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Issue 2

A Vote for America’s Soul

Since 2016, American politics and governance have been marked by a disappointing lack of trust in institutions, both international and domestic. Now, amidst the pandemic and during the run-up to the presidential elections, most of the world has been looking at the United States with a mix of shock, bewilderment and exasperation. Even as the diminution of America’s image and it’s power began before the pandemic, it has come into sharp focus this year. The country’s reputation seems to be in a free-fall. The perception of the USA seems to be that of a first-world country increasingly acting like a third-world country. A Pew Research Center poll of 13 countries (such as Japan, Australia, and Germany and Canada) found that its populations have been looking at the United States in its most negative light in many years. In all the countries surveyed, most respondents thought that the United States was botching its pandemic response.

As a candidate starting in 2015, President Donald Trump prioritized “America First”, in what he promised would be the “major and overriding theme” of his administration. By doing so, he pushed for nationalist, and anti-interventionist policies at the global stage. Nearly five years later, it is evident that we are now living through arguably one of the worst presidencies in modern history. For Trump, “America First” seems to stand for Trump first, America second, and Americans all alone. Starting with the global financial crisis, and exacerbated by the stewardship of Donald Trump, the USA evidently no longer occupies the position of the undisputed leader of the free world. International accords have been snubbed, policy agreements have been left unsigned all in the name of an America First policy. In 2017, the US pulled out of the 2015 Paris Climate deal, originally signed by 196 countries, to widespread condemnation. Donald Trump also weakened NATO by not publicly announcing USA’s compliance with Article 5 of it’s charter. His refusal to support the idea of collective defence commitment shook the base of the military alliance. The culmination of the last 4 years, compounded by the gross mismanagement of the pandemic, is that the status and power that American citizens have enjoyed is rapidly waning. Commensurately, the passport of the United States has lost the enviable status it once enjoyed, with a large swathe of countries disallowing American citizens. President Trump’s handling of the pandemic has automatically implicated US citizens with his racist and anti-science perspective. 

Within America itself, the presidency and Mr. Trump’s businesses have lost logical and moral separation. He makes money by visiting his own golf resort in Mar-a-Lago as a sitting President. The Trump International Hotel in Washington has become a meeting site for conservative politicians and lobbyists, for those currying favor in Republican halls of power. Donald Trump’s reluctance to release his Income Tax returns, and the subsequent leak by the New York Times paint a worrying picture of his financial liabilities, amounting to more than 420 million dollars. The President has reportedly only paid taxes in 11 out of the 15 years with available data. In 2016 and 2017, he only paid 750$ in Federal taxes. Additionally, The Justice Department has been transformed from a public affairs apparatus to a partisan instrument of the administration. William Barr, the Attorney General has taken strides to diminish the reputation of his department, one that is supposed to be a legitimate arm of the government that seeks public trust. As the commander-in-chief, Trump has also repeatedly disparaged the military and servicemen, calling them “sore losers”.

Worryingly, Mr. Trump refuses to commit to the American populace a peaceful transition of power after November 3rd, raising fears that he would mount an unprecedented effort to wield power after an electoral loss, leading the nation into unchartered territory at a historical moment defined by national and international tensions. Poll predictions of the race have remained steady, with Biden continuing to hold a significant lead. This has been sustained through all sorts of turbulent developments and drama that are characteristic of Donald Trump. 

Joe Biden’s electoral campaign has been centered around a referendum on Donald Trump. Through a 47-year long career as a Senator, Joe Biden has had a mixed record on issues, and has hardly been progressive. His redemption, however, comes with his willingness to consult, listen to and follow through with the advice of experts on issues ranging from healthcare and climate change, to policing reforms. The Democratic Party continues to deliver searing moral rebukes of Trump’s 4 year tenure in the White House, a stance that doesn’t seem far removed from the truth. Delivering to Donald Trump 8 years at the helm of the country will result in fundamentally altering the idea of America. His personal contempt for American values and institutions might convince Americans that democracy and checks of power do not work. The scary implications of a second Trump term justify this election as a test of America’s moral pulse, the trajectory of the country, and the world. 

The triumphs of globalization seem to be firmly in the past. Countries across the world are struggling with widening inequality and mercantilist impulses. Isolationist stances by leaders are becoming common. Democracy and its institutions seem to be in a decline across the world, and nationalism is apparently the flavour of the day. International institutions, the bastions of a coordinated global society are paralyzed by those initially championing them, by too much bureaucracy and evidently too little investment. All this is occurring as the clock of climate change ticks at an accelerating rate. To navigate this, the United States will need to move beyond the recklessness emblematic of this administration. America still has the world’s strongest military, the most influential economy, widest-ranging alliance system, and with it the most potent soft power in the world. However, a reinvention is needed to figure out America’s role in the world. That begins with the election of 2020, and recognizing it as a vote for the soul of the country.

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