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The Brazilian anti- presidentialism regime

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More than a hundred days have passed since the inauguration of the sixth elected President of the re democratization period in Brazil, Mr. Jair Bolsonaro. Time enough to observe that a few words of this first sentence appear not to fit together in the current governmental term, namely, “President”, “redemocratization”, and “Jair Bolsonaro”. In this brief article, I explain how those words are being settled apart, through an overview of what has been at the center of media and academic debates. Then, I show what has been the most problematic aspect of those debates, and how they are, consequently, reinforcing the Government’s strategy of resignifying Brazil’s history and reality. Finally, I define what I have termed anti-presidentialist regime, erected upon such strategy which, I argue, is the concluding part of the project presented to the population by the Legislative and Judiciary in 2016, with Dilma Rousseff`s impeachment. My intention here is not to assemble what several political scientists, journalists, economists, and also the political opposition have been expressing to the local and international presses. Instead, I aim to make sense of a broader change regarding the way Brazilians became to recognize themselves: how is such a shift taking place, who is it favoring, and what is the likely outcome?

At first, it is paramount to understand what Mr. Jair Bolsonaro is. He is more a “something” than a “somebody”, and I explain this point: Bolsonaro has made his path as a Congressman as a means through which to assure to his family and his surrounding community of friends and employees safe positions in politics. He is an instrument toward such goal and had succeeded. This becomes clear when one analyses his performance over near thirty years in the House of Representatives: polemic discourses in plenaries; offensive statements directed against homosexuals and women Deputies; a poor record of accepted propositions by his peers (two projects); and a wide range of ideas and proposals oriented to militaries – 53% out of the total, although none was approved in the House. While such performance appears to be low, it happened to be enough for assuring a loyal part of the electorate who had constructed a reliable identification with his “authentic and spontaneous” way of talking.

After his premature retirement from the Army with a granted military patent of captain, the politics turned out to be a space of opportunities to safeguard the economic future of his people. Aware of being a kind of “spokesperson” of the conservative strand of the society that, by this time (the 2000s), was enclosed in itself, Bolsonaro would escalate his style and convert it into a “label”. Although not yet taken seriously by many in the House and within the society, one of his sons was elected Councilor of Rio de Janeiro in 2000 with seventeen years old, under the minimum lega lage to assume the position, replacing his mother, Mrs. Rogéria Bolsonaro. Not by chance, this was the son who most quickly understood and reproduced the label: still a teenager, Carlos Bolsonaro held an active discourse in favor of the civilian armament and the reduction of the criminal age in his campaign. The Brazilian media evaluates that, currently, he is the one who has the most influence over the President – what was underpinned by the unexpected dismissal of Mr. Gustavo Bebbiano, the then Ministry of the General Secretariat of the Presidency and the President of Bolsonaro’s political party, the Social Liberal Party. Bolsonaro announced Bebbiano’s removal from office in 18th February, after an episode of disagreements with Carlos concerning a supposed WhatsApp (mis)communication between Bebbiano and Bolsonaro. It is argued that the event in itself might not have rendered Bebbiano’s dismissal if he wouldn’t have been in continuous disagreements with Carlos since the government’s transitional period.

Nowadays, we have Bolsonaro’s three sons occupying positions in the Legislative, throughout different federal spheres (National Congress and City Hall), and none of them is in the first mandate1. Therefore, we have a political clan, i.e., an instance of informal nepotism. Naturally, alongside the core of the clan constituted by the father and sons, there is an extensive network of collaborators, friends, and supporters that has been consolidated over the years. They might recognize themselves as part of a large family, but the core is tight and well defined. If there is something clear so far within the Government is that: how many more raise opposition to the core, how many more may fall out, either removed or resigned. Bolsonaro is then not a politician in the strict sense of acting towards the common good within the public sphere, seeking the most prepared ones to tackle the tasks. Besides the episode encompassing Bebbiano and his second son Carlos, we are collecting demonstrations of how the hierarchy of the government is built up – as an example, the third son Eduardo took part at the first official meeting with the US President Donald Trump, instead of the Chancellor Ernesto Araújo, in 19thMarch.

The politics is the space that has welcomed Bolsonaro after the Army, in which he could better act to the benefit of his peoples, i.e., professional, economic and material guarantees to his family first, then to the network around them. He has succeeded, as his own plan was just like that personal, simple and clear compared to other politician’s high ambitions. As President, he has been keeping his old discursive style – polemic, controversial, authentic (in his electorate’s words), interventionist and extremist – while strengthening the label Bolsonaro, which was meant to represent conservatism mainly in religious and behavioral terms, and actually represents the most significant far-right authority in Latin America.

Jair Bolsonaro is from the state of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most violent in Brazil. At the same time, one with the highest visibility and popularity, perhaps in the world. The city of Rio de Janeiro (the homonymous state capital) hosted several international mega-events during the last ten years, ranging from religion (the first apostolic journey of Pope Francisco, who is born in Argentina, was to RJ, where he celebrated the World Youth Day in 2013) to culture, sport and business. Alongside them, it had dramatically increased the number of murders, armed repression and forced evictions of poor black people from territories that have turned out to be on the way of those mega-events. Had Bolsonaro been a politician (again, in the original Greek sense of the term), in facing such scenario, and considering his strong discourse on public security – favoring an increase in weapons circulation and military police’s power of action -, he might have been elected Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. However, he is not. He is solely the leader of a clan, who has never aspired to be the personification of a national leader.

Here, I argue, lies the most problematic aspect of the debates concerning the last ten months of Brazilian politics, assembling the electoral period, the transitional government and the almost five months of Bolsonaro’s Presidency: the expectation of an Executive that acts according to the coalition presidentialism is indeed wavering. Coalition presidentialism has been the regime since the redemocratization of the country in 1985 with President José Sarney4. There are two irreconcilable logics at play: on the one side, intellectuals and pragmatics struggle to find in Bolsonaro’s Presidency plausible elements to delineate either a strategy or a personality that fits within the overarching framework of the coalition presidentialism regime. Although nothing resembles the other five Presidents of the redemocratization period5, there is still a considered segment of the society committed to explaining the over-reluctant behavior of the President, which inevitably contaminates the Executive, without putting the regime itself into question.

On the other side, the logic of Bolsonaro does uphold the unfolding developments: as the leader of a conservative clan consisted of white middle-to-upper class heterosexual men, since his first mandates at the House of Representatives he plays solely on the customs agenda, openly displaying no sympathy to democratic principles. He was elected in October 2018 precisely due to such biography and, over the empty presidential campaign that did not have debates nor a minimum exposition of a government program, he never held the promise of diversification. After all, he was not interested in politics, but in raising polemics about traditions, habits, norms, and myths. His last frictions with the President of the House, Mr. Rodrigo Maia (of the Democrats Party, which is center-right and part of the government’s support base), make clear his complete apathy concerning politics.

He plays according to his logic, which is instrumentalized by mechanisms able to promote chaos and polarization – social media, ideological discourses, delegitimation of the opposition as an interlocutor, empty promises and doubtful declarations later falsified by the ministers, and a real war against the press. Nonetheless, chaos and polarization are indeed effective methods to misconduct a country with 34.5 million informal workers6, more than 12 million of unemployed7 and 15.3 million people living below the line of extreme poverty8. As long as press and academic debates keep focused on the failures and shortcomings of this sixth elected representative of a supposed democratic coalition presidentialism regime, we all fail.

Therefore, we urgently need to change the focus and the language, to construct a possible resistance. The focus, away of Twitter and the partisan dichotomy left-right, which is in the clan’s usual rhetoric, toward the proper Executive agenda of reforms and public measures. The language, away of personal adjectives and aggressive responses, toward an assertive and confrontational oratory related to the paralysis of the Executive. Here I use the word paralysis referring to the fact that, with more than ten percent of the term of office spent, we have no real program for Health, Education, Environment, Human Rights, Culture, Work and so on. What we have is still a robust ideological plan of action, replicating the ton used during the campaign. The National Congress is still recalcitrant with the Pension Reform, which has just gone through the first round of voting at the Constitution, Justice and Citizenship Commission (CCJ, in Portuguese) of the House.

Although the political horizon is still unclear, the present is so far undoubted: Bolsonaro is not playing by the rules of the coalition presidentialism, neither is personally attached to the principles of liberal democracy. Bolsonaro has no clue about how to balance the distribution of functions, roles and positions among the ministries and state companies, let alone how to manage the amendments in the budget – recently, the House has approved, in a surprisingly fast majority of 448 votes vs. 3, the Proposal of Constitutional Emendation 2/2015 known as the “authoritative budget”, which substantially restricts the government’s power over the allocation of funds. This is seen as a significant defeat of the Ministry of Economy Paulo Guedes. For Bolsonaro himself – who has already publicly declared against the Pension Reform which is, in turn, the main flag of his mandate proposed by one of the two so-called “super Ministers”, Mr. Guedes – it is all under control.

To highlight the challenge to so-called coalition presidentialism, I will call this particular way of managing government, daily affairs, and (anti)politics a regime of “anti-presidentialism”. Through this specific regime, Bolsonaro’s government simultaneously control the government and the opposition mainly through the setting of the agenda – restricted to customs, myths, contentious issues, and random opinions – employing direct communication with the population via social media.

He won the presidential election with 39.3% of the total electorate who went to the poll and currently needs to preserve the rate of 30% of overall approval to move forward with the reforms, according to companies of data surveys and to the economic press. Today, we have 37% of Brazilians that evaluate Bolsonaro Government as “good”. There is a parcel of the electorate that would remain loyal to the label Bolsonaro: openly chauvinist, homophobic, sexist, conservative, interventionist and safeguard of the patriarchal roots of the Brazilian society. During the Workers Party’s terms (Lula, 2003-2011; Dilma, 2011-mid-2016), this parcel of the electorate – composed mainly by white men of middle and high economic classes, former militaries and evangelicals – has seen a double movement going on in the country: on the one hand, the growing and spread of progressive ideas in the fields of social policies, customs and human rights, which were celebrated by the low classes who are generally the target of security forces’ narco-politics. On the other hand, the lowering of purchase power as an effect of the international economic crisis of 2008 that was felt hard by the middle class, which is generally the target of austerity measures.

The welfare policies of President Lula (Bolsa Família, Fome Zero) did not alter the inequality structure of the country, and there are several plausible critics about Lula’s double strategy of making poor people and the bourgeoisie compliant, through providing access to consumer goods and the reconciliation of conflicting interests, respectively. What is relevant to highlight, however, is the social consequences of this political articulation undertaken during the Workers Party’s terms: the rise of gender activism, feminist movements, human rights advocacy, naming and shaming of racist politicians, and a feeling of empowerment among the poor people. The silenced low class has become louder and proud of its color, race, and sexual orientation. The intolerance grew concomitantly, both among the political-economic elite, and the ordinary people eager to have the “normal order” back, i.e., privileges of gender, class, and race.

Political scientists, journalists, economists and also the political opposition have been struggling to keep up with the daily twists promoted by Bolsonaro and his team, to understand them in light of the democratic principles and the coalition presidentialism regime, which normativity is in effect for the last thirty-four years of the Brazilian history. That is where I claim they are reinforcing Bolsonaro’s strategy of resignifying Brazil’s history and reality. Bolsonaro’s team is, on the one hand, made by a majority of militaries already responsible for more than one-third of the Ministries that, together, have a budget more prominent than the Ministry of Health and Education. Naturally, it is inescapable to cope with the old issue of military hierarchy vs. submission to civilians, which has been proved difficult in the negotiations of the Pension Reform.

On the other hand, the team is made by several people who were entitled due to their consent and conviction concerning the conservative customs agenda — nothing beyond that. The Ministers of External Relations, Human Rights & Family, Environment and Education are the most notable examples of what is at stake for Bolsonaro: to ideologically resignify the frontline channels of telling Brazil’s history and reality, inside and outside the country. This agenda has been featured “anti-intellectualism” by the opposition, denoting precisely the denial of facts, statistics, studies, and historiography. The ambivalence is that, even though such denial is already identified, the opposition insists on the intellectual language to confront such an agenda. That is, while Bolsonaro speaks his own truths and manifests his conception of the facts (not the facts themselves), the opposition complains about the lack of accuracy with numbers and narratives about the trending-topics selected by Bolsonaro himself.

As an example, the order launched in the last 31st March to celebrate the Military Coup of 1964 that has initiated the twenty years of the barbaric Brazilian dictatorship, has prompted a massive reaction within the national and international societies 9 . We are witnessing an entire miscommunication that, in the end, has been monopolizing the opposition toward raising a reaction against nothing with the wrong toolkit, as Bolsonaro does not recognize the sound of intellectualism. In other words, would not be the national opposition an echo of Bolsonaro’s anxieties, reverberating his desires and perspectives, they will start to see a backlash before whom he cares about, the international market.

I wrap up this article with the questions concerning the broader change upon the way Brazilians came to recognize themselves: how is such a shift taking place, who is it favoring, and what is the likely outcome? I claim that Bolsonaro is a by product of such change and that it is crucial to highlight the path, the conditions of possibility for his election and continuous support among still 30% of voters. I already mentioned above few concrete facts of the Workers Party’s period in power that contributed to catalyze changes on Brazilians perspectives about themselves. And I would say that, by no means, we are alone: such changes are following an international trend of conservatism. However, Bolsonaro is conservative, to say the least. To be precise, he is located at the far-right part of the political spectrum, what is an unthinkable image for Brazilians historians, social scientists and anyone else who has been thinking of the country since 1985.

Notwithstanding the traditional assumption of Itamaraty that Brazil is a successful example of multiculturalism and harmonious coexistence of differences, Brazilians are carving a deadly version of racism and persistent racial and economic inequality, as “Black Brazilians earn, on average, 57 percent less than white Brazilians. They make up 64 percent of the prison population. Brazil’s Congress is 71 percent white”10. Jair Bolsonaro spurs these numbers. His vocabulary is ideological, and his agenda is no longer part of the progressive path of emancipation that Brazilians were experiencing. He reinforces an illiberal democracy in the country, cheating people’s hope of better days and boosting actual crusades against intellectual discussions and teaching on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Simultaneously, he speaks out in favor of economic liberalism, which is a promise to re-establish the pre-2008 living conditions of the middle class through the privatization of vital national companies.

I named anti-presidentialism regime all this configuration that encompasses an original label shaped over Bolsonaro’s years as a Congressman under which his clan currently acts; a specific language, vocabulary and “functional ignorance” that works to silence substantiated critics; an exacerbated use of personal social media as the official communication channel of the Government; an ability to shape a customs agenda and to monopolize the public engagement around it; and, lastly, a profound lack of knowledge and skills to employ the instruments of the coalition presidentialism regime, which he calls “the oldpolitics”.

We are then reinforcing such anti-presidentialism regime by interacting with its elements, either misunderstanding or complaining about them, or even being sick of delusion. Bolsonaro has won more than sixty thousand new followers on Twitter during Carnaval through the promotion of chaos and polarization with a given video he posted. In Brazil, there is an elected Congressman who resigned from his third mandate and is living abroad in 2019; a Councilor who was a relentless human rights defender brutally murdered in 2018; and uncountable number of politicians who have occupied high positions in the national or local governments in prison due to corruption and support to militias. Liberal democracy is crumbling in Brazil at least since August 2016, with Rousseff´s controversial impeachment, and civilian restrictions are in a fast track of enlargement. The latest measure announced by the Minister of Education was to significantly “decentralized” public funding for superior studies of philosophy, sociology, and social sciences, as “they do not give an immediate return to taxpayers”, according to Bolsonaro.

Eduardo, his third son who is conducting Brazilian foreign policy, seeks for inspiration among the Hungarian Viktor Órban, the Italian Matteo Salvini, the Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu, and the North-American Donald Trump. Each manifestation from those countries’ peoples of non- acceptance of topics of the world far-right agenda is, after all, an engagement. In Brazil, due to the notorious unpreparedness of the President, resistance might be more successful by firstly ignoring posts and tweets of the clan that holds no other goal than to spawn social chaos. Resistance must require liberal democracy, constitutional rights, the rule of law and public policies, with expected outcomes and data. We must pressure the Executive parliamentarians and the media to focus on the democratic agenda. We must organize ourselves around specific flags such as funding for superior education and the combat to narco-politics as it is currently undertaken in favelas, where the state forces drive the genocide of black people. We cannot engage anymore with Bolsonaro’s strategy that is constructed, daily, through a discourse of normality. We need to urgently recover people’s power to shape conceptions of the normal.

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Remembering JFK – The Short Lived President: His Life and Achievements

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was the 35th President of the United States of America (USA) during the heightened time of the Cold War. “The youngest man ever elected to the presidency, succeeding the man who… was the oldest. He symbolized anew generation, a coming-of-age. The first president born in the 20th century, the first young veteran of World War II to reach the White House.”

A number of events of international significance took place during his presidency, including the Cuban Missile crisis, Bay of Pigs invasion and the initiation of US involvement in Vietnam. He is remembered for carefully handling crisis over Cuba when ‘the world was brinks away from nuclear war.’ with Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) when the latter deployed missiles on the island. ‘Containment‘ continued to be the official policy; however the Kennedy administration undertook a modest approach, moving from his predecessors ‘Massive Retaliation’ to a more ‘Flexible Response.’ Having served overseas as a navy man provided him the necessary exposure and knowledge, with which he was able to negotiate well with competitors and adversaries alike on a number of occasions. It was this background that allowed him to bring reforms at local domestic arena, particularly at the societal level and in the armed forces. A number of legislation pertaining to Civil Rights Movement were enacted during his tenure. He is credited with the creation of US Navy Seals and Special Services Group (SSG) which form the backbone of the country’s military. It was his vision and plan that later allowed Neil Armstrong of the Apollo 11 to be the first man on moon. Kennedy served a period of three years in the White House, which were cut short by his assassination in 1963. Robert Dallek has titled his award winning biography ‘An Unfinished Life’ calling the president a great statesman who achieved so much in such a short span of time.

Early Life and Career

JFK was born to an influential Irish immigrant family who were big names in business and politics. His grandfathers were seasoned politician, one of whom, John F. Fitzgerald ascended as the Mayor of Boston. Joseph P. Kennedy, his father was the Ambassador to England. His upbringing greatly influenced him, according to his colleagues from an early age he was more interested in current affairs than his studies. His college professors greatly resented this as he seldom read the course assigned text books and was mostly seen with books on leadership and international affairs. He greatly admired Winston Churchill from a tender, whose book ‘Marlborough: His Life and Times’ remained his all-time favourite.

Kennedy was not always the charismatic and leading figure during his early career. According to biographer, Robert Dallek, he was a substantiated figure in the household being overshadowed by the personality of his elder brother, Joe Jr. He greatly resented that he always had to live up to mark set by him. This was shown by his anger and rebellious due to which he was chastened a number of time during his years at Choate College. It was only after tragic accident of Joe Jr. while serving overseas in the Second World War, did Jack Kennedy came into the spotlight. Dallek argues that it was in fact Joe Jr. whom their father wanted to be the President, only when he was no more did Kennedy being next in line, ascended to the office.

Kennedy leadership skills were recognized from his early youth days. He was nominated the business manager of his school yearbook. During a college voting, he was voted by his peers as “most likely to succeed” in whatever future career he undertook.  His skills were further sharpened after his graduation from Harvard and Princeton.

“The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer….. I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a ‘Harvard man’ is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.

Kennedy during his academic career was a popular figure. He was likewise good in sports, joining the college football, golf, and swimming, for which he won 1936 Nantucket Sound Star Championship Cup. However his family greatly hid all the health problems, Jack faced from his early to his times at the White House. He had to undergo emergency hospitalization a number of times. However to this day it remains a mystery as to which disease he actually had. 

In the days preceding the Second World War, Kennedy toured Europe, Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard thesis. He returned to London from Czechoslovakia, on the very day when Germany invaded Poland which culminated World War II. His thesis, “Appeasement in Munich”, became a bestseller under the title Why England Slept. Kennedy’s far sightedness can be seen by his writing which proposed for an Anglo-American alliance believing only it could save the day.

Kennedy Doctrine

President J.F Kennedy is remembered for orchestrating a political ideology and belief that the pundits dubbed as the “Kennedy Doctrine”.  It is attributed to the year 1961, in a speech that summed up the administration beliefs and course of action during the heightened time of the Cold War.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

The Kennedy Doctrine was an expansion from the foreign policy initiatives of his predecessors. His predecessors “Eisenhower Doctrine” was focused more towards Middle East whereas the “Truman Doctrine” consisted of containing Soviet influence in Europe. JFK being the ‘far-sighted’ politician extended similar objectives to area of Latin America following the left-wing aspirations following Fidel Castro’s revolution. He was involved and well committed when it came to foreign policy initiatives on a number of occasions, particularly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion for which the President blasted the then Joint Chief of Staff for providing him with ‘an unworkable plan.’ W. Averell Harriman, served in various administrations was considered one of the foreign policy elders as ‘Wise Men’, called him:“The first President, that I know of who was really his own secretary of state. He dealt with every aspect of foreign policy, and he knew about everything that was going on.”

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis reflected the pragmatic leadership style of President Kennedy. It was what experts termed as ‘Flexible Response.” One of the great qualities of JFK, who to this date remains the only President of UShaving a catholic faith, knew how to challenge the advice and assumption of the experts. This was exactly the case during the Cuban Missile crisis, where he diligently listened to all the three groups present at the high level meeting. There were the hawks being represented by the defence establishment, then there were the moderates consisting of Robert McNamara and Attorney General Robert Kennedy and finally there were the doves who believed that US should present a stance that is least hostile, consisting of direct cooperation with Soviets. Kennedy personally micromanaged the quarantine by personally selecting the US Navy warships for that very purpose.  Peter G. Northhouse has called this an ‘authoritarian style blended with charismatic leadership.’ He attributes this characteristic to his training as a navy man and to his times during Harvard and Stanford. It is believed that it was Kennedy who got most out of the Cuban Missile crisis, his popularity rating increased from 66 percent to 77 percent, one of the highest ever by a President serving in the office. Whereas Soviet Premier Khrushchev was a bit unfortunate in this case, as it was instrumental in bringing a coup against him which led to his ouster.   

Legacy

Kennedy was the first of the six presidents to have served in the U.S. Navy to this day. One of the enduring legacies remains the creation of Special Forces command, the Navy SEALs, which to this remains the highest and most prestigious in International Defence Forces. The Civil Rights Bill was his proposal, which unfortunately became only after his assassination, in the year 1964.

Some historians blame him for the continuing the policies of his predecessors, Truman and Eisenhower which eventually got the US into Vietnam, a long and unpopular war. Some conspiracy theorists argue that it was because he challenged the military industrial complex decision to end the War in Vietnam, did he got assassinated. They cite his 1963 speech at American University where he signaled that he was ready ‘to bring back all the 1000 troops back home’President Kennedy to this day remains the most popular US President of all times, in the league reserved for big names like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

“Visitors from all over the world have signed their names in the memory books, and many have written tributes: “Our greatest President.” “Oh how we miss him!” “The greatest man since Jesus Christ.”

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Presidential elections – 2020, or does Trump have “federal reserve”?

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On July 31, the US Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee cut interest rates – the first such move in 11 years. During the past 18 months, President Donald Trump has regularly criticized the country’s central bank for refusing to lower interest rates, calling the Fed’s policy the main reason for America’s current economic slowdown. Trump’s critics, in their turn, accuse him of trying to manipulate the Federal Reserve’s policy in a bid to secure the best conditions for his re-election 2020 re-election campaign. How can the state of the country’s economy and finances influence the choice the American voters will make next year?

The Federal Reserve’s current head, Jerome Powell, a lawyer who has been in the investment business for many years, is the Fed’s first chairperson since the 1970s, who has no professional economic education. Small wonder that he was initially viewed by many as Trump’s political appointee. Still, until this very summer, Powell kept raising interest rates instead of lowering them, as Trump demanded, thus staying the course charted by his predecessor, Janet Yellen, whom Trump strongly criticized during his election campaign. Now that the Fed has cut interest rates, however, Donald Trump is still not happy. In a recent tweet, he said that what markets really expected from the Federal Reserve was not just to cut rates, but to send a clear signal about the start of a long period of “aggressive” easing of US monetary policy primarily aimed at counteracting similar measures by “China, the European Union and other countries of the world.”

“As usual, Powell let us down,” Trump summed up.

As a businessman, Donald Trump may feel the volatility of the US economy, and be fully aware of the academic studies of the past decades, above all about the state of the national economy and the year-to-year economic indicators, which significantly affect the voters’ political preferences, including for someone, who they want to see in the White House. We are not even talking about a full-blown recession – just an economic slowdown three or six months before Election Day. The proponents of this point of view believe that, according to all objective indicators, the decline in economic growth that happened in 2016 should have become “barely noticeable for most Americans.” Still, it was noticeable enough to increase Trump’s electoral base. The very same thing could happen in 2020, since the currently high GDP growth rate may prove “unbearable” for the economy next year. Just as it happened in 2016, when the economy stopped growing by more than half compared to the very robust 2015. Right now, it is still premature to say if the US economy has reached its next peak, but many key indicators look very similar to how it was doing ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s critics could interpret the Federal Reserve’s current rate cut as an attempt to prevent a similar development and increase the incumbent’s chances for re-election.

Meanwhile, the interest rate cut could have a detrimental effect on the labor market. Even though the US economy is going strong, in a market economy you cannot keep reducing unemployment all the time. Besides, the rate of this reduction has consistently been slowing down since Donald Trump’s election. Moreover, most American economists believe that unemployment within 4 to 5 percent is “optimal” for maintaining economic growth rates. This is the de-facto “target” indicator the Fed has in mind. The modern economic theory maintains that when unemployment is too low, the central bank should raise the interest rate, not cut it. Now, however, the Fed says that it is more concerned about “stifled inflation.” This means that the US monetary authorities could now put any further decrease in unemployment to the back burner. A sharp drop in employment growth that happened a few months before the 2016 elections made many voters feel that the situation on the labor market was deteriorating. As a result, many of them turned their back on the party, whose leader was then at the White House. 

In November 2018, the US economy was going strong with the GDP growing above three percent, unemployment falling, and salaries going up. Still, the Democrats won the largest number of seats in the House of Representatives in midterm congressional elections since 1974.

Finding himself in a potentially “no-way-out” standoff with the now Democratic-controlled lower house of Congress, President Trump could theoretically use a tactic of compromises with the opposition Democrats  and even “restore shattered confidence” between the two parties. However, he opted for a confrontational scenario repeatedly trying to shift responsibility for failures in domestic politics and the sluggish pace of reindustrialization  to “obstructionist” Democrats, “opposition-minded” Silicon Valley companies, and, above all, to foul play by external forces. On August 1, the White House announced that the United States would impose an additional 10 percent tax on $300 billion of Chinese imports before the month was out. On August 5, the US Treasury officially designated China a “currency manipulator,” accusing Beijing of “undervaluing the yuan.” Trump believes that a continued easing of the US monetary policy will finally help clinch a truly “great deal” with China.

The Federal Reserve apparently thinks otherwise though. According to Powell, two of the three reasons for the rate cut have to do with the Trump administration’s trade policy, which has been disruptive for the world economy and caused “tensions in trade relations.” According to experts, the Federal Reserve is thus letting Trump know that he should reduce uncertainty and tension in international trade, namely to reconsider the policy of trade wars – something so many of his voters are so fond of. Many economists and business people in the United States agree with the Fed because the introduction of new duties on a long list of Chinese imports has resulted in higher retail prices, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and has made many US industries less competitive in the world. US companies heavily dependent on the sale of their product in China have fallen victim to this conflict. The sense of uncertainty is also “working” against Trump who has locked horns with the Democrats, who now have a majority in the House of Representatives. Finally, China is already using retaliatory measures against companies located in the US states, which constitute Donald Trump’s electoral base. Trump’s actions may seriously undermine his chances of re-election in 2020.

The third reason for the rate cut is the Fed’s concern about the relatively low inflation. The nature of inflation is one of the biggest problems of economic theory because fears of rock-bottom inflation, fraught with deflation (a decrease in the general price level of goods and services due to excessively tight money supply) largely dictated the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy during the 1990s and early-2000s. This is what many experts see as one of the main causes of the 2008 financial crisis. On the one hand, with the interest rates now being where they are, it is premature to talk about the possibility of a new uncontrolled surge in borrowings, similar to the one that preceded the 2008 meltdown. On the other hand, some economists worry about the potential for growing risks in the US economy, if the Federal Reserve continues slashing interest rates. Critics of low rates have traditionally pointed to their direct relationship with the emergence of financial “bubbles” on the markets, which precipitated America’s slide into a recession in 2001 and 2007.

Finally, skeptics warn that official statistics about the state of the US economy make many people feel overly optimistic about the future. Meanwhile, indicators of leading companies’ performance show that their operating profits have stopped growing for quite some time now, and that their main income comes from exchange rate fluctuations and capitalization growth. Meanwhile, the US’ foreign debt keeps going up reaching a whopping $22 trillion, and the budget deficit is creeping up to $800 billion. This means that even the current GDP growth of almost 2.5 percent may not be enough to rectify the situation. “Under such circumstances, a single “spark” can send the fragile economic balance up in flames, and there is a sufficient number of such sparks around,” said Yelena Chizhevskaya, vice president of the RFI Bank for Mobile and Electronic Commerce.

From the domestic political point of view, if the Fed’s actions lead to a significant weakening of the dollar – and a number of experts are already talking about the start of the “bear cycle” of the US currency – this could result in a drop in incomes of US households in the walkup to the 2020 presidential elections.

Right now, America’s robust economic performance remains a major factor behind Donald Trump’s hopes for re-election in 2020. However, there are many signs of a possible decline, and a sharp one at that, in US economic growth rates “by the second half of 2020.” By the time the Americans go to the polls, their moods may be way less optimistic than they are today. Finally, President Trump, who pictures himself as the greatest “realist” of the modern West has been increasingly getting a taste for blackmailing and pressuring his opponents and nominal allies alike. Meanwhile, many economists now fear that the Trump administration’s “chaotic” and “provocative” actions may put the United States on a course to a new recession. If so, next year we may see unfolding a struggle for the post of the leader of one of the world’s greatest powers that could prove even more uncompromising than what we saw happening four years ago.

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The third Fox News shock to Trump

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New Fox News polls showed once again that US President Donald Trump is not doing well in state and state polls. Accordingly, the likelihood of Trump’s defeat in next year’s presidential election has increased dramatically. Unless the trend continues, Trump will no longer be at the forefront of US political and executive equations. Trump has twice accused the Fox News network of posting false and untrue polls. However, many US analysts believe that recent Fox News polls are based on current US facts. American citizens’ dissatisfaction with Trump’s foreign policy, as well as some economic discontent in some states, has contributed to Trump’s decline in popularity.

Although Trump has not yet responded to a Fox News poll, he is likely to accuse the US president of announcing false results in the near future! Donald Trump accuses not only Fox News but other media outlets and polls that predict his defeat in next year’s presidential election.

On the other hand, the competition between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris has intensified. If either of these candidates reach the final stage of next year’s presidential race, they will have a greater chance of defeating Trump. However, there is still much time left for the Democratic primary. The election will be held primarily in the crucial state of Iowa. If any Democrat candidate can win in this small and important state, he can also win other Democratic intra-party election contests. Here’s a look at some news and analysis on the U.S. presidential election:

Fox News poll shows Trump losing to Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris

A Fox News poll released Thursday showed President Trump losing head-to-head matchups against four of the top Democratic presidential primary contenders. The poll found Trump with 39 percent support among registered voters in head-to-head matchups against Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The poll found Sanders beating Trump with 48 percent, Warren winning over Trump with 45 percent and Harris winning with 46 percent support.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, beat Trump in the theoretical matchup with 50 percent support among those surveyed, compared to Trump’s 38 percent. Among Democratic primary contenders, Warren saw the largest gain in support in the poll — an 8 percent jump from last month’s survey. Warren, according to the poll, took second place behind Biden with the support of 20 percent of Democratic primary voters.

Sanders dropped to third, now at 10 percent in the poll and the only other candidate aside from Warren and Biden scoring double digit support among voters. Biden dropped slightly in the poll from a previous Fox News poll in July, from 33 percent to 31 percent, but remains the clear front-runner in the race according to the survey. The Fox News poll was taken between Aug. 11-13 and contacted 1,013 registered voters on landlines and cellphones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent for all registered voters, and 4.5 percent for Democratic primary voters.

2 troubling signs for Trump in this new Fox News poll

As Washington Post reported, Trump fails to crack 40 percent in any matchup with a potential 2020 opponent in a new Fox News poll. And that may not be the worst of it for him.

The new Fox poll is arguably Trump’s worst of the early polls testing potential general-election matchups. He trails Joe Biden by 12 percentage points (50 percent to 38 percent), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) by nine points (48 to 39), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) by seven (46 to 39) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) by six (45 to 39). That’s tied for his biggest deficit to date against Warren, according to RealClearPolitics, and it’s close to his biggest deficits against the others, too.

It’s just one poll of course, and even high-quality polls have margins of error. It’s possible Trump’s support percentage is really in the 40s, just like in most other polls. But if you drill down, there are a couple of other problematic pieces of this poll for Trump.

The first is his vote share versus his approval rating. There has been plenty of talk about Trump’s consistently low approval rating and how it sets him up for reelection. But in this poll, he doesn’t even completely lockdown that vote. While he gets 38 to 39 percent in all four matchups, his approval rating is actually 43 percent. That means roughly 4 percent of registered voters say they approve of Trump but they’re not ready to vote for him. And as Josh Jordan noted, this isn’t the first poll to show that. I looked back on three other high-quality national polls and found a drop-off in all three — albeit not as big as in Fox’s poll.

Reelection bids are generally viewed as referendums on the incumbent in which, in a close race, you’d expect the president to at least get the percentage of voters who approve of him. For Trump, it appears there is a small percentage of people who like the job he’s done but for whatever reason — concern about his tendency to fly off the handle, perhaps, or the fact that they also like the Democrats — aren’t yet on board with his reelection. It’s one thing to run for reelection with a low approval rating; it’s another to not even be able to count on that level of support.

An alternative reading, of course, is that these voters are ripe for Trump to bring back into the fold and increase his vote share as the race moves forward. But even then, he’s not in great shape.

The second problematic number comes from Fox News’s write-up of its poll:

Voters who have a negative view of both Biden and Trump back Biden by a 43-10 percent margin in the head-to-head matchup, although many would vote for someone else (27 percent), wouldn’t vote (12 percent) or are undecided (8 percent).

This is an admittedly small subsample, with a very large margin of error. Given Biden is relatively popular (50 percent favorable versus 42 percent unfavorable), the universe of voters who dislike both him and Trump is likely to be a very small share of the roughly 1,000 people surveyed. (I asked Fox about the sample size but haven’t heard back yet.)

But even accounting for that, this is ominous for Trump. That’s because these voters — those who disliked both him and Clinton — made the difference for him in 2016. As Philip Bump wrote last month:

Nationally, Trump had a 17-point edge with those voters, according to exit polls. In the three states that handed him the presidency — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — he won those voters by 21, 25 and 37 points, respectively. In each state, those voters made up about a fifth of the electorate.

It was one-fifth of the electorate because only about 40 percent of voters liked both Trump and Clinton. It’s a smaller universe today, because Trump’s image is slightly better and Biden’s is significantly better than Clinton’s. But it’s also true that this universe of voters probably comes more from the right side of the electorate, given Biden’s superior image rating. And yet Trump barely gets any support here.

For now, let’s set aside the numbers in the head-to-head matchups. The fact is that Trump can win reelection with an approval rating in the low-to-mid 40s, which is where it’s been throughout his presidency. But he can’t do it if he’s not locking down basically everyone who approves of him and is getting beaten among those who dislike both him and his Democratic opponent. If those findings are accurate, then focusing on his low approval rating might actually oversell his reelection chances.

Poll: Warren jumps over Sanders for second place behind Biden

As Politico reported, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has leapfrogged Sen. Bernie Sanders for second place nationally in the Democratic presidential primary, according to a new poll out Thursday.

The new Fox News poll of registered voters who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primary or caucus in their state shows that although Warren still trails former Vice President Joe Biden, pulling in 20 percentage points to his 31, she posted an 8-point gain over the previous survey conducted last month. Sanders dropped 5 points in the poll, good for third place with 10 percent support.

The poll shows remarkable growth for Warren over the last five months — she has gained 16 points since March — while Biden has remained somewhat steady over the same period. Sanders’ second-place lead has diminished steadily over the same period, with Thursday’s survey the first in which he dropped into third place. He has dropped 13 points since May. Sen. Kamala Harris is not far behind him in fourth place, with 8 percent.

Thursday’s poll has no bearing on next month’s debate in Houston since every candidate polling above 2 percent has already reached the polling threshold for the debate stage.

The Fox poll shows that any of the top four Democratic contenders would best President Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup. Biden opens up the widest lead against Trump, beating him 50-38, while Harris would have the closest contest — though still outside the margin of sampling error — beating Trump 45-39.

The poll also shows a nearly even split in what Democratic primary voters are looking for in a presidential candidate. Forty-eight percent of voters said they’d like a Democratic nominee to build upon the legacy of former President Barack Obama, while 47 percent said they’d prefer a new approach.

The survey was conducted Aug. 11-13 among a random national sample of 1,013 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage for all registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the 483 Democratic primary voters surveyed.

Voters Care About Biden’s Age — Not About His Gaffes

Also, Fivethirtyeight Reported that After a week’s worth of media focuses on a series of gaffes and misstatements by former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic voters are reacting by … apparently not giving much of a damn.

Granted, there hasn’t been a ton of polling this week. But what data we have looked just fine for Biden. His position in Morning Consult’s weekly tracking poll — first place with 33 percent of the vote — is unchanged. In HarrisX’s tracking poll for ScottRasmussen.com, he’s at 28 percent, which is up 3 percentage points from a week ago. He’s down 1 point in YouGov’s weekly poll, and he did get some middling numbers in New Hampshire this week. But Biden also got a good poll in South Carolina.

Not that you should necessarily have expected any differently. Biden has survived more serious problems — a rough first debate, a group of allegations about inappropriately touching women — only to see his numbers rebound from any decline (if they were even affected in the first place). So it probably would have been optimistic for Biden’s rivals to expect a handful of verbal gaffes to move his polls, especially given that Biden already came into the campaign with a reputation for being gaffe-prone. Some influential Democrats are focusing on those gaffes for another reason, though: They see them as a sign of Biden’s advancing age. (Biden is 76 and would be 78 upon assuming the presidency.) Whether those Democrats are genuinely concerned about Biden’s age insofar as it might affect his performance against President Trump, or whether they’re using it as an excuse to promote the candidacies of younger Democrats who they happen to like better anyway, undoubtedly varies from case to case.

A lot of rank-and-file voters do have concerns about Biden’s age. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in February found that 62 percent of voters had reservations about voting for someone aged 75 or older. Other polls have also shown advanced age to be a concern among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.

But there hasn’t been much discussion of age from the other candidates. Eric Swalwell brought it up explicitly in the first presidential debate when he urged voters to “pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.” Rather than echo Swalwell’s argument, however, Kamala Harris tried to defuse the situation by suggesting that discussions of age and generational change were tantamount to schoolyard insults. “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table,” she said.

Maybe anti-Biden Democrats — and the other candidates — think they’re being coy by using Biden’s gaffes as a proxy for concerns about his age. No reason to get tarred with allegations of ageism, they figure, or to risk offending older voters who turn out in big numbers in the primaries. (Also, if the candidate they prefer to Biden is Bernie Sanders, they have the further problem that Sanders is a year older than Biden at 77.)1 Show rather than tell, as the maxim goes: Plant a few seeds and let voters build a narrative about Biden’s age on their own, without having to give them the hard sell. This strategy might even work! It’s still fairly early, and Biden’s age is perhaps his biggest risk factor — bigger, in my view than his policy positions, which are often more in line with the views of the average Democrat than those of the more liberal candidates.

But especially in the era of Trump — who, of course, has already begun to question Biden’s mental fitness — there might also be something to be said for saying the quiet part out loud. In a poll conducted shortly after the first debate, some Democratic voters explicitly used Swalwell’s “pass the torch” language when asked an open-ended question about why they didn’t want to vote for Biden. And they were much more likely to explicitly mention Biden’s age than to use vaguer responses, such as that he was “out of touch.”

There’s also a risk to anti-Biden Democrats in drawing voters’ attention to gaffes or other incidents that voters view as relatively minor. Biden remains an extremely well-liked figure among Democratic voters; 75 percent of them have a favorable view of him, according to Morning Consult’s latest polling. So three-quarters of the electorate is going to start with a predilection against sympathizing with critiques of Biden. If those critiques aren’t really bringing the goods and instead seem like petty grievances, those Democrats may conclude that the case against Biden is a lot of hot air.

Meanwhile, if the false alarms continue — as in, Democrats on Twitter or on podcasts predict Biden’s demise and the polls are unmoved — the media may come to view Biden as a Trump-like “Teflon” candidate who isn’t greatly affected by gaffes and scandals. That could reduce their appetite for covering them in the future — even if more serious ones occur than what’s taken place to date.

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