A strong biblical element is emerging in the US presidential elections. First, fire: much of the northern West Coast is being blitzed by wild fires. Then, water: southern states, notably Alabama and Florida, have been battered and flooded by hurricanes. And now Americans wait for the plague, to exacerbate the devastating effects of Covid-19.
Its arrival can’t be far off with the elections only six weeks away. According to an average of the polls, Democrat hopeful Joe Biden holds a clear lead over President Donald Trump, especially in the crucial Midwest and old industrial states which Trump stormed in 2016. The president is a strong late finisher and he is nibbling away at the former vice president’s lead.
He can no longer use the US economy (now seriously Covid-19-damaged) as his primary claim for re-election and is seeking new targets. One is the white electorate in the key states. He warns a Democrat administration would “defund the police” (which Biden says he wouldn’t do) which would lead to a further decline in social order. Across the US, law-enforcement agencies are under heavy scrutiny since Afro-American George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
This triggered nation-wide demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement. Several police chiefs have resigned or been forced out. Many cities have cut police budgets as tax revenues fell under the Coronavirus pandemic, along with pressure to “defund the police” from community groups.
Take New York. While many activists and elected officials called for a $US1bn cut in the police budget, this was scaled down and city funding for the NYPD is projected to decline by only $US282m from $US10.5bnn to $10.2bn between fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The operating budget will decrease by $US345m, or 6.6% from $US5.2bn in fiscal year 2020 to $US4.9bn in fiscal year 2021.
Trump makes the point that in many of the most-affected cities such as New York and Portland, Oregon, city governments are Democrat controlled. He uses community perceptions of rising crime. Is this so? According to the US Justice Department, in 2020 murder has been up but other crimes have declined which means the overall crime rate is down.
Violent crime has trended downwards over the last 30 years. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the rate of violent crimes per 1,000 Americans age 12 and older declined from 80 in 1993 to just 23 in 2018.
Biden has yet to make a convincing case that the Democrats won’t touch police spending or introduce national reform to police training and standards. These are matters for city, town and regional governments.
Again, many are controlled by the Democrats who are often funded by powerful police unions which negotiate conditions including wiping references to misdemeanours.
Trump has found a new target. In a speech last week he argued how “liberal and leftish” elements were reshaping US history. Freedom-loving Americans rightfully venerated and defended the Constitution, he said. Americans must remain cognizant that there are those in society who wished to tear down institutions and threaten sacred constitutional freedoms.
Radical groups attacked monuments honouring the unrivalled contributions the Founding Fathers made to human freedom. These groups and individuals are attempting to topple constitutional law and order, “the very foundation of self-government by attacking the Constitution and the integrity of national heroes, falsely decrying the country and its institutions as evil and unjust”.
Now he has signed an Executive Order on “Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues, and Combating Recent Criminal Violence, ensuring that anarchy and base criminal acts will no longer tarnish memorials built to honour the heroes who have served the country and defended the Constitution.”
The three presidential debates, beginning September 29, may produce a clearer picture. Trump reckons he will dominate. He’s a powerful speaker even though his content can be less than factual (the Washington Post has counted some 20,000 “misstatements of fact” since he took office).
Biden is best on the hustings but in public he is a middling, waffling speaker at best which is challenging for his campaign team. On the other hand, his 47 years in national politics suggests he knows a thing or two about campaigning – and possibly plagues.