In Any Normal Election Campaign

The requirements of political success haven’t changed so drastically that unelectability and disqualifying behaviour have been completely redefined. These aren’t normal times.


Lisa Van Dusen/For The Hill Times

September 17, 2020

To lead with an exotic platitude in a time of perpetual hyperbole: election campaigns contain surprises.

Twelve years ago this week, on Sept. 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the first domino in a financial cataclysm that set the trajectory for the remaining six weeks of the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain.

As the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign enters its crucial final weeks, it’s hard to imagine what could similarly upend this race, given the pre-existing horror show of an impeached, performative-lunatic incumbent campaigning on a record of mismanaging a deadly pandemic to genocidal proportions and generally acting as though the presidency of the United States is a proxy vendetta against America on behalf of an evil, Marvel Comics world domination plot… who is still polling above 40 per cent.

Clearly, this is not a normal election and these are not normal times. The normalization of abnormality has become a huge political commodity because it recalibrates human expectations to accommodate any outcome. So, for the sake of argument, let’s spend a few hundred words defying that destructive trend and treat this like a normal campaign.

On the (normally) core electability question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”: At this writing, 194,107 Americans can’t answer that question because they’ve died on Donald Trump’s watch in the most extreme democracy-discrediting example in an Amazon rainforest-burningBrexit-perpetratingfear-and-loathing amplifying series of new world order democracy-discrediting operations of the past five years.

On the (normally) core electability question of trust, Trump has lied more than 20,000 times (as of July… a count that apparently needs updating) since his inauguration, effectively forfeiting—by normal, uncorrupted standards—the all-important trust issue to his opponent. In absolutely no uncorrupted political context would it make sense for such behaviour to not be disqualifying unless the rival candidate were also deeply untrustworthy, which Joe Biden is not.

Former vice-president Joe Biden, pictured at a first ministers meeting in Canada on Dec. 8, 2016, is the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential candidate. The Hill Times file photograph

On the (normally) core electability question of competence, Trump has mismanaged—wilfully, based on Bob Woodward’s reporting—a deadly pandemic and compounded that mismanagement with frequent excursions into disinformation and contagion acceleration just in case anyone might mistake his incompetence for “heck of a job Brownie” haplessness rather than misanthropic, tactical cynicism.

On the more specific (normally) core electability question of economic competence, Trump has used his Twitter account to impact stock market outcomes and used coercive trade tactics ostensibly to benefit America that have redounded to the advantage of its competitors. He has, again, mismanaged a pandemic whose economic impact cannonballed U.S. second quarter GDP by an unprecedented 9.5 per cent and an equally unprecedented annualized 32.9 per cent. Recent job numbers have been relatively positive but at an apparent cost, especially in the absence of universal health care, of 1,000 lives lost to COVID-19 per day.

California Senator Kamala Harris, pictured at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People, is Mr. Biden’s 2020 running mate. Photograph courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore

On the (normally) core electability question of character, see the previous 400 words. This election is not 2016. It’s not the lesser-of-two-evils, no-good-option choice the polls back then—when polls still seemed connected to reality—repeatedly registered as a voter-repelling dumpster fire. Americans have known Biden for decades, including for eight years as vice president in an administration untainted by scandal and undistracted by a single indictment. He and Kamala Harris present a rational, smart, competent, sane, principled alternative to a hellish status quo.

During the 2012 election campaign that produced a second majority for Biden and Obama, and the first back-to-back majorities since Dwight Eisenhower’s re-election in 1956, one of Biden’s stump speech applause lines was: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” to sum up the administration’s national security and economic competence. Tragically, the 2020 Trumpian version of that line is: “200,000 people are dead and chaos is thriving.”

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.