistency over human rights and democracy means that countries like Saudi Arabia can continue to commit war crimes in Yemen, Israel can contemplate annexing huge chunks of the West Bank in the teeth of international opposition, and the Myanmar regime can go unpunished for the genocide it has and still is inflicting on the Rohingya people.

Even with China, where the US is in an increasing economic, political and military stand-off, Trump’s aggressive policies are driven more by domestic considerations rather than the principled defence of liberal democracy, the rule of law and international treaties.

Turbulent times ahead

The next 100 days are going to be unpredictable and volatile. The pandemic, with its health and economic fallout, will understandably dominate the minds of most Americans as they think about their voting intentions in November. And if the polls are anything to go by, most people are now prepared to vote to remove Trump.

However, the election outcome is certainly not a done deal. Despite the polls indicating a defeat for Trump, he could still turn it around. What is probably clear, though, is that the country is so divided and polarised that the result will be a lot closer than the polling might predict.

If the election is a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic then he will surely lose. Trump and his team know that and this is why they are desperately trying to change the conversation between now and November (or even October in those states that allow early voting).

He is already, and will continue to, ratchet up tensions and sanctions with China, both to explain away the his own mishandling of the pandemic but also to create the threat of an “external other”, which worked successfully for him in 2016. He is quite deliberately trying to draw attention away from the pandemic by focusing on crime and disorder, and presenting himself as the law and order candidate.

This strategy began with the demonising of the “Antifa” bogeyman, moved on to Black Lives Matter and then the campaign to remove Confederate statues and signage. It has now begun talking gun and gang violence seen Trump order federal officers onto the streets of Portland and dozens of other locations.

Whipping up hysteria

In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Trump threatened to put up to 75,000 federal officers onto the streets of Democrat-run cities. Most charitably, he is whipping up a crime-hysteria in the hope it will win back the educated suburban white voters who have been deserting him over his handling of the pandemic.

Others, however, are voicing concerns that he might use this threat to install some sort of martial law, either for electoral gain or even as a ruse to postpone the election.

This latter view might not be as far-fetched as it may appear. Only last week, The Guardian reported that Trump was consulting with John Yoo, the former government lawyer who wrote the legal justification for waterboarding terror suspects, on how he might try to by-pass Congress and rule by decree. Just this week Oregon senator Ron Wyden said that the country was “staring down the barrel of martial law” when describing what Trump was doing in Portland.

What makes this election even more unpredictable and potentially very dangerous, is that because of the pandemic and the way it will disrupt voting, it is very unlikely there will be a declared winner on election night – and even when the results finally come in they might not be accepted.

Trump, and his key supporters, are already laying the groundwork to challenge the election by talking up voter fraud. It is almost incomprehensible to think what might happen to the country if Trump and his supporters, many of whom are armed and consumed with distrust of the federal Government and conspiracy theories, refuse to accept a defeat.

Brits want Trump out

It is probably no great surprise that Britons want Donald Trump to lose, but the strength of feeling here – across all political views, ages, genders and regions – is remarkable.

Two-thirds of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election want Trump to lose, while only 4% of those who voted Labour are backing the President.

There is marginally more support for Trump among the elderly compared to younger people (22% of 65+ vs 13% of 18-24 year olds), while women are more strongly opposed to Trump than men (88% vs 76%).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, London is the region that is most opposed to Trump (88%), with the South of England registering the least (80%).

Given the importance of these elections, and the consequences this will have for the whole world, HOPE not hate is launching a US blog to cover the events as they unfold over the coming 100 days, sharing articles and research that we think will be of interest to our supporters and provide a platform for our friends and partners in the US.

We will follow this up with a special US-themed edition of our flagship magazine in late September, as well as polling, a series of podcasts and regular interviews. We are also exploring ways that our supporters can get more involved in the campaign. So please do keep revisiting this blog for regular updates and information.

* YouGov asked 1,658 adults on 17-18 July