November 3, 2020: Trump vs. Biden

By Angus Gillespie

It is not unduly pronounced to surmise that November 3, 2020 may go down in the annals of U.S. history as a day that eventually holds the significance of other landmark dates such as July 4, 1776; April 12, 1861; December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963; July 20, 1969; and September 11, 2001.

REGARDLESS OF WHETHER American voters opt to reelect the Republican ticket of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence or whether they decide to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris, it appears like a virtual impossibility that the wounds dividing the U.S. won’t be torn open even wider. Never in the history of the United States has the political and cultural divide been so grotesque. For all intents and purposes the country is already engaged in the preamble of a 21st Century Civil War and there’s no definitive script as to where it will conclude.

The presidential election will not only chart the course for the world’s largest economy over the next four years, it will create residual impacts emanating well beyond that. The vote will also impact a sizable percentage of the international community and as such the world will be watching intently to see what direction America opts to select.

One of biggest short-term losers from the first U.S. Presidential debate in Cleveland on September 29 could well have been Saturday Night Live. There was no possible way the writers of the NBC late-night comedy show could have created a more outlandish, laughable parody skit than the real-life debacle between Trump and Biden. Canadian compatriot Lorne Michaels did, however, invite another Canuck Jim Carrey to play Joe Biden and Maya Rudolph to play Kamala Harris. Funny as it was the skit didn’t elicit as many laughs as the real-life gong show four nights earlier, and described so eloquently by one political TV analyst as “a shit show.”

Just two days after that bombastic debate like no other in U.S. history, Trump revealed he had contracted COVID-19. His medical advisers convinced him to be flown by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment. The president received treatment for less than three days and was given experimental Regeneron and Remdesivir steroid-type drugs, before returning the White House on the evening of Monday, October 5, proclaiming that his health was fine.

To no surprise the right-wing media downplayed the entire episode, calling it an overreaction, while the left wing media such as CNN went into full meltdown mode about what they called Trump’s selfish, self-centred actions. There is no fence-sitting at this point. People are either pro-Trump or anti-Trump. Those claiming otherwise are either lying or hideously uninformed about the world around them.

During that first debate, Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent and spoke beyond his allotted time. Eventually, Biden snapped and said “Will you shut up, man?” Soon thereafter Biden complained about Trump’s interruptions saying, “You can’t get a word in with this clown.” But Trump wasn’t offended by the insults – he was still too busy talking.

Most right wing and left wing supporters agreed on one thing – it was the most chaotic presidential debate in history. It appeared as if Trump refused to wholeheartedly condemn white supremacists that have supported him, telling one such group known as Proud Boys to “stand back, stand by.” He did say “sure” when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was against such groups, but immediately pivoted in another direction, imploring the public to focus on the left-wing Antifa. Trump called out a number of Democratic led cities as the ones where most of the chaotic anarchy and rioting have occurred.

There were also heated clashes over the president’s handling of the pandemic, with Biden blaming the 215,000 American deaths on Trump’s actions, or inactions as the case may be. The president shot back by saying if Biden had been president there would have been 2 million deaths by now. He also fired salvos about Biden’s lack of success with his formal education, pronouncing he finished at – or near – the bottom of his graduating class.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News lost control of the debate from the outset, failing to prevent Trump from yelling over Biden, reminiscent of a bully in the school yard. But the moderator also failed to chide Biden for the petulant name calling, which was also very unbecoming. Wallace quite simply should have been equipped with an On/Off switch to control the combatants’ microphones. Such a simple solution, and yet it was somehow overlooked by the technical production team. It happened again in the vice presidential debate, although the level of acrimony did not reach anywhere near the same epic level of Trump v Biden.

Trump pushed Biden to name just one law enforcement agency that was supporting him. The former vice president was unwilling – or unable – to name one. Trump also repeatedly attacked Biden’s son Hunter Biden on why he was allegedly paid millions of dollars for dealings in Russia and Ukraine thanks to the political power his father held at the time. Biden flatly denied the allegations.

A day before the debate in Cleveland, Biden released his 2019 tax returns just days after the revelations published in the New York Times about Trump’s long-hidden tax history, including that he paid only US$750 a year in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in many other years. The Bidens paid nearly $300,000 in taxes in 2019. In the debate, Trump insisted he has paid millions in taxes, although he did not provide specifics.

Less than four days after an exceedingly confrontational debate between Trump and Biden in Cleveland, the president checked into Walter Reed after announcing he and his wife Melania Trump had both contracted COVD-19. Trump began emitting symptoms such as a fever, stuffed nose and fatigue and so he was admitted to the hospital for further observation on the advice of his doctor.

The White House said Trump’s stay in hospital was precautionary and that he would continue to work from the hospital’s presidential suite, which was equipped to allow him to keep up his official duties. Trump walked out of the White House wearing a mask and gave a thumbs-up to reporters but did not speak before boarding Marine One. Instead, he recorded a message which was played soon thereafter and aired online and on television.

“I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out,” Trump said. Three days later he was back at the White House, seemingly no worse for the wear and having been administered a cocktail of drugs that nobody can independently verify.

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was with him and many others on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers, tested negative after Trump’s positive test. It has been confirmed that Coney Barrett had a mild case of COVID earlier this year and has now fully recovered. Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway and Kayleigh McEnany all tested positive and were among those who went into quarantine at the start of October. All report that they have felt nothing more than mild symptoms.

Trump is by no means the first world leader to test positive for the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are among three of the more high-profile leaders that all suffered serious effects from COVID-19. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not been afflicted by the virus although his wifeSophie Grégoire Trudeau had it in the spring but quickly recovered, as would be expected for someone not elderly or with underlying health issues.

The U.S. led by Trump

During his nearly four years in the Oval Office, President Trump has held an economic strategy based on cutting corporate taxes and additional spending. While it promoted business growth it also significantly added to the federal budget deficit with less money to collect. More jobs were created but not enough to offset the billions in tax breaks.

Upon entering the White House in January, 2017, Trump was able to continue a positive economic roadmap that had been left by the Obama administration. From there, Trump imposed a number of trade protectionist measures as a means of trying to create a more even playing field with some countries he believed were taking advantage of the United States. China was and is number one on the hit list, although very few countries got off unscathed, including Canada, which had to endure months of tax turmoil with such manufactured products as steel and aluminum.

A new NAFTA was eventually agreed upon, and is now known as the USMCA. Canada was left with little choice but to sign on or be left out after the Americans and Mexicans came to an agreement on a new accord. According to figures released by the Congressional Budget Office, the number of Americans without health insurance increased during Trump’s presidency. Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March. At the time, the CBO forecast the budget deficit for fiscal 2020 would be $3.7 trillion, a post-World War Two record amount. Unemployment was expected to increase to 16%.

Economic recovery is a topic that has no possible realistic basis for determination due to the fact Canada, the U.S., and most of the rest of the world remains mired in a now eight-month long pandemic.

President Trump has campaigned that he would support the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies as a means of creating more competition and the hopes of driving astronomical pricing downward. However, when Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a bill for that very reason, Trump inexplicably vowed to veto the bill. This was a head scratcher for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as the CBO estimated price negotiation provisions could reduce drug costs by nearly $460 billion over the next 10 years, while provisions to improve upon dental, hearing and vision coverage under Medicare would increase spending by about $355 billion.

Trump increased tariffs significantly on a number of occasions, although some were rescinded, such as those facing Canada. CBO reported customs duties increased from about $35 billion 2017 to $41 billion in 2018 and a whopping $71 billion in 2019, reducing deficits accordingly.

At the point when a government increases tariffs it is very uncommon for the importing companies to foot the bill directly. Instead, they merely bump up prices, passing off the cost onto the consumer and that in turn increases the rate of inflation, which results in a higher level of frustration within the general public. However, there is no doubt that the tariffs aided in Trump’s ability to pay down large amounts of a $21 trillion debt.

For the most part Wall Street has genuinely shown a great degree of satisfaction with Trump’s tenure in office, made obvious by remarkable stock market gains.

Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus it seemed as if Trump was a certainty to be reelected based on the state of the economy alone. Move the calendar back to February of this year when a Gallup poll said Americans’ views of their personal financial situation “are now at or near record highs.” Almost 60% of respondents said they were better off financially than they were in 2019, topping even the number who said that in 1999, and 75% thought they’d be better off by February, 2021. Now move forward nearly nine months and everything has changed.

The real question is: how much do Americans care about the economy versus all the other problems plaguing the country? If the economy reigns supreme as it has in the past, then Trump still has a shot – because rational voters will recognize the global pandemic cannot be blamed on any one person or policy. It was a global pandemic destined to create havoc around the world regardless of leadership. But if the other issues outweigh the desire for economic stability, there is no doubt Trump could be destined for the scrap heap after just one term, facing the humiliating exit shared by other presidents such as George Bush and Jimmy Carter. In February, Trump’s approval rating was a shade under 50%, which was the highest of his presidency. By the start of October his approval rating had dropped to 42%.

The general belief among political and economic experts is that Trump retaining the White House would most likely lead to a further acceleration of tax cuts as well as closer scrutiny of technology companies, and particularly digital online, where billions of dollars in cybercrime and cybersecurity have taken on mainstream roles.

The Trump administration has focused on a variety of antitrust investigations of such internet behemoths as Google and Facebook and more latterly Chinese companies such as ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, the latest social media sensation, especially among teenagers. It should be noted that the Democrats and Joe Biden have also verbally stated that stricter antitrust oversight is necessary for online security.

Regardless of whether Trump or Biden wins on November 3, it’s a certainty that a clampdown on China will continue – and quite likely expand. There is no denying Trump has been far more bombastic and confrontational with the world’s most populated country than any other president in history. Despite the animosity, both countries have maintained relatively cordial relations overall. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that China simply cannot afford to lose its largest customer no matter how adversarial Trump is with them. They simply have to endure the insults… or lose billions.

A significant number of Canadian businesses rely heavily on cross-border trade and there’s little doubt a second term for Trump would mean the continuation of adversarial negotiations and a volatile environment.

The auto industry in Canada directly employs 120,000 workers and that number exceeds 400,000 indirect supporting jobs. Technology continues to change the dynamics of the workplace, which is a big enough wild card, but the addition of Trump makes it that much more of an uncertainty.

Trump’s surprising victory in 2016 is still regarded by many to have been a fluke – with the opining that the general population was so desperate for change from the traditional political talking heads that they were willing to elect a business of any kind. But if he wins for a second time it would signify a clear pattern and something that Canada and the rest of the world would need to come to grips with.

Another acrimonious topic revolves around immigration policies and border security. Border walls, tariffs, insistence on self-reliance and more financial resources for international security are just a few topics that the U.S. would continue to harp upon. If there is one particular industry that would most enjoy seeing Trump reelected it would be the natural resources sector, and particularly oil and gas. Trump has repeatedly stated he is in favour of pipeline development and would look to expand the opportunities between Canada and the U.S. for transporting oil and gas. Cutting Co2 emissions is a noble concept, but in the meantime, people have to live.

The U.S. led by Biden

One would have to assume that a Biden victory in the election would somewhat diffuse the bitterness and the numerous violent protests that have plagued a number of American cities. Or would it? There are those who opine that extremist right-wing groups would pick up where extreme left wing groups had left off. Fear mongering or truth? It all depends on who you ask.

The direction of many social, cultural, business, healthcare and foreign policy issues will be among a small sampling of sectors that will be determined based on the outcome of the election. It will be a crucial apex in time for Social Security, which is already on the precipice and has been further strained by the unexpected drain caused by the global pandemic.

Discussions on Capitol Hill have largely focused upon how to restore the national program’s solvency and ultimately its long-term sustainability. Whether it is Trump or Biden, either one will have an opportunity to shape the course of Social Security for years to come.

From what the media has been able to ascertain from Biden’s camp is that he would lead a government committed to boosting benefits to low-income households while raising taxes on high earners. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before from politicians looking to solve the problems of the less fortunate. It’s a noble concept but one not particularly well received by the more affluent members of society. The trick is to increase taxes on the rich but not to the point where a flood of them will relinquish their support for the Democratic Party.

It’s expected Biden would increase the special minimum benefit, which would be 125% of the federal government’s designated poverty line. Compensation would increase from $885 per month to $1,300. There would also be an increase of 20% for survivor benefits. Today, surviving spouses are subject to a cut of up to 50% of their monthly cheques after their partner passes on.

The topic of minimum wage is as much of an issue south of the border as it is here in Canada. Biden supports an increase of America’s federal minimum wage to $15. Such a plan is a big hit with low-income earners, many of whom are young people. Trying to convince business owners to go along with such a plan is another matter altogether, and if Biden’s plans prove too aggressive then a number of these centrist owners will likely swing towards supporting Trump.

A $2 trillion investment in green energy would also be on Biden’s itinerary as a means of enhancing green manufacturing efforts as well as clauses that would ensure proper skills training for the working class during the transition period.

For nearly four years Trump has touted the importance of promoting the ‘Buy American’ mantra. Biden and the Democrats also believe in it far more than some may assume – they merely don’t shout it from the rooftops in the same manner. Biden has a plan that calls for the U.S. federal government to invest $300 billion in American-made materials, services, technology and research.

Race relations and the massive division that has been created over the past four years must be a top priority. It’s anticipated the Democrats would push for broader economic and social programs to support minorities with a $30 billion investment fund earmarked for such a plan.

The very sensitive topic of criminal justice has seen Biden move from a far more aggressive stance in the 1990s to one that now has him advocating for reduced incarceration times with an eye to spending more resources on rehabilitation. As such, he would create a $20 billion program to incentivize states to invest is such programs while also eliminating mandatory minimum sentences. An example would be the idea of decriminalizing marijuana from a federal standpoint. There would also be a process to expunge historical cannabis convictions while also putting an end to the death penalty.

The lines between criminal justice and social justice tend to intertwine in a number of areas. One such radical viewpoint has been the entire Defund the Police mantra. Some who have advocated for it on the surface say it’s merely a shock-effect talking point as a means of jarring the public’s attention to police brutality. It would hit upon only additional funding programs outside of core policing duties but not remove policing systems from communities.

There are, however, some radical leftist groups that actually do want the police gone – altogether. Needless to say that would never happen. Nationwide anarchy would be on the docket faster than you could say ‘Portland riots’. Biden believes that some of that additional police funding for reciprocal programs should instead be redirected to social services programs to better deal with public mental health. As an analogy, it would be like continuing to provide someone with a main course meal but giving their after-dinner dessert to someone else as a punishment.

A significant segment of Biden’s base also expects notable movements on climate change and it’s a topic that Biden promises to address. One of his first moves would be to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord from which Donald Trump withdrew. Prior to the well-publicized exit, the U.S. had committed to cutting greenhouse gases up to 28% by 2025, based on 2005 levels.

Healthcare remains a hot-button topic and Biden has repeatedly promised that he will expand the public health insurance program that was started when he was vice president during the Obama administration. Although the hope is that the vast majority of Americans will be eligible for coverage, Biden stops short of promising 100% universal healthcare, something that has been pushed hard by the more leftwing members of the Democratic Party. He would also seek to improve upon Medicare, which provides benefits to the elderly and lower the eligibility age from 65 to 60. Trump and Republicans have called some of Biden’s ideas economically unsustainable and they’ve pointed to the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget as proof, which has tabbed Biden’s exorbitant plan at about $2.25 trillion over 10 years.

In his first 100 days in office Biden has promised he would reverse Trump policies that separate parents from their children at the U.S.Mexican border. He has also pledged to rescind limits on the number of applications for asylum. There is a promise to protect the so-called ‘Dreamers’ – those who were brought illegally into the U.S. as minors but were permitted to stay under an Obama-era policy. The Trump administration’s fundamental issue is that many illegal aliens remain undocumented to this day. Relations with Canada in a Biden administration would likely run smoother than they have with Trump, if for no other reason than it’s hard to envision anything could be more prickly. It might have run somewhat smoother with a right-of centre government in Canada because Trump’s Republicans and Trudeau’s Liberals have ideals that are diametrically opposed to one another in many of the hotbutton topics. But if Canadians believe it would be Easy Street with Uncle Joe in the White House there is no shortage of political scientists who would staunchly disagree with that notion. Biden still has a core responsibility to his own electorate to ensure the U.S. is properly taken care of first and foremost, which includes protecting American jobs. The thawing of relations would likely take longer than some might expect even if there was agreement in general terms.

Biden has promised to renew America’s core values, whatever that means. It’s a nice sound bit for reporters but is too generic to carry any meaningful weight as a direction of policy. It would be naïve to think that everything would automatically be smooth sailing on the CanadaU.S. front.

There are numerous thorny issues such as Canada’s embarrassingly low defence spending along with disagreements over softwood lumber exports and an impasse regarding the Northwest Passage and Artic sovereignty. Barack Obama, who rarely criticized Canada, several times chastised this country for not meeting its financial obligation to spend 2% of its GDP on defence spending, as per the NATO agreement. Although it would never be admitted, the thinking is that Canada is fully protected by the U.S., so why spend the money? It’s a quiet stance that rankles the Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, and rightfully so. Trump has merely been a lot less diplomatic in his criticism of Canada’s shortcomings, stopping just shy of calling our current Liberal government a deadbeat for failing to fulfill defence spending obligations.

A decidedly thorny issue that will plague bilateral relations would be the dispute over pipelines, most notably the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline project. It was a no-go with Biden’s former boss Barack Obama and it’s unlikely Biden will approach the topic any differently, which means a very tough sell for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

On the plus side, a Biden White House would be viewed as a positive for the global community. Trade wars and tough talk about expanded tariffs would subside, which would be a welcome stance from the point of Canadian negotiators.

In Conclusion

A Biden presidency would likely mean a shift from a certain number of pro-growth policies that have been unveiled by the Trump administration. However, enhanced efficiencies and innovative practices could nullify any negative impacts. Economic forces tend to dominate federal and state policy more so than whether it’s a Republican or Democratic government.

An endless number of factors can go into the determination of an election’s outcome. Trump is the incumbent, and the sitting president has managed to successfully gain reelection 70% of the time in U.S. presidential election history. It could be argued that the Electoral College procedure also favours Trump, as it most certainly did in 2016, when he won the election despite having fewer popular votes nationwide than Hillary Clinton.

In 2016, virtually every poll pointed to a Clinton victory over Trump right up to election day. So where did the pollsters get it wrong? There’s a simple answer. Clinton had about 55% declared support compared with 45% for Trump. But there were a number of political analysts that staunchly believed Trump had a chance of winning because of the so-called ‘closeted effect’. That is, a significant number of people who did not admit publicly that they would vote for Trump – out of a deep-rooted desire not to engage in political arguments with friends, family or colleagues in the public realm. But when it came time to vote in the private auspices of a secluded voting booth, they voted how they really felt and clearly there were enough of those individuals who did put a checkmark next to Trump’s name.

Will history repeat itself on November 3? Anything is possible. It could be a close election or it might be a landslide. But until the votes are counted, the ‘never say never’ philosophy would seem to be the safest approach. After all – this is 2020.