Following on from the first US Election webinar, Professor Scott Lucas and other panellists held a follow up session to answer more questions from Bringing Birmingham to You: US Election Special webinar held on Thursday 8 October 2020.
View the video on YouTube
Webinar speakers: HC - Helen Carey (chair), SL - Scott Lucas, LK - Liam Kennedy (for the first part of the discussion)
Video length: 42 mins
HC OK, perfect. So welcome back everybody. As we mentioned at the end of our last event covering the US Election Special, unfortunately we had so many questions and people were so interested, we weren’t able to cover everything. So I’m delighted today to be joined by two of our panel members, Professor Scott Lucas who is an academic at the University of Birmingham and Profession Liam Kennedy who was at the University of Birmingham and is currently at University College Dublin in Ireland. So thank you both very much for joining us again to answer some of our questions. These were all submitted on the chat. Where people have asked more than one question, I have picked one, just so that we can cover everything off because there are so many. And I’m going to begin with a question to Dr Kennedy, from [Prigia Chandal - 0:00:54]. The question is, what is the genesis of the cultural war idea and how would that play, whether or not the incumbent president remains in power?
LK OK, the cultural war idea, I suppose it’s more cultural war ideas in the plural, I think really emerged out of the 1960s in the United States where we begin to define cultural issues becoming politicised. Not for the first time but I think in a much more voluble way, a demonstrative way, and what that really means – and coming into the 1970s this picks up pace right through to the present day – so there’s almost a 50 year history to this The cultural wars are not new but they wax and wane, they spark antagonism and then they seem to go a little bit underground for a while. But essentially they have to do with the politicisation of culture, that is to say of ideas, values, assumptions, attitudes, in a way that often displaces what you might consider to be more serious policy issues. Although both parties practice this in different ways – Liberals don’t like to think they practice it, but they do – the Republicans have really turned it into an artform over 50 years. They’ve often used it as a way of trying to divide up certain sections of the voting blocks. I’m thinking particularly of working class Americans by utilising issues of cultural value to try and persuade them, at least this is my view, to vote against their own interests in other ways, usually economic. So it can be divisive and what’s happened with President Trump is as with many other matters, he has deepened the divisions. You don’t tend to see it when you look at President Trump but he always has a spade in his hand, he’s always digging, and the divisions that he’s trying to really enflame are broadly those between right and left America because he really believes his best chance of leading this country in the future is to build on those divisions. It’s not to build across them, it’s to deepen them. It looks like that strategy is failing but he’s been clinging onto it for a long time. So, mobilising cultural difference, mobilising questions of cultural value as politics has been meat for the Republicans for a long time. But Donald Trump has really turned this into a circus.
HC Thank you, Liam. And I think as we started off with a Trump question I’ll follow up with another. This is from Archie who asked, why do you think that Trump is refusing a virtual debate? I think at the time this question was asked, the debate was still on and obviously there’s a bit more around it now but do you have a reflection, Scott?
SL Well the first thing is that Donald Trump has a great sense of his ability. He actually thought that he won the first presidential debate with Joe Biden, when in fact both in the reaction of people to the debate, and observers, he didn’t fare so well. In fact Biden gained popularity in polling figures after that. But Trump’s idea’s always ‘I’m the showman, I am the man who’s #winning’, so you turn the event into a spectacle and to do that he needs to feed off of an audience. You know, think about those rallies that he has now resumed, despite the risk of spreading Coronavirus and his own condition. You don’t get that off a virtual debate because you’re going down the barrel of a camera, like we are right now, and you can’t get that immediate love that Trump craves. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that in a wider sense his infection with Coronavirus has really undercut the Trump’s campaign’s main line of disinformation and that disinformation was that Joe Biden is mentally and physically unfit to be president. In fact, Biden’s quite mentally and physically fit to be president. He’s had a lifelong stammer that he has to overcome. He can sometimes trip over words because of it, but he fared pretty well and has fared well on the campaign trail. Trump can’t exploit that line of disinformation with a virtual debate and in fact I think he’s going to be hard to exploit right now with the rest of the campaign while questions remain not only over his condition but over the super-spreader events such as the White House ceremony for their Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
HC Thank you very much. Segwaying into I suppose the broader GOP and the change that Trump has had on the party, do you think there is a way for the GOP to reclaim its traditional position from Trumpism? That comes from N. Patterson.
SL Liam, you’ve been writing about this. This is right in your wheelhouse in terms of where Republicans go next.
LK Well, not so much looking at the questions of leadership. I suppose one of the things that’s interested me is whether, to use that term ‘Trumpism’, does it have life after Trump? I think it’s a really intriguing question. I don’t think anyone has a clear answer on it. If it does I don’t think it has a life as a strong political ideology that’s going to influence the people who want to get into congress. I don’t quite see it working that way but what I think Trumpism will remain as is a sense of discontent, a sense of the divisions I mentioned before, outlasting him and I think there’s going to be now space in the United States, it’s going to be interesting, on the very right wing of the Republican party because if the Republican party to go to the question of what happens to it next, tries to move to the centre if Trump stands down or Trump leaves, then their problem is there’s going to be a big tug from the right that doesn’t want to move there. And then the question is who fills the vacuum? Does Donald Trump try to fill the vacuum? In other words, having stepped down as president, does he try to somehow to lead a third party in the United States? Those traditionally don’t have a lot of success but we’re in pretty unchartered waters here. [0:00:54] with that because historically you would say ‘no, that can’t work within the system’, but we are in strange times.
SL Yeah, I don’t think in a sense that Trumpism as an ideology as it were takes over as a new political movement and he replaces Republicanism, because Trumpism isn’t coherent. I mean it’s just a series of thought bubbles that he throws out there, but what Trump does is he feeds off anger and frustration and he feeds off of fear and that sentiment, as Liam pointed out, that precedes Trump. I mean that’s part of why you get the so-called cultural wars because if things aren’t going right, you blame people of colour, you blame immigrants, you blame, you blame the Liberals, and we have seen movements just before Trump like the Tea Party after the Great Recession of 2009 that sprung up because people genuinely are worried and fearful and politicians will exploit that. So in other words, the legacy of Trumpism at one level is that it does feed this – I need to be careful of my wording here because I don’t want to be biased – but I don’t think it’s positive. It feeds this sort of erosion of dialogue in the discussion in political culture, it feeds this idea of animosity and this idea of almost an aggression in politics. Now Trump is gone but you still have media outlets that will magnify that, that will feed that, and I don’t just mean Fox News, I mean [Brightboard - 0:08:29], I mean Pyjamas Media, I mean Town Hall, I mean a whole bunch of conspiracy sites that are out there. I mean the QAnon movement where you now have Republican candidates who are affiliated with that conspiracy theory. The question is what type of politicians then come in and instead of disavowing this, try to feed off of it. Are they within the Republican part or are they beyond the Republican party? I think that’s a question for certain Republicans, like a guy named Tom Cotton who is a senator for Arkansas who is really going hard right to try to reach the highest office. But it’s also a question not for Donald Trump and his political future, it’s for Ivanka Trump because Trump loves the idea that he would have a dynasty that would rival the Kennedy’s and the Bush’s. The fact that he defeated Jeb Bush, he defeated Hilary Clinton, he put those dynasties down. What better way than to have his daughter run for office and succeed? So I’d be watching her but again, I think Ivanka Trump is a much different politician than her father is and I think in fact it’s a more serious question here which is ‘does she provide substance to tap into those hard right sentiments, which means that you truly have a movement which is now clearing anger and fear and frustration into this divisive culture wars policy for the next decade.
HC Thank you Scott and thank you, Liam. I think there’s a lot to unpick there and it’s touching on a lot of what we talked about in terms of what the future looks like generally after the election. I’ll bring us now over to a little bit about Biden and Democrats. A quick question perhaps here from TJ, ‘do you think that a lot of Democrats are so focused on getting Trump out that they aren’t thinking about what they would do if they won?’.
LK I don’t know that they’re quite that obsessed but they’re nervous. It’s one of the things you see again and again in what you might call the Liberal mainstream media – let’s say the New York Times or the Washington Post. A lot of nervousness, a sense that ‘we can’t afford to be counting chickens here, we can’t be complacent’ and of course the nervousness has arisen for what happened in 2016 when they thought they would win. So the Dems have not been able to really, I think, be confident about a win around Joe Biden. I think they probably will win. I think the interesting question, as you say, is well what happens next because in a sense they’re glued together out of the desire to beat Trump. They could become unglued afterwards and I think that could be an intriguing moment. I don’t think they’ll be unglued to the extent where they rip the party apart. I think if the Democrats lose they’ll rip the party apart, there’s no question about that, there will be blood-letting. I think that it will not be as savage if they win but there are really interesting questions that are posed. Biden has, as it were, allowed the left wing of the party to somewhat speak through his policy programme. I think he’s been very smart in doing that. To what degree he delivers that will be interesting. To what degree that left wing of the party gets representation in the team that he constructs as president is going to be absolutely crucial. People are going to be watching that exceptionally carefully. There’s going to be a lot of messaging around that. And then we have the question of does Biden stick with his – was it a promise, was it a full blown promise that he would step down after one term? Perhaps it is but if he does, that’s going to be complex in its handling as well in terms of representation. I think it’s fair to say that Kamala Harris is seen more as a centralist than a leftist, so again if she steps up I think that there will be some elements of the party who may want to voice opposition to that. So the Democrats have got problems but believe me, those problems I’ve just painted, they’ll take those problems if they can beat Donald Trump, that’s fine.
SL I’d look a little bit more on the upside on this one. I mean for one thing, it’s a media game. They’ve fallen into the Republican trap, and in a sense the Trump trap, of always saying ‘oh, look over there, the Democrats, they’re quarrelling amongst themselves, they’ll rip themselves up’, in part to cover up the fact that the Republicans are not unified either. But here’s where the shift has come. I think it’s not a centre versus left issue now in terms of the national healthcare system. I think there’s broad agreement that Obamacare, the affordable care act, is something that needs to be extended. Now there’s a question on how you extend it. Do you include private provision rather than just simply single public payer? And you have to work out the details. But you at least have that unified idea, ‘we’ve got to do something about this’. I think there’s a unified move that we have to do something about climate change and that’s a big shift in the American public, in part because Trump has pushed people to recognise something needs to be done. Now is it the Green New Deal? Is it a Green New Deal in terms of well what’s the balance between economics, technology and environmental measures? You’ve got to deal with that. I think there’s consensus that you have to do something about gun control, that you do not let gun runs unchecked in the United States. Now how far and how fast you move with that is a question. And I think there’s a consensus, fuelled in part because of the fear of the shift of the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, around reproductive rights. So the idea has to be we cannot let abortion be criminalised, we can’t let women be criminalised or stigmatised over the issues of what they do with their bodies, and that’s something again that I think spans centre and left. Will there be differences on how you implement? Yeah, that’s part of the policy making process that we have seen. We saw it with Barack Obama in the first two years of his presidency, that a lot was done in America and the same possibility is there if there is a Biden administration as well.
HC Thank you very much, Scott. Liam, I saw you look right as your stage exit moment.
LK Very Shakespearean! Yes, I’m afraid it has to be, for all kind of reasons, but ..
[link with Liam Kennedy lost at 14.35 mins]
HC Great, thank you. And Scott, we’re going to carry on with a question from Britney Atkinson about your thoughts on the nomination of the [scotas - 0:14:47] and any potential impacts on the election. Again, I think that time has progressed rapidly since the last conversation but in a nutshell, what do you see the nomination influencing?
SL Well, it’s great to hear from you again, Britney. I remember fondly when we learnt from each other here at Birmingham a few years back. I’d say that the politics around this hasn’t played out like the Trump campaign wanted. I mean the Trump campaign wanted to use the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to push Coronavirus to the side and to give themselves what they thought was a winning issue. It galvanised Conservatives, it would galvanise those for example who were opposed to Obamacare, opposed to abortion, and that would be their theme for the last month. Now that tactic has been upended because of Coronavirus really hitting home with Donald Trump’s illness, with the super-spreader event as I mentioned around there when they unveiled her and you had more than thirty people who wind up testing positive because they were there on the day. I think the wider question though is, you know, even if it is a short term loss for Trump, for Republicans like senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, it isn’t a long term win. There’s no doubt that Mitch McConnell, one reason why he has enabled Trump for three and a half years, you know, despite all of Trump’s transgressions, was because he wanted to pack courts with Conservative judges. They’ve done that at lower levels, now they hope they’ll tilt the court with Barrett and that it will be a Conservative fixture. I do think she’ll be confirmed. We are speaking to you now on the second day of the confirmation hearings. They’ve gone as I expected. McConell will try to rush the vote through and unless any Republicans show a sense of, let’s say, ethics above party, then she probably will be on the Supreme Court a few days before the November 3rd election and she’ll be in place on November 10th when the court hears a significant case about Obamacare. But I would say that that doesn’t mean that the court is now locked in as a Conservative bastion, even with the Democrats in control of congress. I say that for two reasons: one is we have seen with the Chief Justice John Roberts that he is no longer a reliable vote for those Conservatives who want to do things like rip healthcare apart, that want to push back voting rights, that want to push back immigration. Indeed it was his vote that prevented the undermining of Obamacare and prevented the undermining of what’s called effectively the [dream.. - 0:17:31] which allows the children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the US. In part that’s why they want Barrett on the court because Roberts has moved towards the centre. We can see other Justices as well shift. It depends on the case, it depends on the context, but the second thing is if you have a Democratic congress – so this really ..
[loss in connection momentarily at 17.47 mins]
SK .. the fact that you have to watch the White House but you have to watch the races for the senate. If the Democrats get a majority in the senate, how far do they put legislation through to protect Obamacare, to protect reproductive rights, to protect the environment, which throws it back to the Supreme Court, which is ‘tell us this is unconstitutional’. So it’s going to be a fairly protracted battle. It’s not one that I would have liked to have seen. I do think Barrett has said in the past that she is guided by her faith and her particular view of Catholicism, because Catholicism’s fine but her fairly rigid view on certain issues like women’s rights in Catholicism, it troubles me. But politics doesn’t all go one way and it’s just we’ll turn the kaleidoscope next year with court, congress and White House all being part of a new equation.
HC Thank you, Scott. I’m going to move us to talk a little bit about the political landscape and before I do I wanted to raise a theory that has been shared from an alumnus in Arizona and his theory and concept is of Republicans and Democrats who are, in his terms, ‘DNA Republicans’. So they are, you know, products of their upbringing and that they will always vote Republican, even though they have strong feelings about Trump perhaps and that there’s a real rigidity in DNA-Rs that you might not necessarily get with DNA-Ds, DNA Democrats. His question was that this is a phenomenon he has observed as someone living in the US for many decades and he wondered how, as a sort of outside viewer – and I know you sound quite American but from the UK view – if that’s something, a phenomenon that’s perceived by the outside world.
SL I think that’s a great question and I think what’s obscured is the fact that we don’t talk as much about Republicans versus Democrats now, as much as we talk about Trump versus Democrats. As we talked about earlier, I think you get the sense from both Liam and myself, we don’t consider Trump to be a Republican. Trump’s an insurgent within the Republican party. What’s been interesting I think as you pointed out is that many people may continue to vote Republicans despite the insurgent being there, but that’s something we’re familiar with in the UK. I mean you folks know that we’ve got Conservative, we’ve got Labour party and many people will vote party line because of family, because of their community. It has shifted a bit, especially in the last election, but it’s there. I think what’s interesting to me is the shifts that take place however which means that DNA Republicans and DNA Democrats – and they are out there – they may move a bit. For example, in the 1980s, one of the reasons why Ronald Reagan was so successful as a politician is he was able to move more Conservatively minded Democrats across to the Republican party, especially a lot of Democrats in the south where I come from. Republicans have been able to hold onto a lot of those Democrats since the 1980s but what you’re watching now is, and I think you’ll know this in Arizona, is when the issue becomes something like healthcare and when it’s whether your healthcare is secure, even a DNA Republican, if that Republican thinks healthcare is not going to be safe under Republican administration, may start thinking about things differently and Coronavirus has added that extra layer to it. And then it’s also when you see elements within the parties that begin to raise questions about, let’s say, basic ethical behaviour, basic moral behaviour, then that comes into question and here, speaking to you out in Arizona, is the way that Donald Trump has treated the late senator John McCain who was abashed in the Republican party for decades, the way that Trump has insulted McCain, made fun of his war service, continued to try to humiliate him, well what did we see? We saw Sandy McCain, John McCain’s widow, endorse Joe Biden for president just a few days ago. We saw Colin Powell who served presidents all the way from Richard Nixon up until George W Bush speak at the Democratic National Convention. In other words, at the end of the day, people want to have a sense of security and if a party can’t deliver security, they will move. I don’t think it’s a majority of the Republican party but it does mean that DNA in a sense may put party to the side somewhat, at least in the immediate election and possibly for the next few years beyond.
HC Thank you, Scott. I’m going to combine two questions around political engagement and voter suppression. So a question from Maria is what is your view perhaps on the potential influence of young voters, both turnout and the distribution of votes amongst the parties, and kind of combined with that is one from Tom T around voter suppression and whether or not voter suppression can necessarily be recognised in the face of so much division within the political culture.
SL Great questions. Let’s split them real quick. Hey, turnout’s key, y’all know that. Whoever turns out their folks more, they’re more likely to win. In a large part Hilary Clinton lost the electoral college, not the popular vote, but she lost the electoral college not because Donald Trump increased the Republican votes significantly but because a lot of Democrats sat on their hands. Now what we’re seeing right now is that young people in polling are about 2-1 in favour of the Biden-Harris ticket. That’s a really significant margin. So obviously if turnout is very, very high amongst young folks then that’s going to favour the Democrats. What’s interesting is that it is not the over 65s who did vote in a significant majority for Trump. They actually split evenly…
[sound lost briefly at 24.00 mins]
SL … for Biden right now. So a turnout amongst the elderly, I think because of Coronavirus, doesn’t actually favour Trump. It’s the 50-64 category where he gets his most support. Now who gets mobilised on the day, I do think we have a tip-off from 2018 and you folks will remember that while the Democrats couldn’t take the Senate, the odds were stacked against them, they did take the House of Representatives with more than a hundred women who entered the House for the first time. There was an energy there where you saw a lot of young people come out and vote because of issues like healthcare, because of issues like gun control, because of the environment. If that continues this time I think you can see where it goes but then we get voter suppression. I think where we are now, having spoken to you as it were a week ago, events have moved on where it’s going to be incredibly difficult for Trump to win a straight up election. He can’t win it on Coronavirus, I don’t think he can win it on the economy now because the economy has contracted. I don’t think he can win it on the cultural wars, I’m not sure he can win it on the Supreme Court, so what do you have to do? You have to try to reduce the votes on the other side. So yeah, we can see voter suppression quite clearly so, you know, I won’t give you the full litany here but just a couple of examples, when Trump puts a mega-donor, Louis DeJoy, in as the Head of US Postal Service, and that mega-donor then starts to oversee the removal of sorting machines so that you can’t sort votes as efficiently, when that mega-donor oversees the removal of drop-boxes so you no longer have as many places to drop off your mailing ballots, voter suppression. When you have a Texas governor like Greg Abbott who says you can only have one drop-off box in Harris County, Houston, which has 4.7m people, voter suppression. When you see the state of Georgia try to reduce provisions for mailing balloting, when we have queues of up to 10 hours to vote yesterday – it’s where my folks are from – voter suppression. And when Donald Trump says that mailing ballots are fraudulent, which is – I’ll be polite – it is misinformation, when Donald Trump says that, he is trying to deter people from mailing voting or he’s trying to say that those votes are not legitimate and should not be counted – voter suppression. That is in play and that’s why I think that if this is a narrow Biden win, or possibly if Donald Trump is ahead in the early returns from in-person voting, he’ll say ‘we don’t count the mailing votes, I get to be president for four more years’ and in effect tries to short-circuit the election.
HC Thank you, Scott. Moving onto another combination question here from [Shaveen - 0:26:47] and from M. Patterson. The question here around the polarisation in politics and a possible move to more moderate politics and whether or not there’s any realistic hope of bipartisanship in the next presidency.
SL Thank you, folks. I mean that’s a massive question. I mean I said it to you last week, the biggest election, the most important election since 1860 on the eve of the American Civil War and why do I say that? Because in part you nailed it, there is a polarisation which has meant that the ability to work together across party lines or across in some cases community lines to try to do what’s best for all of us, that’s been eroded because dialogue has been replaced by division and discussion has been replaced by shouting and you all will know the numerous examples that we could refer to here, which include the media, which include certain politicians, which include certain institutions who have moved away from their civic duty to try to take up fairly rigid positions. But at the same time, and I think here I’m a little bit different from Liam, I think Liam’s a little bit more of a pessimist, I’m more of let’s say the cynical optimist, and that is..
HC Cautious optimist.
SL Cautious optimist. Well, I’ve never been cautious in other ways and so we’ll tell it like it is right here. Look, the amount of people who have come out who would not have necessarily identified themselves as politics, and I know this personally from friends, I know it from family, I’m sure you folks know it as well, and they’ve come out in the last few years because they don’t want the continued polarisation. They don’t want the continued shouting. They want something better because they know that their futures are at stake, they know their children’s future are at stake. In other words, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether you’re right or left, Conservative or Liberal, you want a decent education for yourself and your kids, you want decent healthcare, you want to make sure that someone treats you when you’re sick, you want to have a roof over your head, you want to have clean water, you want to have clean air. If you can cut through the spin and the misinformation and the disinformation on these issues to say ‘all right, how are we going to get these things?’, those are the steps. The problem is that with the media, quite often if it believes, it leads, so even the media which isn’t there to feed polarisation but responsible media, they go ‘oh look, look, here’s Trump’s latest statement, here’s the latest tweet, here’s the latest example of right wing militia or people who’ve exploited Black Lives Matter for violence’. Think about the women’s march the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, which got three times as many people as came out for Trump’s inauguration, and they didn’t come out and say ‘Democrat Left’, they came out and just simply said ‘Rights for All’. Think about the marches after the Parkland shooting in 2018 which said ‘we’ve got to do something about guns and we’ve got to do it to save lives’. Think about the marches that are there for climate change, which is to benefit all of us and not to benefit some and others. That’s where that space is which is hopeful so, you know, I get trolled on Facebook - I get trolled by my mom on Facebook – and you’ve got to remember at the end of the day, she’s still my mom so you’ve got to reach out and say to my mom, a Trump supporter, ‘at the end of the day, we’re in this together’. That’s my microcosm for what can happen in America because my mom and I are still friends.
HC Thanks Scott. I think that also kind of reflects what you were saying earlier about DNA-Rs and DNA-Ds, you know, about being focused around issues that are really important to people. I’m going to follow up with a question from Amy Farnell. So Amy asks, and states rather, that America is known for involvement in other countries’ affairs. At what point do you think this could be reversed and will we see other countries trying to aid the US and tackle perceived corruption within the American government itself?
SL What we’ve actually seen unproportionately is other countries exploiting the issues that we’ve been talking about and the 2016 Russian interference in the election – and it was interference and it was on behalf of the Trump campaign and there was cooperation with the Trump campaign. The Russians saw an opportunity, Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity as a long-time KGB intelligence agent, to disrupt someone he sees as a foe. We have seen China for example try to exploit, for example through cyber operations, the election process. The Iranians have tried to do it to an extent. The question that you’re really asking, however, is not those countries that try to disrupt, that try to exaggerate that corruption, to say that America’s ‘going down’, you know, ‘look at them, they’re the problem, don’t look at us’. It’s those countries that genuinely are concerned and I think the UK is probably one of them, people in the UK, or in Ireland where Liam is. That is nobody I think wants to bash the Republicans or bash the Democrats, or at least I don’t think many people want to bash the Republicans or Democrats and see America collapse as an economy, collapse as a society and fall into disorder. At the same time I think the idea that America leads and we all follow, which was a big post-Cold War idea, that’s gone and what you’re really talking about is the possibility for cooperation and that cooperation is enhanced because if you think about it, some of the issues that we’re talking about now are not American issues, they’re not just European issues, they’re global issues. The pandemic is a global issue. Climate change is a global issues. Economic justice is a global issue and the more that we can engage with each other, not just as leaders of countries but as people of countries, talking and discussing with America and Americans about what we can do to make these things better, you know, let’s expand the discussion. We have the tools to do it now, you know, the internet and social media is double-edged; it feeds a lot of conspiracy theory, it feeds a lot of animosity, it can feed a lot of division, but it can also feed cooperation if we work with it. What I would say is that we need to be grown up and not be in the position of saying that one country is better than another or one system is better than another, or that one country is exceptional and others simply follow the model. Each of us has a path we have to lead in our communities but there are some things that join us across those communities where we do this not to bash America but to actually say ‘how can this be a better place for all of us?’.
HC Thank you very much, Scott. I’m just going to take us to our final two questions here. These are around the economy so the first is from Judy Chow who has said that in the time of President Obama, economic growth was 2.3% before Covid. The first three years of economic growth is 2.5%. Is this 0.2% significant to make a difference in growth?
SL That’s a really good question, Judy, because if we treat it from an analytic basis, American growth rates pretty much coming out of the Great Recession of 2009, have really been in the 2-4% range, whether it was an Obama presidency or whether it was the first three years of the Trump presidency. Job growth was higher in the last couple of years than the Obama administration than it was in the Trump administration so it wasn’t the case that Trump as it were revived an economy that was in trouble. Manufacturing jobs have remained roughly the same between the two administrations. The economic issue for me that was their analytically was whether the American growth was being artificially fed by, I think, the one major legislative achievement of the Trump years which was the tax cut of December 2017 because of course what the tax cut did is they gave like a sugar rush to the economy. People had more money to spend, they could spend it on various goods, it might fuel certain sectors of the economy, but there are two problems which were there and which would have been there even without the pandemic. The first problem is the Federal Budget deficit and that is you all will know that Republicans traditionally are the party that says we want lower deficits, that we actually want to reduce the deficit. That’s been blown apart, you know, there is no DNA Republican now in a sense that’s campaigning on reducing the deficit because it’s running at a about $1tn a year, which is a record. The second is Trump’s trade war with China which has cost America $300bn in business growth and it’s wiped $1.7tn off stock market values. In other words, that’s been a very costly trade war. The Trump play politically was it didn’t matter because we weren’t going to see the effect of the Federal government deficit, or we weren’t going to see the full effect of the trade wars until after the election. So you could still say ‘still have the growth, still winning’ and I think Trump would have had a shot at the White House on the basis of that, but the pandemic has undermined it because at the end of the day, April to June the American economy contracted by almost 10%, the number of people who are unemployed now is around about 28m compared with 12m back in February. There may be some recovery in the third quarter and I’m waiting for that news to come out next week, but I don’t think politically Donald Trump can campaign on the economy as the winning issue now. I think the broader issue for all of us is that whoever is in the White House next year – let’s assume for example it’s Biden – there’s got to be some repair work done. You can’t just simply say ‘oh, 3% growth, 3% growth’ because there’s been a dislocation of the American economy because of the trade war – the effect on American agriculture, the effect on American manufacturing – and just generally because it’s not just been a trade war with China, it’s been protectionist with tariffs and quotas even with us here in the UK and the European Union.
HC Thank you Scott, and you tee’d me up perfectly for the next question which is from Vincent Button and this is whether or not Trump is better for Britain post-Brexit and similarly, you know, what the impact of a Biden administration might be, perhaps leading off with the trade view as you started to touch on there.
SL Vincent, again it’s interesting. I think Trump is definitely better for – Trump was better for a Boris Johnson government. He was better because the two of them shared advisors, going back to 2016 when of course it was the Leave campaign rather than Johnson as Prime Minister. There were Trump people in 2018 that were instrumental in helping Johnson get into No.10 - a really interesting story that I’ll buy you a beer and tell you some time. There was sort of this similar idea that this was a different kind of politics, very much through the personality of Trump, the personality of Johnson, with some fairly, I would say, hard-line advisors – Steven Millar in the US, Steve Bannon at one point, Dominic Cummings over here. The problem that has occurred is that it goes beyond Trump and it is simply that at the end of the day, politics comes home to roost and the politics here is that if the Johnson government is heading for a no-deal Brexit – and I think it is – that it’s not possible to get a UK-US trade agreement with anybody in the White House. The reason why it’s not possible to get that is because of the Irish border question and that is that when the Johnson government pulled out of the withdrawal agreement a few weeks ago, defining international law, it meant that that whole arrangement which had been crafted to prevent the hard border in Ireland, that disappeared and now we might have a hard border again. Democrats and Republicans in a congressional delegation, warned the UK government in April 2019, ‘if Ireland is not secure there will be no trade agreement’. Not just Democrats, Democrats and Republicans. That warning was reiterated as it happens by the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi and by Joe Biden just a few weeks ago. So it’s one case where believe it or not, now you’ve got something which is bigger than Trump. Brexit is bigger than Trump. The future of Ireland is bigger than Trump. If Trump wins, I think in effect he’s no longer an asset of value because what can he do to help the UK government as it goes through no-deal Brexit? He can’t deliver anything to buffer the shock. With Biden in office he’s more pragmatic, you can negotiate, but the UK government has got itself in a cul-de-sac right now and I hate to say this, and it’s not to be Remain or Leave, we’ve done that, we know where we are, unless it figures out some way to climb back on the Ireland issue, which is going to be very, very difficult, there is no president that’s going to be able to help not just Johnson but all of us out of what is going to be some very tricky times next year. Oh, that’s a bit downbeat to end. Is there any way we can go upbeat?
HC Yeah! I’m afraid I’m not quick enough to magic up enough question which leaves us on a slightly more optimistic vein but I think that, you know, your perspective – as is Liam’s – is so very much appreciated by us and I’m really grateful to you again for giving your time so that we can answer some of these questions.
SL Well let me give you one upbeat to all of this.
SL First of all thank you so much for coming in because like you heard from me, dialogue not division. But the other thing is that we’ve all gone through a lot on both sides of the Atlantic over the last few months and the one thing that’s become positive out of this is that I at least have a better sense of community, you know, my friends who are working in the National Health Service, my friends who are working in the supermarkets, my friends who are delivering post, my friends who are collecting rubbish. In other words, the value of all of us I think has been elevated by what we’ve gone through and that means whatever happens on the top end of the spectacle of politics which we’ve been talking about, that’s why I’m hopeful because at the end of the day, Coronavirus don’t recognise Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Labour, it recognises that all of us are targets and the fact that all of us can sort of, as it were, kick back with what we find good in each other, there you go, that’s my upbeat.
HC Thank you, Scott. And thanks again for your involvement, it’s been fantastic to have you. And thank you to all of our alumni who have given us so many questions that we couldn’t get through them the first time and have, you know, hopefully found the answers they were looking for from Scott and from Liam who joined us earlier. And we are looking forward to the next one so thank you very, very much.
SL Stay safe, stay sane.