November 3rd, the date many people will be anticipating this year to see whether the United States gets a change in leadership. Donald Trump, the current president, Republican, and forever-campaigner, unexpectedly came to power and has radically shaped a new era of politics. Whether these developments are a good thing will largely depend on personal evaluations of the past three years, amongst other factors. His major opponent, the Democrat and former Vice-President Joe Biden, believes, like many, that Trump has done the country harm and is seeking to guide it back to a more ‘orderly’ place. At this point however, it is difficult to see this upcoming election, despite all the chaos surrounding Trump’s presidency, as being truly important when considering both major candidates and their records in view of the state of the United States.
Objectively, the Trump presidency has been a disappointment for many. While he talks a big game and has occasionally made good policy decisions, by his own admissions and promises he has not been particularly successful nor accomplished as he claims. Some of this has been a blessing as his more thoughtless proposals, such as wanting to resume the torture practice of waterboarding ‘terrorists,’ or imposing travel restrictions based upon religious affiliation, went nowhere. Additionally, sometimes he has been forced by the Congress to sign unhelpful legislation, such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017, lacking the political mechanisms or strength to do anything about bad policy.
Trump’s problem is not things out of his control though, but rather in that he appears to get regularly pushed around by his advisors or that he makes decisions without understanding all the implications. This has been no clearer than in the foreign policy of his administration, ironically an area in which Trump wanted to have a large impact. Instead, he has failed to appoint reliable advisors, or stick to his instinct that war is bad, leading to no improvement or worsening relations with countries like North Korea or Iran. Either way, both conclusions are very damning when he claims to be a good leader. Good leaders, however, should not claim so much while they keep roughly everything their predecessors did intact as the health of the nation steadily worsens.
Whether it is Trump’s character being questioned or his policy choices examined, it is difficult to see why a second term would be useful. If he thought that aspects of the ‘War on Terror’ were bad before becoming president, how is it fine that as Vice reported “he’s largely expanded or reinvigorated his predecessor’s conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger” as president? Why is the national debt, which he previously claimed would destroy America, no longer a problem while it still climbs past the unimaginable twenty-five trillion mark? If he only appoints the “best people,” then why did he appoint people like John Bolton and others who not only disagree with him but purposely obfuscate his policy goals?
While he has faced intense and petty political attempts to derail his presidency, which is not entirely his fault nor helped by his temperament, he has regularly failed to act in clear ways to “drain the swamp” in all of this and score victories for the citizenry. Complaining about how unfair everything is should only get you so far, especially when you happen to be in the position to do something about a problem. Thus, for those who had high hopes that Trump would do something different than the presidents of the Reagan Era, it turns out that he is another big government conservative draped in transparent failure.
However, if Trump does not appear to deserve another four years, then his major challenger Joe Biden shows that he is not any better. As the most recent former Vice-President, Biden is part of the problem that led to some of the dire straits that Americans are now finding themselves in. He has in many ways acted like a big government conservative, even though he is a Democrat, in supporting the last big global recession bailouts for Wall-Street, going along with President Obama’s military misadventures and dangerous executive powers (which they handed to Trump), to even being described as a key architect in the destructive ‘war on drugs’ during his long tenure in the Senate. His effort to run on character and experience might seem sensible in a period of great uncertainty. Though, if one accounts for his gaffe prone remarks, his age, and long faulty record, how could he possibly be an improvement over Trump?
Critics will claim that the United States, let alone the rest of the world, will not be able to handle another term of Trump. Why then would anything greatly improve if, according to Biden’s own words at a fundraiser for wealthy donors last year, “nothing would fundamentally change” with him in tackling wealth inequality? Why would he be equipped to be the ‘most progressive’ president in history when he has previously praised bi-partisanship legislation that led to outcomes like the Iraq War? How is it fine to criticise Trump for meeting with so-called adversaries, like Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin, when he has previously engaged with other strongmen, like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak?
Biden and his supporters may have some rationale to reassure doubters, but as Van Jones of CNN said during the Democratic Primary that “Biden views Trump as a disruption of the status quo, Bernie views Trump as a result of the status quo.” A return to an Obama-like presidency is worthless if it will recreate all the mistakes that make another period of trouble inevitable, especially when you have someone who can only become more of who he is in his twilight years. Despite these glaring flaws in both candidates, one of them will be president come next year, barring unforeseen consequences, and that will not stop either declaring that it is their opponent who is unfit.
Just to be clear, the point of this article is not to ‘voter shame’ potential voters away from any candidates. After all, as Kyle Kulinski, an American YouTube political talk show host, put it, “a vote for Trump is a vote for Trump and a vote for Biden is a vote for Biden.” Both certainly have attractive qualities, in spite of their shortcomings, and not voting for one does not mean the other is the ‘greater’ evil. However, as Kulinski has also highlighted, what we are looking at is the reality that both candidates have supported or been involved in actions that are tantamount to war crimes (quite possibly a first in United States election history, depending on various justifications).
Biden, for his votes for various conflicts while in the Senate and going along with Obama’s military misadventures, and Trump, for doing little to stop these conflicts after inheriting them. This should be unacceptable, but not surprising, given all the complaints people have levelled against the United States and their imperialistic tendencies that have shaped relations with the rest of the world. From Latin America to the Far-East, it has never been fun since President McKinley’s time to get in the way of the American Empire. Anyway, it is unfortunate, as in recent elections, that in the ‘land of the free’ there are only two big choices for president, with a two party system, which has delivered mainly the same disappointing outcomes whether Republican or Democrat is in charge.
In any case, at least whoever is in charge will be an appropriate match for what the United States has become: an old, crumbling, hollowing empire in dire need of real change. Perhaps when that reality comes home will people realize that it is not necessarily who is in charge that is important, but their guiding philosophy. One that has the courage for restraintful diplomacy, with reverence for all human rights, would be preferable.
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