In his inauguration speech, Donald Trump promised that he would end the ‘American carnage’ that he and his supporters perceived as the ruination of their nation. It is not a partisan or particularly controversial observation to say that if this was the objective of his presidency then success has not been forthcoming.
The rolling street battles that have erupted in American cities from coast to coast are deeply unsettling. They have smashed the carapace of civility in American public life and exposed the rifts and hurt that define its politics. Racism, violence, deprivation, guns, flags and paramilitary-style policing – the very definition of carnage, a uniquely American brew.
What does this mean for Trump? Well, the rioting and the tear gas and the bullets rain down at a moment of great peril. Unemployment has rocketed to 20% in some states. The economy is tanking. A deadly virus is ravaging some of the very communities for whom Trump was the great hope of salvation and the Government’s response has been erratic and eccentric. Little wonder that The Donald’s approval ratings are the lowest of any President since modern polling was developed. On the face of it, Trump is a lame duck President heading for defeat.
And yet, and yet… whatever your perspective as an observer of these grim disturbances, try to imagine them from the perspective of someone who voted for Trump in 2016. Whatever their motive then – be it economic hardship, frustration at Washington corruption, issues of identity – does what is happening now strengthen or weaken their resolve? Does the chaos on the streets leave you less sympathetic to Trump? Do you blame him? Or, in the end, does it make you feel all those fears, hopes and insecurities that drove you to elect him last time a little more sharply? If the country is falling apart, isn’t it all the more crucial that ‘your guy’, someone who is on your side, is in the Oval Office? Someone who is not afraid to bash a few heads together… to call in the army… to pull the trigger?
And all the while, Trump’s opponent is weak. Allegations about Biden’s past – and the bitterness of his primary battle against the Democratic Party’s Left – suppresses enthusiasm for him. He is capable of as much incoherence as Trump, but with Old Joe it comes across as doddery rather than as just comically crass as it does with Trump. And that’s with five, long months still to go. American politics is a brutal business and Joe Biden, well… he has been around the block but he sometimes appears to lack something on the pugilistic front.
People don’t always vote for an easy life. That’s the big lesson of these last five years and my gosh has it been a shock to a succession of smooth and seasoned political operators. David Cameron and Hillary Clinton learned this lesson – to their personal and professional cost. Don’t bet the house on Biden bucking that trend. The carnage may yet have further to run.