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US Stuck Between Joe Biden And Donald Trump

01.04.2024 14:42

The presidential candidates American voters will choose between in November provide the impression of a society well into its senescence.

"An agéd man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick…".[1]

One would assume that, from a population in excess of 330 million people, two new, younger, reasonably competent candidates would percolate to the top.

But four years after the 2020 United States presidential contest, which featured the oldest election day Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in US history, we are stuck with the same two candidates.[2] One is now an octogenarian who frequently experiences "senior moments," and sometimes seems to have difficulty simply standing upright; the other, who would become an octogenarian in office were he to be elected, now spends much of his time in court fending off criminal charges, legal challenges, convictions, and fines, and could conceivably be in prison come election day.

Yet they were, even before the presidential primaries began, clearly the candidates that those 330 million people would be forced to choose between in November. This is the state that American democracy, which once prided itself on youth and vigor, has descended to.

-No one else?

Four years ago when Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump, the widespread assumption was that he would serve only one term, and that his Vice President, Kamala Harris, was the anointed heir.[3] Within a year, however, Harris's gaffes[4] and inability to gain media traction smothered her potential. None of the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates decided to challenge Biden's repeat candidacy, and no other high profile Democratic candidate emerged since the 2020 election.

As for the Republican Party, Trump used the past three years to solidify his control over the party.[5] The various legal proceedings launched against him after the January 6, 2021 events at the Capitol building have predictably served only to enrage his political base and enable him to pose as a victim, widening the sympathy felt for him in US society. The remaining moderate and anti-Trump Republicans tried to promote former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as an alternative presidential candidate.[6] The presidential primary elections held in January and February of this year immediately exposed Haley's lack of broad electoral support, bringing her candidacy to an abrupt end.

Subsequently, if the election were held today, most polls indicate that Trump would comfortably defeat Biden, who won the 2020 election by 7 million votes.[7]

-How did we get here?

For 200 years, US politics has been dominated by two parties, and political scientists have produced many volumes analyzing why the US political system maintains this character. But the Republican Party's current state can be traced back to the 1920s when it allied itself with finance and business, allowing the Democratic Party to take ownership of almost all important social issues in the 1930s and '40s. Since then, Republicans have had to appeal to cultural (including racial) or religious issues to maintain mass appeal amongst American society's conservative segments.

The Democrats continued to own most social issues until the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s forced them to field more mediagenic candidates who did not frighten Wall Street or liberal businesspeople that development gave us two-term President Bill Clinton and eventual Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose circle has dominated the Democratic Party since the 1990s.

-Fragmented parties

The above historical trends have brought both of the major US political parties to an episode of severe turbulence. Trump now effectively controls the Republican Party, and may even use it not just to provide campaign funds, but even to foot his legal bills.[8] Fealty to Trump is now a litmus test for Republican Party candidates nationwide.

The Democratic Party is divided between the Clinton-Biden-Obama power center and an energetic younger generation that prefers more progressive stances, especially on issues such as individual identities or the ongoing conflict in Gaza.[9] On the other hand, US politics requires appeals to the broadest common denominator, not just to garner votes, but to win the donations needed to purchase the media exposure essential to modern political campaigns. Instead of finding common ground, the Democratic Party's generational blocs have grown more mutually combative, making cooperation difficult. That, in turn, affected candidate promotion and fundraising. Kamala Harris's implosion left Biden as the Democratic Party leadership's candidate because no other Democratic Party politician has Biden's broad appeal or name recognition. Currently, the Biden campaign has a cash advantage over Trump's campaign even though Biden trails in most polling.

The end result is that the control Trump's insurgents have over his party, and the Democratic Party's internal schisms, have forced a replay of the 2020 presidential election.

Yeats's famous poem, cited above, could have been referring to US society when it begins, "that is no country for old men." But the presidential candidates American voters will choose between in November provide the impression of a society well into its senescence.

[1] W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium."

[2] The only presidential candidates in US history older than Biden and Trump were either from extremely small parties or withdrew from the campaign during or after the primaries.

[3] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/analysis-and-now-for-the-biden-era/2061848

[4] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-vice-president-to-migrants-do-not-come-do-not-come/2266643. The New York Times even took time to defend Harris last summer, to no avail: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/06/magazine/vice-president-gaffes.html.

[5] https://www.politico.com/news/2024/03/11/bloodbath-at-rnc-trump-team-slashes-staff-at-committee-00146368

[6] At one point, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was also seen as a possible candidate, but his own political problems undermined his presidential hopes. By the time the primaries began, Haley was understood as a stronger candidate than DeSantis.

[7] https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/president-general/

[8] https://apnews.com/article/trump-campaign-fundraising-rnc-c0e8f1e7b59f70c5237e13a3462e5790

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/19/us/politics/biden-donors.html

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu. -

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