Four years ago, in the wake of the American party Conventions, I predicted that Donald Trump would win the 2016 American Presidential election. What do I predict in 2020?
In July 2016 this prediction was an outlier. Even in November 2016 it stunned the world of the political elites and the commentariat. It turned out right – not through the application of systematic thought, but through luck – not dumb luck, but prepared dice biased by long observation of politics. I struck upon an intuited truth. I wrote:
“The emotional torrents channelled by Trump are powerful. Although it is a conventional idea to denounce Trump as an ignorant and irresponsible demagogue … the sentiments he stirs are powerful and authentic. People love their country. People want safety. And Americans cannot believe they are not number one. They feel left out, and let down, and they want desperately to fix things and fix things fast, as Trump echoed back to them. They sense the sneers and the contempt of the educated elite for the ordinary people left behind by the financial, media and political elites”Jeff Rich “Donald Trump and America’s Wounded Pride” The Burning Archive (22 July 2016)
I perceived these emotions as overcoming the doubts voters had about Trump’s character and ideas, and saw that Trump’s claim to be the voice of the people, the archetypal populist, would displace the tarnished authority of the corrupt imperial elite who had brought endless wars and betrayed American greatness. Ultimately in 2016, Trump won a victory of patriotism and pride.
The same powerful and authentic sentiments are surging through the storms of insurrectionary violence and elite dalliance with a colour revolution in America. If love of country won a small victory in 2016, will it create a landslide against the Democratic Party, who denigrate that country openly and disavow its founding doctrine that it is one nation under God? If desire for safety mattered in 2016, will it predominate amidst months of rioting, looting, arson, political paramilitaries and anarchistic murder? If the longing for America to win again won the White House in 2016, will it secure an unconventional strategist there in 2020? Will the now open struggle with China, not least over America’s masked humiliation by a virus, vindicate that unconventional strategist over Joe Biden, who, according to Bob Gates, Barack Obama’s first Defence Secretary, has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over 47 years?
Compared to 2016, I know more about American politics, and have followed its perturbations over the last year more closely than at any other time in my life. This has been a journey of discovery for me, and something of a horror show. It began with curiosity and suspicion about the fabricated story of misconduct on a phone call with the Ukrainian President. I had always felt reserve about the Russian collusion story but never really followed it; but by picking with my curiosity at these false accusations, I began to learn the dimensions of the field of American politics. I watched live and on recapped youtube the hearings of Adam Schiff’s terrible investigatory committee on UkraineGate. I discovered podcasts and youtube channels, and new forms of news and commentary. I went back and watched Robert Mueller’s testimony on his failed report, and even read the turgid tome itself. I listened to many voices across left and right to try to make sense of things, and of course read real documents and watched congressional hearings of evidence. Now I dip into many news and commentary sites, expose myself to arguments familiar and strange, and observe the vast stream of direct and curated observation that is available on the internet and is displacing the mainstream news. I have reported on this journey of discovery in posts here, such as The Impeachment of the Republic, and also on some of my reaction to the horror show, such as Is America reliving the 1917 revolution – an American People’s Tragedy?.
All this knowledge makes my capacity for prediction more finessed, but less bold. I no longer have my political savant confidence from 2016, and have since then done rather less well in election predictions, including that of my minor provincial government in 2018. Increasingly, I feel like an author of untimely meditations who is out of temper with the times, and distressed at the prospect of cultural breakdown. The isolation of lockdown only makes confidence in judgement of public mood harder; although perhaps the observation of a wide and diverse array of media is more conducive to good judgement than reliance on the confirming conversations of a narrow circle of personal associates. Yet let me strike out and make at least one prediction.
Back in 2016, I actually made two predictions about Trump and the Presidency.
“First, Trump will win. Second, Trump will not be able to do what he has promised.”Jeff Rich “Donald Trump and America’s Wounded Pride” The Burning Archive (22 July 2016)
The first prediction proved correct; the result on the second prediction is more ambiguous. The argument behind the second prediction is relevant for judging circumstances today and likely result of the 2020 election:
“But those weaknesses of Trump will strand his presidency in a disordered society, broken political system, and hostile, suspicious world. I hear over the radio as I write this post that one newspaper said he “conjured up chaos and promised overnight solutions.” He will get things done, but the world will respond. He will build his wall, but at what cost and with what impact on central America? He will rile China and accuse it of currency manipulation, but will this provoke the final crisis for the USA dollar as the reserve currency? He will empower law and order, and provoke more violence, more rage, more desperation. He will cut taxes and search desperately to cut programs, but will wreck further the weak capability of the executive state in America. He will banish the elites and the opponents, and be fooled and befuddled by the svengalis and amateurs who replace him. He will bring to white heat a burning political system. He will fail.”Jeff Rich “Donald Trump and America’s Wounded Pride” The Burning Archive (22 July 2016)
Certainly, Trump brought the political system to white heat, but it is not so clear to me today that he has failed. Sure, there are mistakes, delusions and crudity. Certainly, he was befuddled by some svengalis and amateurs, but his generals, security state, holdover diplomats and unwilling allies also tried to sabotage him, if ultimately unsuccessfully. And the elites and opponents of the swamp that Trump sought to drain resisted their banishment with all their illegitimate might. Some are still there; one is running for President against him. Some may soon go to jail. Trump’s economic strategy was more successful for the economy and ordinary people than I anticipated, and, in promoting opportunity zones, school choice, criminal justice changes and responses to the opioid crisis he showed an uncanny attunement to the needs of the marginalized groups his more deranged opponents believed he despised. This was demonstrated theatrically in the 2020 State of the Union address, where Trump celebrated the successes of poor black and Hispanic Americans while his Democrat opponents sat sourly in silent resistance and tore petulantly the pages of the speech. So, without going through all the points, Trump has had mixed success, if compromised over the last year by the phony impeachment, induced insurrection and coronavirus pandemic.
Still, one wonders if my assessment that the Trump Presidency would be stranded in a disordered society, broken political system, and hostile, suspicious world remains substantively true. The question is: will these three forces – social disorder, political decay and imperial decline – work for or against Trump?
My judgement after watching the acceptance speeches of Biden and Trump is that these forces will drive a Trump victory. Biden claimed America is in a season of darkness, which may be true, but then claims, with absurd pomposity, that he is an ally of the light. Trump turned Biden’s words on him: “Because we understand that America is not a land cloaked in darkness. America is the torch that enlightens the entire world.” Later Trump said of the Democrats: how can they lead the nation, when they want to tear it down? The sting of this line, of course, is the nation is the people, and the audience knows that the rioters, the censors, the opportunists and the screeching Red Guards are coming to tear down the ordinary people of the nation and all that they lovest well.
Of course, elections are decided by more things than rhetorical moments in speeches. But these moments can express a decisive intuited truth. Trump stood as the battered and wounded warrior of American pride and its self-belief in exceptional greatness. Biden hid in a cloak of darkness the excuses for defeat and his own cognitive decline.
So my prediction is that Trump will win. The riots will alienate suburban voters. Black Lives Matter will scare off Latino, Indian and Asian American voters. Enough Black voters will despise the chains of condescension imposed by the DNC elite. The travesty of the Democratic party presenting a candidate too far past his prime, who has too many questions about his character and the corruption of family Biden, will dismay independent voters. The pandemic will wane, and treatments will appear as salvation. And the deceit of the liberal media establishment will trap them again in their own illusions. Biden’s polls are already failing, if they can even be relied upon. I suspect they will spiral down, even in the storm of events – domestic terror and international instability – we are likely to steer through in the months to November.
But then the questions are: by what margin will Trump win, and have the Democratic political elite truly espoused the Devil’s totalitarian creed that was articulated by Hilary Clinton when she claimed that Biden “should not concede under any circumstances?” Perhaps the prediction in 2020 may be that Trump will win, and the American republic may fail.