Panellists Scott Lucas, Michell Chresfield and Liam Kennedy gave a unique take on the November 2020 US presidential election. Professor Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) chaired the discussion and Q&A.
View the video on YouTube
Webinar speakers: RM - Professor Robin Mason (chair), SL - Professor Scott Lucas, MC - Professor Michell Chresfield, LK - Professor Liam Kennedy, SB - Steve Bridges, HC - Helen Carey
Q&A Session audience members: LH - Luke Hawridge, JM - Joe McDowell
Length of video: 1.27.00
RM Helen, thanks very much for that introduction. A warm welcome from me. My name is Robin Mason. I’m Pro-Vice Chancellor and Vice President International at the University of Birmingham and I’m chairing today’s session. It’s a great pleasure to be with you here today. We’ve got, as Helen said, four high-quality panellists that I’m going to be introducing in just a moment. Today’s webinar is to provide stimulating, thought provoking and informed discussion of the US election – the issues that will matter, the issues that should matter and the event of the election itself. Now what we won’t be is partisan. Our role is not to advocate either Trump or Biden, Republican or Democrat, instead our aim is to discuss the issues that face both candidates in the presidential race and all parties in the Senate election and at times we’ll take the long view – features of US society, politics, economics – that span more than one presidential term and that will affect any presidential term, regardless of who emerges as the winner in this election. In this particular webinar we’ll be looking out all the way to the first few days after the election. In future webinars we’re going to be looking beyond that to the next administration and the issues that it’ll face and I’ll tell you more about that at the end of this webinar.
… So even though we are only looking up to the days immediately after the election itself, we’ve got our work cut out since we want to be able to cover the state of the US nation, the place of the US in the world and the event of the election itself – all in 45 minutes discussion with the panellists followed by 30 minutes Q&A – so it’s going to be a pretty busy webinar and we’re looking forward to lots of discussion and lots of questions. We’re going to have to be very disciplined and I’m pleased to say that the panellists have agreed not to interrupt each other and to obey the moderator at all times. We’ll have to see how that goes, mind you.
… So with that let me introduce our fine panellists. Professor Scott Lucas is a Professor of International Politics and a Professor of American Studies. Scott began his career as a specialist in the US and British Foreign Policy but his research interests now also cover current international affairs. A professional journalist since 1979, Scott is the founder and editor of EA World View, a leading website in daily news and analysis of Iran, Turkey, Syria and the wider Middle East, as well as US Foreign Policy. Dr Michell Chresfield is a lecturer in United States History at the University of Birmingham. Michell’s research interests include cultural and intellectual history, the history of science and medicine and the history of racial formation and identity making in 20th century America. Prior to joining the University of Birmingham she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, a liberal arts college in the United States. Professor Liam Kennedy is Director of the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Liam has diverse research interests and teaching experiences spanning the fields of American cultural and media studies, globalisation and Irish/US relations. He’s the author or editor of nine books and is founding editor of America Unfiltered, a media platform for commentary on contemporary American foreign policy, politics and media. And last but not least, Steve Bridges, former Diplomat and Consul General. In his 30 year career as a Diplomat, Steve served the UK in Africa, Asia and the US, including being its ambassador to Cambodia, Acting High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner to Bangladesh and as Her Majesty’s Consul General for the Mid-West USA and Chicago until August 2017. Steve also has extensive private sector experience having worked in the renewable energy and natural resources sectors and most recently as an International Trade and Political Economy consultant in the US. He now represents the US State of Indiana in the UK and serves as an advisor to the UK financial and professional services sector. He holds several non-executive directorships and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham.
… So they are our fine panellists. Before we put them to work, what we’d like to do is slightly experimental so bear with us. We’d like you to take part in a poll. The point of this poll – and we’ll run it again at the end of the evening, or morning, wherever you are – is to get your initial view as to what will be the most influential factor in this US election and then we’ll ask you the same question at the end and see whether you’ve changed your mind. So hopefully you’ll see on your screen now a poll box that’s come up – what will be the most influential this election? We have to give you options so we’ve given you four – Covid-19, the economy, social unrest or the power of personality. Hopefully you can only vote for one so vote early but don’t vote too often. If you could click your choice now and then we’ll see what you feel is the most important influential factor in this election. Click away. We’ll just give you a moment or two to do that and then Jenny when it’s time, perhaps you can close the poll and share the results. So here we have it, the breaking news, Covid wins with 36%, followed – this is interesting – followed by the power of personality. It’s the economy stupid is less important this time – I’m an economist so I’m a little bit disappointed in you but that’s how you’ve voted – and social unrest brings up the rear. So if you can remember – oh, unfortunately some people haven’t been able to see the poll but that’s how it’s come out. 36% Covid-19, 30% power of personality, 20% the economy and 14% social unrest, but people are voting already for additional factors which we didn’t put on the list, so I’m sure that’ll come out in the discussion, even though we’ve limited your choices for this one.
… So, let me bring in the panel now. Panel, we’ve just heard from the audience what they think is the most influential factor in this election. Let’s start by focusing on domestic issues for now, that’s going to give us plenty to choose from and we’ll move onto foreign affairs subsequently. What’s your view of what will matter the most and Michell, let me turn to you first for you to give your view on what is or should be the most influential factor?
MC So I would say in my mind I think it’s going to be a mix between the two. I think that social issues kind of feels like a squishy term but it really does encapsulate a lot. I think we can think about Covid in that, we can think about immigration issues in that, in the ways in which people feel about the immigration policies of this administration and in particular I think we could think about unrest, the racial reckoning that’s happened this summer and it’s been unprecedented in terms of we've seen activism like this not since the civil rights movement. And this particular type of activism is very different in tenure and I think what you’re going to see in the aftermath of this, particularly as people think about who they’re going to vote for, how they’re going to cast their votes, is we’re going to see new calls on both parties. So a lot of this kind of rhetoric has been pitched towards Trump but they’re going to be calling on Biden for certain things. There are a lot of people who are kind of left of left, you know, left of centre for sure, who don’t see Biden or Kamala Harris for that instance necessarily a candidate that they want to get behind. So I think we’re going to see – you know, also thinking about the ways in which Covid has decimated black communities in the US in particular, that becomes a social issue as it becomes related to other ideas.
RM Really interesting, Michell. So part of what you’re saying there is social issues is quite a broad, all-encompassing term, but also other factors in isolation like Covid can lead subsequently to social issues. Let me ask Liam to pick up on that and see if he agrees with the position that Michell’s articulated or he points in a different direction. Liam, your views.
LK I do agree with Michell. I think that almost every issue here you could call a social issue. Some might use the word ‘cultural’ issue as well, which I think is quite useful. In the United States there’s a term that I don’t think we know this side of the Atlantic quite as well which is ‘cultural wars’ and that is to say that the United States has over the last 30 or 40 years deeply politicised cultural issues to the degree that people get more excited about these issues of values and identity than they do about policy issues. I think that’s hugely important. But that brings me onto my answer to the question, what’s the most influential factor? Donald Trump. It’s as simple as that. Trump is the most influential factor. I don’t mean by that that he’s going to win, I think it looks quite likely he’s going to lose but I think that he has been one of the most influential presidents of my lifetime, and I don’t say that as a fan, I’m quite agnostic in many ways and I’m not partisan, but I think he has been an extraordinary political figure, absolutely extraordinary, and we will take time to digest this presidency, if it does indeed come to an end in November. But I think that he has shaped political culture in the United States in his image. I have to add that I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think that he has, to put it mildly, lowered the tone of political discourse. I think that he has deeply, deeply, divided Americans at a time when they need leadership and to be brought together. So I’m not saying very positive things, I admit. I can back all of them up but my point is, this is an exceptional figure and he is the lightening rod for this election and this election is a referendum on Trump and that’s why he’s going to lose.
RM You used at the outset the phrase ‘cultural wars’. Did you mean, you chose the word ‘war’ deliberately? You think that’s the state of the nation in this regard?
LK I’m afraid it is. The language of war, the discourse of war, is utilised unfortunately by many Americans particularly in the media and particularly in social media and these have been in battled landscapes of cultural division. It has to be said, some political leaders utilise that language as well. I don’t want to go into deep history on that but the term ‘cultural warfare’ or ‘cultural war’ was defined in the 1980s by Pat Buchanan, a Republican Conservative politician and he said ‘there’s a cultural war with the soul of the nation. It’s as important as the Civil War’ and that kind of language, that idea that the cultural issues are more important than the policy issues, has really been a feature of America over this last 30 or 40 year. There were some who hoped that this somehow would magically come to an end with the election of the first African American president. I’m afraid it hasn’t and Donald Trump has done what he likes to do, he’s doubled down on this – to use an American term – and I don’t see these divisions being healed even if he leaves.
RM So a war that’s been going on for 30-odd years. The last 30 years war was not a pleasant event. Steve, let me bring in your perspective on this. I’m hoping somebody’s going to argue for the economy but I don’t want to lead the witness.
SB I think the economy is obviously going to be key, Robin, but it’s going to be that elastic element of the social issues. I find it hard to look beyond Covid right now and if the death toll gets up to 300,000 that’s going to put the current administration in an extremely awkward position, but whoever comes afterwards it’s going to be exactly the same. I mean Liam, the social divisions, it’s visible for me in my contacts and my dealings with the US, which is on a daily basis. The schism is getting wider and already I see some of the chat that’s coming through about the potential security risk of whatever happens in the election. It’s going to be a real challenge for whoever wins it, arming teams on both sides, so I’m kind of with Michell and Liam, I do believe it’s the social malaise that’s going on in the United States; t’s really hard for me to see a way out of this right now in the short term. As I’m going to talk about foreign policy, I think so it is on domestic policy. It’s all time bound and I think we could be having a totally different discussion in a couple of years’ time when it probably will be much more about the economy. It may be back on immigration, it may be back on gun control and the plight of the middle classes, etc, etc. But right now I believe it’s that schism in the United States and the potential damage this election is going to have on that and potential security issues thereafter.
RM The US is not the only country though that has those sorts of divisions. Are you saying they’re more acute or more structural in the US?
SB I think it’s the US and therefore it’s more amplified. Everything to do with an election is under the lights and the camera. Interestingly for me, I did the numbers today, if you have a look at the population of the US and the deaths - let’s say roughly 200-odd thousand deaths for a population of roughly 350 million – if you correlate that against the UK which is 45,000 deaths on a population of about 70 million, it’s exactly the same and therefore are we all facing similar issues? Yes, I think we are. I think the issue is obviously how do you deal with the issue? I’m not saying that I think it’s been done overly well in the UK, in fact I don’t think it is, and it’s certainly not been done well in the US. I think it varies across the world but when I say that the United States and the UK are in exactly the same post-Covid or current-Covid position as Germany, as some of the other major European economies, as the Eastern economies, no I don’t think so. I mean I think there’s another question ‘why is it that the US and they UK, these bastions of democracy so-called, are struggling to deal with Covid in the way they are?’. I mean I think that’s a webinar in itself but it just feels that maybe it’s US/UK and OK, we’ve got South America, we’ve got Brazil etc, but the amplification for the United States because of the election.
RM Interesting. And of course the UK and the US now share the feature that both have had political leaders who’ve caught Covid. Scott, let me bring you in. Your view either in agreement or disagreement with the other panellists, what’s going to be most influential? You’re muted, Scott.
SL Always the basic mistake!
RM You’re the first person to do it!
SL Exactly. I think there’s great responses from the panellists and I kind of pull them together and I’m actually looking at the dawn coming out of the darkness and by that I mean that on one side you have the gamble from one camp, the Trump camp, which was ‘we’re going to win this election the way we did it in 2016’ with spectacle, you know, this Trumpian figure by playing to our so-called base at the start of the year, boosted by the idea that even though it’s a bit of a myth that they had stepped up economic growth, but Covid-19 kind of blew that apart because now you have what Michell brought out, which is the Covid-19’s there but remember that pulls together all kinds of issues. It brings up healthcare, it brings up disparity in terms of income, it brings up issues like housing and education and of course what we saw with the anti-racism marches in the spring and the summer is they weren’t just anti-racism marches, they were also bringing those issues in. And then you add in climate change and I think you put on top of it what people want beyond the division, which is they want responsibility, they want leadership and they want competence, and that’s something that crosses the party divide. So on the one hand you have Trump who kind of has lost the initiative, he can’t win it on the pandemic, he can’t win it on economic issues, so Liam’s exactly right, he plays the cultural wars card, ‘we’re going to beat the extremists, we’re going to beat the anarchists’, but that again is a tactic of division. I think on the other side what you have is effectively what we call [valance - 0:19:34] issues; issues where you can find a consensus which is beyond party, beyond ideology, which is where do you find personal security, where do you find the possibility that we’re going to come out of a very, very tough period in American history and I don’t know which way it goes. But I would say that whether the spectacle and the cultural wars win out or whether we actually see some type of consensus coming out of it, the most important election since 1860 – and the reason why I say there’s a bit of dawn here – for all the talk about division, all the talk about downturn, you have seen so many Americans been mobilised, coming up from the grassroots, from the day after the inauguration in 2017 with the women’s march to this summer’s marches, to the [0:20:17] marches regarding gun control and you have seen so many newcomers into politics who didn’t come in as politicians, they came in because of what they were seeing in their communities and that’s what gives me hope across that range of issues that Michell identified after November, if the election happens to go a certain way.
RM We could spend the rest of the event just talking about those sets of issues but we can’t. Let me bring this section to a close by just posing one further question to all of you and brief responses back if it’s all right. Is it all largely over and done with? Or put differently, can anything happen between now and the 3rd November in terms of domestic issues that would have a material impact on the election outcome? I’m not really thinking yes, a certain number of votes have already been cast in terms of postal votes, I’m just sort of thinking about things that might come in left stage to make a, you know, if a vaccine is discovered between now and 3rd November, does that materially change the race? Brief thoughts on that. Steve, I saw you take yourself off mute so it felt to me that you were coming in.
SB That’ll teach me! I do think yes, in the run-up, but I also think the election itself and there’s the obvious questions at the moment, the presidency is two scenarios for the election, and one is he wins and the other is it’s stolen from him. That in itself is going to play as an election issue as we near but I think we’re three weeks out, Robin, I think it’s only just starting now really. The key issue for me, and it’s a playback from 2016, is will the Democrats vote? If they come out to vote then that’s going to be an issue but is life going to be made difficult in certain locations, in certain jurisdictions, for people to come out and vote? I’ve just seen something flash up on my screen that that’s a militia threatening to kidnap the governor of Michigan. All of these security issues, all of these pre-election radical attempts by certain fractions on either side, that’s going to play and I think we’re going to hear more of this in the three weeks.
RM Very good. Well look, we’re going to come back to the days surrounding the election itself later on. Let me bring in Liam next, then I’ll come to Scott, then Michell for the final word. Liam.
LK I’ll be brief and say that of course anything can happen. With this presidency anything, anything can happen. I mean if you look away for a couple of days, you don’t know what the news is, you don’t know what’s important. It’s almost impossible to keep up. I know some Americans who are just exhausted. They just want to get beyond the election. I mean there’s a kind of overload, a stimulation with this presidency that I think excited many Americans for a period of time. I think they’ve hit a point of exhaustion for many of them, or to put it another way, this particular soap opera is losing its ratings and this is a president who has a great skill, you know, at keeping the show on the road. I think he’s lost that skill and I think that’s really significant and I think you saw that in the electoral debate with Jo Biden where he completely over-amplified the [0:24:02] performance. You go back and look at his performance against Hilary Clinton. Now some people called it creepy and maybe it was, but it was confident and it was calm. So I think Trump has changed over this period of time to some degree but I think that’s possibly because he sees power slipping away from him at this point in time. Now, many things can happen in the next four weeks. I think if we look at the polls today they show Joe Biden winning. The big issue we’re going to come back to later in this discussion is what if that is a narrow victory, then it gets chaotic.
RM Yeah. Quite. Scott.
SL I think you can expect the Trump camp with Trump’s political side-kick William Barr, the Attorney General, bringing out this farage of misinformation and exaggeration, claiming there’s a deep state coup against Trump in 2016. It’ll be called the [Durham - 0:24:59] Report. I think that will be played at Trump’s base, I don’t think it will go wider. More significantly the next economic report on the quarterly state of the economy is due out in mid-October; that’s just over a week away. If the economy has rebounded somewhat between July and September, it could help, but I really think there’s – never say never as Liam pointed out – but I really think we’re talking about two options for the Trump camp right now in terms of the play. I think the one is the hope that Trump somehow can connect with the American people, reverse what he did in the past week, ‘I understand what’s happening with Covid, I’ve learned from this’, I don’t think that’ll happen. So what’s left for them? Voter suppression. If they can suppress enough votes and they are actively trying to do it to keep it close, it’ll lay the groundwork then for the judicial challenge to the election.
RM OK. Again, we mustn’t stray too much to the day of the election itself because we’ll be talking about that subsequently, but Michell, the final word. Anything that you can..
MC Yeah, I’d really kind of reiterate what Liam and Scott have said and then add onto that. I think one of the aspects of this – well first of all, it is 2020 and 2020 has 2020’d to no degree, regardless of where you live and so there’s all kinds of things that could happen in the weeks coming up. But I think what really stands out are the ways in which I think misinformation, chaos, have really reined particularly in this campaign as a strategy, as a tactic. Thinking about what Liam says and thinking about the degree to which, like if that was a tactic that they used, then they miscalculated its effectiveness to some degree. Also I’m thinking about the ways in which amplifying the kind of panic of what people need to do and going out and so I kind of very much agree with Scott in that we’re going to see a kind of amplification of the anxieties and I can speak first hand as a person who has recently been purged from the voter roll and is actively trying to get myself reinstated, the fear is malarkey afoot! So yeah, there’s all kinds of things that are really going on that I think Americans, anyone who can vote, like we really have to be vigilant about that, regardless of what side you’re on, to make sure that you can exercise your franchise.
RM Michell, thanks. Wasn’t malarkey a Biden term from a previous vice-presidential debate?
RM I hope my history is in decent shape.
MC Absolutely right!
RM Yeah. So, I’m afraid we’re going to have to move on. Some terrific questions popping up in the chat bar. They are all being carefully curated by the vast team that we have behind us making sure that everything works well, so don’t worry if I’m not picking up your questions now, they’re very likely to reappear in the Q&A session at the end. It just gives us time to – ah, thank you Scott, he’s cleared up 2012, there we go. Let’s move on now, having done the state of the nation, the domestic policy as it were, let’s move onto the US and the world. Now, foreign policy understandably is often a backdrop to domestic issues, not just in US presidential elections but in a number of elections, but of course one thing that a global pandemic reminds us of is we’re more inter-connected than ever before. So, in thinking about the US’s place in the world, what issues do you think should feature in this election? I’m going to turn to Steve first for his thoughts on that.
SB I think if I can play the extension of ‘should’ and if I was in the president’s camp, I would actually try and go long on foreign policy because whether we like some of the things that have happened, if we go back to even as far back as 2014, Donald Trump the candidate was talking about China, he was talking about NATO, he was talking about Iran, he was talking about relations with Israel, he was talking about using those relations with Israel for the Middle East, and he was talking about the EU. If you have a look at his agenda, a lot of that he’s delivered. Now ‘deliver’ is again an elastic term, so if he was looking for quick ticks on the agenda of ‘what have I done over my years?’, trying to deflect away from Covid, I doubt whether that will happen because as you say, ‘all politics is local’ said Tip O’Neill and all local politics plays into the international space. I think what is interesting for me is, is the United States still the indispensable state? What is its standing in the world? Has it changed over the last four years? And the answer to that is yes. I think the real question there is, is this terminal or is it a short term glitch? So I think the issue that should play into the election is what is the US’s position in the world? For many years, Madeleine Albright used the expression, ‘the indispensable State’ and if it’s not the United States then is there an automatic assumption that it’s somebody else? And if that’s somebody else, well it’s obviously China, and I would take issue that China – China plays its own foreign policy games and if you really want to look at how domestic interests and domestic policies play, just have a look at Chinese foreign policy, and especially its policy to the literal States around China. So I think two issues that are bound to feature is – and Kamala Harris sort of played on it a little bit last night on the VP debate when she talked about relations and how we have a president now who seems more keen on emboldening and sort of enhancing the position of adversaries rather than respecting those of allies and in fact you could say there’s been instances – most certainly in Europe – where the president seems to have gone out of his way to demean and diminish those allies. So that relationship that Kamala Harris is talking about, that all plays to this central theme I think of the United States is the indispensable State and what comes after. My view is that in foreign policy terms especially, the international community – and this is after 30 years as a Diplomat – the international community has very, very short memories. What they’re going to be looking for is a president who is not throwing cutlery around at the presidential debate, is treating all interlocuters, be they Heads of State or whoever, with respect and is projecting the United States as the most significant economy in the world because whatever China may say, you know, the United States is still, as far as I’m concerned, primary economy, the dollar is still the currency of last resort. But can that be sustained? Is there an inevitability about the United States still being at that apex on the top step for four years to follow and thereafter? You asked, Robin, about the projection forward. Let’s look for eight to ten years down the line. So I think the United States position has changed in the world. It is no more indispensable but it is still the primary player. Selective amnesia and short term amnesia will play in relations, especially with countries in Europe, France especially I think I would single out. I won’t get into will Brexit play, with relations with the EU, the UK. No, I think the question of trade deals will and that’s a big issue obviously for the UK, but trade deals in the US and this election is a euphemism for China. So that’s what I think I would like to see. That’s what I think should play. The Middle East especially, it will be interesting to hear Scott’s views on that. I think the one lasting legacy of the Trump presidency is the genie’s out of the bottle in the Middle East now with the emboldening foreign policy and almost pol-mil – political military – security diplomacy stance of the Saudis, of the UAE, etc, etc. So I think things have changed. Some things will be short term, others will be lasting a little bit longer.
RM Just one further question then I’ll turn to Michell. The famous Lord Palmerston via Henry Kissinger distinction, you know, having no permanent allies and only have permanent interests. Has a more transactional approach by the US done permanent damage or are you saying that the diplomatic amnesia will kick in and that will all be forgotten when interests align?
SB I think it depends on the regions that we’re talking about and I think also about regional alliances. I think it’s been made very clear that the move is towards transactional foreign policy, which tends to lean much more towards bilateralism rather than regionalism of multilateralism. The president, again, has – and it is the president because he’s kind of eviscerated State and the other organs of foreign policy to the extent that it is transactional and it is seen through the singular prism of the president. I think it is transactional but a lot of what he says about the multilateral institutions, the UN, this is not the first time a president has taken the United States out of membership of the UN. It’s not the first time we’ve got a president who’s talking about NATO – maybe not to the same extent and not for the same reasons. So are these lasting? I really don’t think so. I think some of the Middle East, I think yes, this move towards bilateralism and regionalism, I think that’s going to be very very hard to row back, but relations with Germany, relations with France – I mean I think a big loser in this is going to be the UK, frankly. I mean we can come onto that later if you wish but I mean it doesn’t matter who is president next time, it’s going to be a really, really rough ride for the UK because a single issue for us right now, the ‘special relationship’ was in its guise the Churchillian phrase of 60, 70 years ago, that’s been out for three decades. There are key interests, especially in security, intelligence, military, defence, but it’s all about the trade deal for this government. That’s going to be a rough ride with either of those two.
RM Thanks Steve. Michell, your view as to whether foreign policy is going to feature at all and if it should what aspect do you think matters most?
MC I want to pick up on what Steve is saying. I think he made a really great point in terms of thinking about the kind of global position of the United States and the ways in which it has faltered. At the same time I think that most Americans are quite insular in that they’re more worried about domestic issues than I think they are foreign policy, but I think what they really care about is how America looks abroad and that’s now, it’s been compromised. We can’t claim that same prestige, we can’t claim that same exceptionalism. And if we are exceptional it’s in all the wrong ways and I think that’s coming through, so I think that that’s very much a part of it that interests me. I think particularly when I think about the UK and the US, particularly around social issues, they’ve historically served as a really interesting check on one another. If not a check then at least a mirror to hold up to see in terms of Americans judging their relations and caring about what Britain thinks of them in particular, as part of that historical relationship. I think you see less of that now. I’m really interested in this kind of tension, particularly with Trump in terms of thinking about the ‘Make America Great Again’, which is a slogan of isolationism and turning inwards at the same time that he is, you know, removing the US from certain global partnerships but at the same time inserting the United States in certain foreign matters. I think it’s a really strange kind of tension to kind of work your way through that, that I think makes the foreign elements more implicit. Like I don’t think they’re going to be explicit here but I think that there will be reverberations, they’ll be kind of like with the social issues, it echoes in certain places that I think are going to be worth playing attention to.
RM Let me just pick up on one aspect of that. So the view that the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ encapsulates a turning inwards, an isolationism, it’s not a million miles away from the slogan that Ronald Reagan used in 1980 and, you know, the period of the 80s showed the US really being the indispensable State in terms of the outcome of the Cold War. So it isn’t just the slogan, I presume, therefore?
MC Yeah, I think that there are lots of – I think that slogan, it’s a [0:39:39] for many different kinds of things. What’s interesting about that slogan, so there’s an author called Sarah Churchwell, she’s written a really great book about the history of those terms, and ‘Make America Great Again’ finds its kind of ideological meaning in the phrase ‘America First’ and I think that can manifest internationally in many different ways, but I think particularly coming out in 2016 and beyond when many people are thinking about what that means, I would imagine that for many Americans that’s a very insular looking kind of idea.
R Michell, thanks. Liam, if I can turn to you. Your view of the US in the world?
LK I agree with a lot of what I’ve heard. I thought that Steve painted a very compelling picture, a very broad one, and I think that Michell’s put her finger on some of the key terms around this as well. I mean you take this ‘America First’ again, I think it is quite an insular term, I don’t think it’s about going out to the world, it’s about presenting a sense of ‘well, there was a time when we had an America where we were better than we are now’. You can read that all kinds of ways of course, but it’s interesting that when Republicans are polled on the question, ‘well when was America great?’, they tend to come up with the 1950s and I think that’s quite telling. I won’t go into why but it’s a very different period from the present day. You cut off before the 1960s destroyed our country is the kind of narrative you’re hearing there. So that’s part of the cultural wars again if you like. But now, foreign policy, you brought up the question. The [0:41:22] about Steve’s picture is it wasn’t short term and we have to keep remembering that the presidency of Donald Trump is a four year presidency and the United States has been changing, or continued to change, before he arrived and after he goes and that includes foreign policy. America has been in what is called a ‘relative decline’ for at least 20, 30 years, probably since the end of the Cold War. A relative decline, it’s still the most powerful country in the world, economically and militarily, but relative to other countries, right? Sometimes referred to the ‘rise of the rest’. Or another way to put this is that America helped construct what we call the ’liberal world order’ in its own image after the Second World War. That liberal world order has been falling apart at least for 20 years and it’s now falling apart quite quickly. You see that by the eruption of populist authoritarian leadership, you see that by the surge in ethno-nationalism - in Europe, as well as elsewhere – and you know, so we could talk about Brexit in those terms if you would like to. But what I’m getting at there is that globalisation is on the back foot. That great belief system of the 1990s, President Clinton claimed it, he said ‘all our boats will rise’. Well, a lot of boats didn’t and there’s a lot of blowback that’s going on at the present time. So this is a long term change. The United States is going through a relative decline. Another way of saying that is if Joe Biden’s elected, there will not be a reset, that’s not going to happen. I don’t think there will be a trade deal resurrected between Europe and the United States, or the Pacific Trade Deal. I think the UK’s going to have its own issues about trying to do a deal with Biden, for all kinds of reasons. One of those is because Ireland might interrupt it. I can talk about that if you want me to but it might be unpopular! So there’s a range of issues here that I think the United States has to deal with and they’re not all about Donald Trump. These are big issues with a changing world that’s not changing in the image of the United States, and that is disruptive for the US. The last thing I’ll say on that is that it is important though to talk about presidents when you talk about the US because for better or worse, outside of the United States, people tend to see the US through the lens of the character of its president. So I do think that there will be a kind of upsurge of good feeling if president Trump leaves the stage.
RM Scott, let me turn to you. Disregard this altogether if you want to go in a different direction but the Middle East for various reasons is quite important to the US electorate but Steve did mention it in his overview, do you expect it to feature at all over the next three to four weeks? If foreign policy at all in the election will it be primarily China?
SL No, foreign policy is not going to make an appearance. The only reference to the Middle East was when Joe Biden said ‘inshallah’ to Trump in the first presidential debate and left Americans going ‘what was that?’. Beyond China bashing, which we’re going to get a bit more of, foreign policy is going to be off to the side. Coronavirus, the economy, social issues, the things we’ve already talked about, that’s going to hold the stage. I think what’s interesting, or what has been raised by all three panellists, is foreign policy is very, very important in terms of where it goes next and where we’ve come from and I’d like to work off that and probably make two points. In terms of where we’ve come from, I think building on Steve’s notion of what Trump has delivered, he’s delivered an awful lot of damage. Not maybe what he wanted to do but coming in and saying ‘we’re going to show the Chinese what to do’ has cost the American economy over $300bn and 1.7tn lost in stock market value because of tariffs and the effects on imports, as well as on sectors like agriculture. Going after Iran meant ripping up the safety net of the Iran nuclear deal, which might have been flawed but at least was a check really on confrontation there. North Korea has been an inconsistent policy of threatening military war and then having photo opps with Kim Jong Un which has left everybody scratching their heads. And I must be clear, this is not Trump, its his advisors. People like a guy name Peter Navarro if you want to look him up, Steven Millar, former advisor Steve Bannon, and these guys basically are like not just ‘we don’t need the European Union, we’re going to break the European Union’, which by the way, I’ll answer a Q&A, it’s one reason why they pushed for Boris Johnson to replace Theresa May and actually schemed for that from 2018. So you know, ‘Make America Great Again’ and there’s a comment which has raised this, what Michell was mentioning – or what you’ve mentioned most – when Ronald Reagan said ‘Make America Great Again’, he might have pulled the US out of UNSCO, he might have come in hard on some things he didn’t like, but it was still part of the international community. Think about the Reagan/Thatcher relationship for example and more broadly the Reagan/European relationship. When Donald Trump says ‘Make America Great Again’, it is blame the Chinese, blame the Mexicans, blame the Europeans, blame everybody. It’s a form of nativism actually. Now, where do we go after this? Starting point, if we have a change in administration, two things: one is you have to bring the adults into the room and instead of belittling the agencies, which has been the approach for the last few years because if the Trump inner circle feels it’s being crossed, it lashes out. It’s lashed out at the CIA, it’s lashed out at the National Security Council, it’s lashed out at even the military, or at least certain military commanders. It’s repairing the institutions, US with NATO, US partners in Asia, US with partners in terms of looking at where you go next in the Middle East, or in Africa for example. The US across the Western Hemisphere. So it’s a question of repairing networks and institutions and then I think the second point is something that Brett Brewin said to Liam and me for the next podcast on America Unfiltered – there, I got the plug in for us – which comes out tomorrow and Brett who was in the National Security Council, now a really really smart political analyst said ‘it’s going to have to be a United States that realises it’s no longer the case that the US leads and everyone follows’. With all respect to what Steve said about indispensable, indispensable doesn’t mean unilateral at the start and then everybody falls behind. It’s going to have to look for cooperative relationships because quite frankly, the balance of power has shifted around the world and whether that balance of power’s one tilted more towards confrontation, which Steve talked about with China, or towards cooperation, is going to be something that defines I don’t think only US foreign policy for the next generation, but the state of where we go altogether beyond the US.
RM We need to move on. I’ll just leave us all with the thought that whichever president emerges after the 3rd November, the challenges of dealing with China in the direction that it’s heading is going to be pretty significant. Quite what you do about intellectual property rights, symmetric access to markets, human rights, those are tricky things whether it’s Trump or Biden. We’re going to move onto the event of the election itself. Equal opportunities, does anybody have any other products or services that they want to advertise?
RM OK, good. Available at all good book-sellers near you. OK, the election itself. So here we are, it’s the morning of November 4th, what do we know? What will we know by Veterans Day? What will we know by Thanksgiving even? What exactly is that going to look like? What will we know and what will be happening? Liam, if I can turn to you first.
LK I wish I knew! I really wish I knew. I mean this is very speculative terrain to be in and it is possible we will be in terrain that America’s never been in before. That’s partly what I think you’re pointing at here isn’t it? Scott mentioned, and I think he’s right, that possibly the only playbook – and I’m not even sure it’s a playbook, he may have invented this – that’s left to Trump and his administration at the moment, staring electoral defeat in the face, which I think they are. Let me start again, the most important thing I have first to say is that if Joe Biden wins by a landslide, he wins, OK? I don’t think all those fears will come home to roost. But, he might not win by a landslide and if it’s narrow, I don’t think there’s any question, President Trump will absolutely contest the result and especially if it’s narrow in some of those mid-Western states – Pennsylvania would be a good example. So in preparation for that, and this is what Scott was alluding to, the president has been throwing lots of commentary out there for at least six months along the lines that postal votes are not safe, votes that come in by mail may not be safe, or it can take months and years to count them and we haven’t got time to do that. All of this has one purpose, it’s to sow confusion and to cast doubt on the electoral process itself. I think that’s fundamentally what he’s doing and I think that the Trump team is hoping that there’s enough of a window of opportunity around the 3rd and the 4th of November for them to say ‘look, we need to take legal action here’ or maybe even other forms of action as well. Now the dates are important and I made of those because I never remember them, so excuse me just very quickly here. What we’re going to have are three important dates and essentially we’re going to have three phases here. The states have until the 8th December to resolve all the disputes over the votes, OK? That’s number one. They then have another week until the 14th of December where the state selectors must cast their electoral college votes, OK? Now we can imagine a lot of contestation going on at this point in time. The next important date is the 6th January when congress should tally the votes in a joint session, OK? And then we get of course to the 20th of January. Is it possible that we could still be arguing about this come the 20th of January? Scott’s a better historian than I but the only election I think I recall where we got close was a long time ago in the 1870s and it was 1876 when I think it ran to about two days before the actual inaugural before they finally sorted it out. Could we go that far? Could we even go further? Or, to put it another way, in that long period – and that’s a long period for chaos to ensue – could we find that the decision is moving through the courts? Could it go as far as the Supreme Court? Has that ever happened before? Well of course it has in 2000 if we go back to Florida at a time when that decision to stop the counting was made by the Supreme Court. Is that an end to things then? Is it possible, as some fear, that Donald Trump is keen to get another supporter on that Supreme Court just in case? Well no, because in fact [Gore - 0:53:20] didn’t take an option, which Biden may if it comes to that, and that’s to go back to congress because at the end of the day, congress is responsible for counting the electoral vote. In other words, we have never been there before. It could happen. It’s very disturbing, not because it’s uncertain but because I think it’s deeply damaging to American democracy.
RM Scott, I’m going to give you 90 seconds on this. I blame the chair that we’re overrunning and we have some fantastic questions lined up, so if I can give you a quick 90 second spurt on this, then we’ll move to Q&A.
SL Well I think Liam summed it up brilliantly. But just to amplify, what you’re looking at is there are thirteen states that are in play – the so-called ‘swing states’. That’s actually more than we normally have in an election. Biden needs six of those states to win a majority in the electoral college; Trump would need to win eight. Right now Biden is a head in ten, two are toss-ups and Trump is ahead in only one, which is Georgia and that lead is slipping away. So there has been the possibility that we’re moving towards a Biden landslide and I think we would probably define that as 400 out of the 538 electoral votes with a margin of say maybe 8-10% in the popular vote. That would mean that cuts the Republicans in the Senate off away from Trump. They will not continue to be co-dependent with him, but the second thing to watch beyond that, beyond if the election is narrower possibly because of voter suppression, possibly because genuinely the margins are only 1-2% in some of these states, is the senate races Remember that the Republicans only have a 53-47 majority right now. Based on current projections – and I emphasise ‘current’ – the Democrats could take four seats which gives them a slightly narrow majority. Even if it’s only a slightly narrow 51-49 majority, that’s a mood shift. Does Trump defy what will be an incoming majority Democratic senate as well as a Democratic House because they will increase their majority there, you know, which is already notable. That’s what we’re looking at and I just reinforce what Liam said in the scenarios which is we ain’t been here before, folks, so we could be having webinars like this all the way through January.
RM Well, at least there would be a silver lining to this; you’d get more webinars. So look, Michell, Steve, forgive me for not bringing you in on this one but I think it’s going to feature in the Q&A as well so you’ll get a bite at the cherry.
Q&A Session Starts
RM Jenny, if you’re able, just to give you notice, I think it would be rather nice at this point to bring in Luke Hawkridge in New York for Luke to ask his question which I think is directly related to this, particularly the mail voting. Luke, are you able to pose your question?
LH Can you hear me first of all?
RM You are coming through, yeah, that’s terrific.
LH Brilliant. Well first off, thank you for a very engaging discussion, it’s been really thought provoking and I think the question I had touches upon the points that were just discussed. I think historically, and me myself not being able to vote in the US from what I understand, election night has been a big night, particularly for the news networks here in the States and they’ve roughly in the middle of the morning have come to a decision of this is who the winner of the election is going to be. Everyone’s adjusting to the prospect that that’s probably not going to happen this year because of postal voting. It looks like potentially 100 million people may opt to vote via postal voting with a preference of that leaning more towards the Democratic voters and with Republican voters perhaps doing it more in person. It could be days, weeks, potentially longer, and I just wondered if you could talk about what the impact of that will be. You have just mentioned the electoral college which is a little bit unique and not something we have a parallel in the UK, but there’s been a lot of talk that there could be an initial appearance that perhaps Trump wins which then could subsequently change in the days and weeks and how that might look, particularly if there are any sort of Supreme Court challenges.
RM Luke, thanks very much for that question. Steve, I wonder do you have any reaction to Luke’s question?
SB I think it’s a really interesting point and I think Florida comes to play straight away but some of the other southern states, if it’s announced too early and the president – and that’s who we’re talking about – claims victory, that’s going to add another dynamic to what Liam was talking about. So I’d love to give you a straight answer, Luke, but I’m not sure I can; I defer to those with much more constitutional knowledge of the US than me, but there are many many issues at play here and I think Liam and Scott just said it perfectly, what happens if there’s an early announcement?
SL If I could jump in. I mean one thing to watch – and forgive me for getting totally geeky here – but because the states vary in their regulations, for example Florida’s voting actually I think closes tonight after it was extended for 24 hours after a complete foul-up. Now that means they can probably count their ballots well before November 3rd. Whether the Trump allied governor, Ronda Santas, the governor, plays fair with that vote is a different question. But we should know where Florida’s going to go; it shouldn’t be like 2000 there. It’s the states that allow the count of the votes to occur after November 3rd and already the Democrats have pushed back Trump challenges to count the votes in Pennsylvania and Michigan – two key states that we’re talking about. So your scenario is if Trump is ahead by say 1-2% on election night with those mail-in ballots to come, does he come in and declare himself ‘I’m the victor, we can stop it right now’ and I think there the person I’m going to be watching at that point is going to be Mitch McConnell who is the senate majority leader. Mitch McConnell has been Trump’s protector for three and a half years but McConnell’s going to have a choice now and that is a choice between Trump and really the American system because, let me add the other thing, almost every American agency is going to be lined up against Trump when this happens and that includes quietly the military because there are very few career officials around Trump now because he’s fired them all. It’s pretty much himself and his family and what you’re going to see is not just simply Trump versus the Democrats, Trump versus congress, you’re going to see Trump versus the entire American system if he makes that play on November 3rd if it’s close. He’s a gambler, he’ll do it. I have no doubt that he will do it. It’s just we just don’t know how everyone’s going to react, that’s where the kaleidoscope comes in.
RM Professor Lucas, you’ve had your two minutes so I’m going to move us on. But Luke, thank you ever so much for that question. Forgive me, I’m going to move on because it would be good to try and get in as many questions as possible. I’m going to combine a couple of questions. I know we said that this webinar would run up to 4th November. Liam has already said it could take us well into January under certain scenarios, so let’s look ahead a little bit. Combining two questions, one from Jeffrey Cox who’s down in Florida, the future of US politics if Biden wins, and one that’s come up in the chat, the future of US politics if Trump is re-elected. So the challenge is to be brief so one or two statements for both of those scenarios. Jeffrey’s particularly interested in will the Democrats increase the size of the Supreme Court, abolish the [philibuster - 1:01:58], increase the number of states? The question from John, if Trump is re-elected, what’s the Trump stamp going to look like? What’s he going to do in the second term that he may not have achieved in the first? Michell, do you want to go first on that? Just keep it as short as you can, one or two points on either side of the ledger.
MC Yeah, so thinking about court packing, which is what this will look like, it didn’t really go that well for FDR when he tried it in the 1930s. This was a big ideological backlash and so for the Democrats to pick that up I think would be somewhat – it wouldn’t really put them in a good light and so I think that that’s very unlikely. You do though have some – we’re losing our older justices as well so it really does lose the opportunity for that, but I think you might see movement if you’re worried about the courts, on the lower levels. So we might not be seeing the same types of cases working their way up to the Supreme Court if we had a more Democrat-leaning judicial system in the whole, would be my answer.
RM And a Trump second term, what do you think would be the emphasis there? What’s your prediction?
MC In his second term I think it would be about immigration, I think it’s going to be about the economy, I think it’s going to be about Obamacare. I think really when Kamala Harris was thinking about those kind of social issues and she said ‘they’re coming for you’, I think that was pretty apt. Those are the types of things that he wants to leave as his legacy to undo. If you think about the kind of first bit of his term it was really about undoing a lot of those kind of lasting, the things that really Obama had put in place. He really saw himself as undoing them, but yeah.
RM Michell, thanks. I’m not going to bring everybody in on this although I can imagine everybody would like to come in, but I’m going to just ask Liam, a couple of points of focus for Biden, a couple of points of focus for Trump.
LK If Trump loses I don’t think he will bring down the tent and leave the state entirely. In fact I think the Trump show will continue and it will continue in one of two ways: one way it will continue is that he will create a new party and that he will try to seize the right wing of American politics from the Republicans, who will be in disarray at that point in time. I think the other possibility – and these are not mutually exclusive, he may do both – the other rumoured possibility to keep the Trump show alive is that he will create his own media television platform to rival Fox News. That’s something he talked about if he lost the last election in 2016 by the way. So I think both of those are possibilities because I don’t think he’s going to disappear, and with either of those possibilities he will remain a force in American political culture. He may not be president but he will remain a force and I think a very damaging one in many ways because what for many Americans I think is an issue here is, to put it bluntly, liberal democracy as we’ve known it. Trump has taken a wrecking ball to some of the institutions and processes about democracy. We have discovered it was weaker than we thought. We have discovered a lot of it worked on convention and trust. There’s an awful lot of rebuilding that has to be done in that regard. Quickly then if Biden comes along, I think that Joe Biden is not the future for America. I think he’s a holding card until the Democratic party can sought out its leadership and its future. That may be Kamala Harris. I think the Democratic party is holding together to get over the line at the moment. There’s a lot of tensions in that party, a lot of disagreements. I think that those will surface, whether they win or lose. Even if they win I think those will surface and you will have a struggle for power within that party as well.
RM Liam, interesting. Your observation about setting up an alternative to Fox News leads on, I hope not too unnaturally, to a question that Paul in California has put to us and I’m going to come to Steve, and especially Scott given his journalism background, on this. Paul’s exact question is how can we as consumers of information best counter misinformation, toxic narratives and fake news? I must say, hopefully it’s not just me, I found it very difficult to get a reliable, objective assessment of the situation in the US. You have to go hunting round an awful lot of different sources in order to balance out the different perspectives. So what do we do to get the best information that we possibly can? I’ll start with Steve.
SB I think you go international because I think to be honest, a lot of – if you look at the FT, if you have a look at some of the other international media, you’re likely to get a more balanced perspective. Even then it will still favour one side or the other; I think it’s inevitable. It’s really, really hard. I mean I lived in the US for seven or eight years, I found it very very difficult to find an unbalanced narrative – sorry, a balanced narrative – and you kind of choose your flavour. So in the end I refused to watch any of the major networks and I just stuck to my old favourites on the international scene. But it’s a really, really good question and I don’t think there’s a simple answer.
RM Scott, your view?
SL Gosh, Liam and I, how long have we worked – it’s something like thirty years we’ve worked on this for students, right, first in Birmingham and Dublin. Media’s changed a lot since then but I think the fundamental is – my kids would hate me for saying this – it’s stay woke and by that I mean there’s a form of literacy that we have when we work on our community levels if you think about it and that is if we want to know when the rubbish is going to be picked up, we find an agency that knows when the rubbish is going to be picked up. If we want to know about what our healthcare is going to be, we find out about local hospitals or local doctors in the area. The problem with it on a big scale of course is there’s so much coming at us and there’s so much of a barrage, how do you know what’s reliable or what’s not? You establish networks of those who are reliable. If you don’t know the answer, you go to them. If they don’t know the answer, you work for it and you don’t just jump to a Fox or to a CNN or to another outlet. God knows, don’t go to [Bright .. - 1:08:38] to try to get what’s happening. In other words, you stay away from the spectacle. You still might not find the answers immediately but let me give you one potent example. There’s a lot of disinformation, misinformation out there on Covid. I know you’re surprised about that but at the end of the day, if you go to the experts who are there, the epidemiologists, the virologists, or if you go to someone like an Anthony Fauci, if you go to some of the advisors that are here in the UK, you can get a map of what is happening in terms of what’s happening with Covid without falling into the conspiracy theories, without falling into the false narratives such as lockdown versus no lockdown. It takes effort, but I think a lot of people spend a lot of time just jumping and grabbing the soundbites and if you just push that to the side like Steve just said and really begin to rely upon community networks and build out from there, that’s a starting point which means if this election is hung up, go back to the basics – what is the electoral college? What is the Supreme Court? What’s the congress like? – and do not go for the headlines on any of the major networks for the next 24 hours who tell you ‘this is the way it definitely is going to be’.
RM I thought you were all impressively disciplined in not promoting your own channels there as the source of all knowledge and truth, so well done.
SL It’ll be in the chat box!
RM Let’s move on, acknowledging that we can never do any of these excellent questions full justice but hopefully just give a flavour of some responses. Here’s one from Ian Weals in France. I think we have touched on this but it would be good just to see if we can go in a little bit more depth. Will the US presidential senate and congressional election results influence the sense of a deficit in global political leadership, for example climate change? Anybody keen to go first on that?
RM I’m going to choose somebody in a moment. Scott, go on, you’ve leaned forward.
SL OK. Again I think one of the important things for me just watching the American system that can kind of get lost is again, we’ve just been talking about the headlines and if you go with the headlines that Donald Trump is a climate change denier, which he is, if you go with the headlines which are very superficial about what a Green New Deal is and trust me, last night’s Vice Presidential debate just completely mangled what it is, you wind up kind of despairing. But, if you start with the basics on this, and that is if you’re looking at the local and the state level, there is more recognition of what climate change means because that’s where it’s being affected. Take California for example, the fifth largest economy in the world and with that, facing the huge amount of environmental damage can affect an economy, you see some of the most progressive policies within the United States. Now the federal government under Trump has tried to challenge and rip that apart but it’s there. I think the problem is that climate change is a very complex issue so it’s not necessarily one that grabs the headlines, but as a day to day lived experience, as the weather becomes more extreme, as you get conditions that are affecting economic livelihoods, it’s going to come out there and I think you will see a shift in America which is as more businesses find an investment in joining with the movement for environmental protection, because you can do that and build the economy, then the Green New Deal doesn’t become this whipping boy for certain factions on the right, it becomes a framework to start to talk about what we can all do together and cross that left-right span.
SB I agree with all of that but I think we’ll also see the rise of cities, and cities will start playing a more major role in that global issue debate. As the international political agenda moves away from the regional and the multilateral institutions towards the bilateral, it’s going to get mired and I think cities, as we’re already starting to see them, will start playing a much, much more resonant and important role in issues such as climate change – and others in the social agenda, including I think maybe race, as I think it’s going to get so difficult for governments to know how to deal with it. So I think watch the rise of cities in that international big-ticket agenda.
RM Very interesting. Jenny, I wonder if we could bring in next please Joe McDowell who’s based in Birmingham. Joe.
JM Hello. Can you hear me OK?
RM Yeah, you’re coming through loud and clear.
JM Wonderful. So I think my question plays to some of the points that have been raised throughout the evening but obviously constitutionally, and particularly actually by what Liam said earlier, presidents can hold office obviously for two terms under the constitution. Given the dominance that he holds over the party and particularly that kind of right edge of the Republican party at the moment with evangelicals and particularly white non-college educated men, the lack of any real natural successor other than perhaps Mike Pence and the fact that he will only be the age Biden is now in 2024, if he loses do you think that Donald Trump could run again in the next election as a presidential candidate whether for the GOP or for his own independent party?
RM Joe, thanks. And bearing in mind that Trump would be only a year older than Joe Biden currently is in 2024. Liam, would you care to offer a view?
LK Again, it’s possible, right? Rule very little out with this particular individual, but I think it’s unlikely that he would himself. I think that he may have the desire to do so. I think it is likely if the cards fall the way he would them to fall, that it might be one of his offspring who steps into that space. He is mooted this before, this is not a new idea. I think he likes the idea of a dynasty which, you know, America’s had a few political dynasties, it’s not a new idea. I think that that is possibly more where he would go, but in terms of thinking of a leader who comes forward in his mould, it’s actually quite difficult to do. There are some, as it were, wannabe Trumps – mini-me Trumps if you like – inside the Republican party but I don’t think any of them has the cache, the charisma or the support to quite step into that position. So what follows the Trump space is a really interesting question. I’ll just leave you with one really other interesting question – I don’t have an answer for it but I think it’s important – and that’s to think about is there such a thing as ‘Trumpism’? In other words, does he leave a political ideology that’s going to be important? Think of Thatcher and Thatcherism, right? So after Thatcher, what she had let out there was a way of seeing Britain and a way of seeing the world that influenced a generation of politicians. Is that going to happen? I’m not sure it will influence a generation of the politicians currently in place but it could influence a lot of a new generation to come forward and who knows where that could take us?
RM Michell, do you have any thoughts on Trump 2024?
MC Yeah, I completely agree with Liam. I think it’s going to be one of the kids. I think it’s going to be Ivanka. I don’t think he’d put Don Junior – the other one up there – Eric. But no, I think that dynasty kind of idea, I think that’s very important to him. I think in terms of thinking about like that Trumpism, I think that that’s a really brilliant kind of point that you make, Liam, in thinking about the way in which – part of the appeal of it, at least to my mind, is its kind of illegibility, the ways in which it’s hard to very much pin it down, and so I think to the degree that there is a Trumpism, it’s the ways in which it’s kind of sown this doubt into the functionality of core American institutions in some ways. And so I think even – and I agree with you on the point about influence – but I think it will impact everyone kind of coming forward in ways that I think we haven’t even begun to reckon with.
RM Very good. We’re very short of time, we’ve got about two minutes to answer this colossal question that I’m about to put to the panel so I’m going to force you to give little more than yes/no answers – or as close to that as you can get. You know who I’m talking to when I say that. Is the Democratic process in the US fatally wounded by everything that we’ve been experiencing or has it got an underlying strength that can continue beyond this kind of what we’ve been describing as the cultural wars, tribalism, factionalism? If I can ask Steve to go first on that.
SB I’ll answer that in three weeks, three months and three years. I don’t think so but I’ll answer it especially in three weeks.
RM OK. Fair enough. Liam, your view?
LK I don’t think it’s fatal but I think it’s very seriously wounded. I don’t think you can put the genie back in the bottle – that‘s not just a reference to Trump. Trump represents a lot of underlying changes in the United States which really explain the division, which really explain the hyper-partisanship and the hyper-polarisation. That doesn’t disappear in a matter of weeks. It may not disappear fully at all. I think America’s changed.
SL The dark before the dawn. If we survive this election and go forward, there are huge issues that everybody’s pointed out there and there are those who will continue to try to exploit the rift - Nicky Haley for GOP candidate in 2024 by the way – but at the same time what you have seen is that in periods of crisis people will stand up, people will try to find ways of building up through communities. The 1960s was a great time of crisis in the United States and you saw people rise up and say there had to be a better way. We then went through a dark period in the 1970s which came forward, arguably lasted through the 1980s, but there were still movements that kept us advancing, kept us moving on. We went through the turmoil of the George W Bush years – not just 9/11, just the damage that was wrought through the country there – and we did have that not just a flicker, we saw what could be done in terms of not just Barack Obama in the White House, which I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, an African- American in the White House in my lifetime. But actually the movement that was around that. Now that has been checked by Trump and by the spectacle but it has shown people what can be done and you have had those margins in the past four years and you’ve had people who have marched at great sacrifice and you have seen it this summer again and so for all the polarisation up top, the media polarisation, the political polarisation, at the end of the day there’s still an American community, there’s still American values, which doesn’t mean we should always hold up America as the icon but the idea that people that live in America can come together and make their own key moments together. Yeah, I’m still hopeful.
RM Michell, I’ve saved you till last because you’re trying to get your vote back so I’m wondering if that implies that you still have hope in the Democratic process.
MC That’s a really good question. I hate to be cynical, I’m going to get my vote back. I’m going to vote. But at the same time I feel that the kind of democratic process has been [1:21:24]. I feel that the idea of democracy has been threatened and I think what’s interesting to me and most compelling is that that interrogation isn’t just coming from the actions of a particular party but it’s coming from this re-imagining of what America is and what it stands for. So for example, I teach a module here called ‘1619’, which is based on the New York Times magazine 1619 project which re-imagines the founding of America, not in 1776 but in 1619 with the first arrival of slave people in Jamestown. The core argument of 1619, which is why Trump has established the 1776 Project, is that democracy was never as sound as we thought to begin with and so I think that that’s one of the most interesting things at this moment, that we’re having to re-interrogate all of these things that we thought we knew, we thought we could hold as certain, and that interrogation of democracy and what it means is coming from all sides, which I find, I think, to be – I actually don’t really know what to take from that at that moment, except that I know that it’s happening.
RM Michell, thank you. There are many, many questions that we haven’t been able to touch, never mind do justice to. We’re going to look at how we can find a way to provide further responses to those questions once the webinar is finished, so we’ll be in touch to let you know how we’re going to go about that. Thank you to everyone who’s submitted questions. Apologies to those who we didn’t manage to get to but as I say, we’ll find a way to give our thoughts on all of that. What we’d like to do as I mentioned is run the poll again, so I’m going to ask Jenny to put the poll up and we’ll see whether anybody’s mind has been changed. So the same four, we’re not expanding them just for comparability. So make your choice and then Jenny will decide when to show us the results. Unfortunately the panellists and I cannot vote so we’re entirely in your hands. Well, we started off if you recall that Covid-19 was in the lead at 36; that’s dropped down to 27. All of my efforts to persuade you that the economy really mattered clearly were effective but in the wrong direction, so the economy has done even worse – thank you, folks. It’s a good job I wasn’t on the panel, I was just chairing. But clearly over the course of the discussion it’s the power of personality which previously was anyway second but that’s gone very much to the front of the pack. Social unrest has come up but clearly it’s the impact that a particular president has had on the politics and the context of the US that has left an impression during this discussion. Let me finish by thanking our panellists. Thank you all for contributing so thoughtfully, so provocatively and in such a well-informed way. Thank you to everyone who’s attended, it’s been a terrific attendance, it’s been a real pleasure having you on and having you engage. If you’ve enjoyed tonight’s event, or today’s event, especially if you were eager to get more involved in the discussions, then our next event in this series is going to take place on the 28th of October. We’ll have an update from Scott on any further election developments and then we’re going to really test the technology and break out into small group conversations. Each group will discuss a specific election issue and will be led by a Birmingham academic and you’ll be able to select if you want to participate, your preferred group in advance. So if that sounds like the sort of thing that you’re interested in, registrations are open now. I think if you look in the chat bar Jenny has posted up a link to the event. I encourage you to head there almost straight away – not quite before I’ve finished closing the event but as soon as I’ve stopped, get over there as soon as you can because numbers will be limited. But I do hope you’re able to join us for that event. Thanks again and I look forward to seeing lots of you on the 28th. Thanks everyone.