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Is the COVID-19 crisis an advantage for Trump’s re-election or vice versa?

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The pandemic in the twenty-first century has now become the most determining force on the outcome of the 2020 American Presidential Elections. In this paper, I am going to analyze the impact of the pandemic on Mr. Trump’s chances of getting re-elected. Does it undermine his chances or vice versa? This question may be answered based on three major factors: prevalence in digital campaigning, the candidates’ view on China, and Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus and economic recession.

Digital campaign

The coronavirus outbreak made running traditional campaigns problematic as since March neither Donald Trump nor his opponent Joe Biden made public speeches in front of their supporters. Unexpectedly, the importance of running digital campaigns through virtual platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram waxed. This circumstance would have a profound impact on Mr. Trump’s re-election in November but in which way? Well, there is no one answer to this question. 

In the 2016 presidential election, Facebook played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the elections. Trump campaign managers put many efforts into digital campaigning by creating 5.9 million ads on Facebook whereas Hillary Clinton’s team made only 66 thousand ads. Though it spawned much debate about the manipulation of public opinion as some news distributed via microtargeting was proven to be false. The microtargeting itself was contentious from the privacy policy perspective as it was reported that some user data was shared with political consulting companies. Afterward, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify in Congress and confessed that Facebook was reluctant in checking the validity of spread information and protecting the privacy of user data that could cause public manipulation. 

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, internet media consumption increased worldwide including the United States. The role of digital campaigning strengthened even more as quarantine rules do not allow big people gatherings in the context of a traditional campaign running. Meaning that social media and other digital network platforms gained more significance for the success of political campaigns. However, it seems history is repeating itself and the Democratic side is still far behind allocating sufficient time, human and strategy resources for prevalence in digital campaigning. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s team is taking the internet more seriously having clear predominance over Mr. Biden’s team, and here is why.

Firstly, from the contextual perspective, Mr. Trump’s campaign is more digitally oriented. The vivid exemplification of this is the manager of the campaign himself: Brad Parscale. Mr. Parscale is versed in programming languages and possesses vast experience working with digital advertisements. Moreover, unlike the previous campaign, according to his own words, the availability of an information base makes the task for Mr. Parscale easier in 2020. This is pretty understandable as the whole government’s intelligence machine is in the service of President and a candidate Trump.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, has only 25 people working for his digital campaign and himself preferring a more traditional way of running a campaign and not spending so much time on social media as Mr. Trump does. Even if Mr. Biden places a complete focus on digital campaigning, he is far behind Mr. Trump in the number of followers on all virtual platforms. For instance, on Twitter Donald Trump and Joe Biden have around 80 and 6 million followers respectively. This kind of huge gap is much telling about the virtual campaign possibilities of each candidate. It means more Americans unwittingly interact with Mr. Trump’s politically biased tweets being deprived of reading both candidates’ opinions and objectively evaluating them. 

But what if Mr. Biden accumulates as many followers as Mr. Trump already has? Well, getting more popular on the internet to deliver a message is a very time-taking task and can last many months. Even in case, Mr. Biden’s team succeeded in this, it still would not pave the way to a cordial change. The point is that Mr. Trump is more radical than Joe Biden; his ideas are more provocative in which he constantly blames someone, focuses on a certain segment of the American population, states his thoughts in an emotional manner, etc. Such politically incorrect but more concentrated on potential electorate expressions receive more likes, shares, and comments by spreading it across digital platforms. Mr. Biden’s centrism and unity pledges which are quite abstract oppose his need of being more “shared” on social media. Ironically, attempting to appeal broader segments of the population, Mr. Biden gets full support of none of them. Although more radical progressive politicians such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders whose ideas more ideologically concrete and segment-oriented, endorsed Mr. Biden, will this endorsement bring more support and popularity? It is unlikely until Mr. Biden nominates them as the running mate or publicly promises to appoint them to a certain post. Any radical leftist would like the idea of Bernie Sander being a Secretary of Labor.

Here we can argue that Donald Trump’s political course, material, and digital opportunities, campaign orientation grant him more chances for victory in the virtual world. Accordingly, the coronavirus outbreak deliberately increased the strategic importance of the digital campaigning in which Mr. Trump far outweighs Joe Biden. 

Views on China

The second big way how the coronavirus outbreak might affect the 2020 elections is the candidates’ stances on China. The readers might doubt the importance of this criterion; however, there are two indicators based on which I make this argument. Firstly, both candidates’ campaign managers considered this a sufficiently critical issue to include it in political advertisement. Inside the videos, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden accuse each other of being too soft on China. Secondly, the Pew Research survey shows that 66 percent of Americans now have negative views of China against 26 percent in favor and 8 percent saying “don’t know.” The proportion is large enough to impact the outcome of the elections. Consequently, a candidate being more stubborn and stricter about China will have more chances for victory. But who has been tougher on China?

Amid the pandemic Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Biden’s claims on China seem more similar, however, by taking a short glance at history it is obvious that their approaches significantly differ. 

Mr. Trump had negative views on China even before getting elected as the President by blaming it for taking advantage of the United States. After entering the office, President Trump took other measures against China. First of all, China was numerously mentioned as posing threat in plenty of spheres such as trade, artificial intelligence, military, geopolitics, soft-power, etc. in the National Security Strategy (NSS). It morphed Mr. Trump’s campaign claims into prospective policy implementations in this direction. Secondly, Mr. Trump commenced a trade war against China putting high tariffs on Chinese imports. He criticized China on bypassing the rules of trade and damaging American farmers by creating an image of a President protecting the American people from China. In the times of rising negative views on China, it is useful for Mr. Trump.

On the contrary, in May 2019 Mr. Biden called the Chinese “not bad folks” and stated “they are not in competition for us” in response to Mr. Trump’s concerns about China. And the administration of which Mr. Biden was Vice President, considered the relationship with China as the most important in the twenty-first century. Ultimately, Mr. Biden cannot boast about being tough on China and this is not only about himself but also his party’s mainstream policy. Republicans have inherently been more negative on China and persisted in the importance of domination in great power competition counterweight to Democrats mostly preferring cooperation. 

Recently in a democratic primary debate, Joe Biden said that Donald Trump did not hold China accountable and “rolled over the Chinese.” However, this statement is not an appropriate one amid increased racism against Asian Americans. Considering the fact Mr. Biden’s potential constituency is mostly racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, the statement puts his own “unifying leader” image at risk sidelining not only Asian Americans but also other minorities.

Economic impact and timely response to the coronavirus

The third most determining factors that might influence the elections in November are economic recession and measures taken to respond to the pandemic by President Trump. Many consider that Americans will understand how unprofessional and negligent the President when it comes to handling major crises. Political advertisements prepared by Mr. Biden’s team showcases a high level of hope for hitting the President on this ground. 

Notifying the reader that this section does not aim to answer the question of whether the response was proper or not, it only takes into a discussion how the actions taken by the President were perceived by Americans and this perception’s possible influence on the upcoming elections. 

In general, Americans are slightly more negative about the President’s response to the pandemic (response in this paragraph is refers to measured taken to prevent the spread of the virus.) A large portion of people holding a negative view is young people, liberals, and ethnic minorities (Pew). As a rebuttal to this point, the majority of Protestants, white Catholics, and the elderly are confident in Mr. Trump’s coronavirus response. At first look, it seems that the majority is not in favor of the President concerning the pandemic case, however, the groups not supporting Mr. Trump (mentioned above) is not the electorate which voted for him in 2016. Vice versa, people who voted for Donald Trump are the same White Christians and elderly Americans. Accordingly, the coronavirus crisis could not yet switch the positions of that segment of the American population on which Donald Trump focuses his political discourse. 

The economic impact of the pandemic is more challenging though. More than half of Americans think Mr. Trump is not doing a good job in terms of addressing the economic needs of ordinary people. Slightly more than half of Americans think that he is good at aiding businesses facing financial difficulties. However, the monthly unemployment reports are very high and keep growing. Lowest in history of the United States unemployment rates with which Donald Trump was bragging is now obsolete. Severe consequences of economic recession are quite likely and, certainly, it will affect Mr. Trump’s chances to get re-elected. The extent of its affection will go hand in hand with the size of damage to the US economy caused by the pandemic.

Undeniably, the economic impact of the pandemic hit the whole world and the long term impact is obscured so far. Among all the above-mentioned factors of the coronavirus impact, the economic part is ongoing and will shape public opinion within the process of handling the crisis. Because this is the matter of future, any attempts to formulate precise predictions over the impact of the recession on Mr. Trump’s chances of getting re-elected are doomed to be imprecise.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would argue that at this point, Mr. Trump’s chances are not undermined by the pandemic. On the contrary, some powerful aspects of Mr. Trump’s campaign such prevalence in digital networking are strengthened even to a greater extent. The Democratic side, on the other hand, seems to be giving less significance to digital campaigning as they were doing in 2016.

Trump’s political course is also convenient for the current situation, as for the first time not only Americans but also the world started thinking of China as a country shutting transparency and honesty. American workers and manufacturers one more time got confident that China is posing threat on many grounds and Mr. Trump’s China policy was correct. Even though Joe Biden now uses tough rhetoric against China and criticizes allegedly “soft President” on it, his statements are not convincing and do not reflect what he was saying a year before. In politics, a lie is not a big deal, but a radical change of the system of your beliefs is a different story.

In the end, the most complicated issue is the worsening economy that puts Mr. Trump’s re-elections chances at high risk. If no preventive measures will be taken, the unemployed might vote for a change and a more socially-oriented Democratic President. Thus, much will depend on the direction in which the economy flows. Besides, the impact of COVID-19, for now, is harmless to Mr. Trump, vice versa at some point it is beneficial.

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Americas

Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.

The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.

Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.

Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.

First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.

Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.

Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.

These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.

First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.

In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.

Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.

Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.

Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.

From our partner RIAC

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“Choose sides” is practically a bogus idea for US military partners

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“Choosing sides” is practically a non-starter for US military allies such as Japan and South Korea. These nations, first and foremost military allies of the US, are forging cordial and productive ties with other countries based on military alliances with the US. The nature and level of partnerships varies greatly from those of allies, despite the fact that they appear to be quite heated at times.

Military concerns have been less important in the postwar period, but economic concerns have been extremely heated, social and cultural interactions have been close, and the qualitative differences between cooperative relations and allies have gotten confused, or have been covered and neglected.

Some unreasonable expectations and even mistakes were made. In general, in the game between the rising power and the hegemony, it is undesirable for the rising power to take the initiative and urge the hegemony’s supporters to select a side. Doing so will merely reinforce these countries’ preference for hegemony.

Not only that, but a developing country must contend with not only a dominant hegemony, but also a system of allies governed by the hegemony. In the event of a relative reduction in the power of the hegemony, the strength of the entire alliance system may be reinforced by removing restraints on allies, boosting allies’ capabilities, and allowing allies’ passion and initiative to shine.

Similarly, the allies of the hegemonic power are likely to be quite eager to improve their own strength and exert greater strength for the alliance, without necessarily responding to, much alone being pushed by, the leader. The “opening of a new chapter in the Korean-US partnership” was a key component of the joint statement issued by South Korea and the United States following the meeting of Moon Jae-in and Biden. What “new chapter” may a military alliance have in a situation of non-war?

There are at least three features that can be drawn from the series of encounters between South Korea and the United States during Moon Jae-visit in’s to the United States: First, the withdrawal of the “Korea-US Missile Guide” will place military constraints on South Korea’s missile development and serve as a deterrence to surrounding nations. The second point is that, in addition to the Korean Peninsula, military cooperation between the US and South Korea should be expanded to the regional level in order to respond to regional hotspots. The third point is that, in addition to military alliances, certain elements in vaccinations, chips, 5G, and even 6G are required. These types of coalitions will help to enhance economic cooperation.

Despite the fact that Vice President Harris wiped her hands after shaking hands with Moon Jae-in, and Biden called Moon Jae-in “Prime Minister” and other rude behaviors, the so-called “flaws” are not hidden, South Korea still believes that the visit’s results have exceeded expectations, and that Moon Jae-in’s approval rate will rise significantly as a result.

The joint statement issued by South Korea and the United States addresses delicate subjects such as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Of course, China expresses its outrage. It is widely assumed that this is a “private cargo” delivered by Biden’s invitation to Moon Jae-in to visit the United States.

Moon Jae-in stated that he was not pressured by Biden. If this is correct, one option is that such specific concerns will not be handled at all at the summit level; second, South Korea is truly worried about the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea concerns and wishes to speak with the US jointly.

South Korea should be cognizant of China’s sensitivity to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea concerns. When it comes to China-related concerns, the phrasing in the ROK-US joint statement is far more mild than that in the ROK-Japan joint declaration. Nonetheless, the harm done to South Korea-China ties cannot be overlooked.

South Korea highlights the “openness” and “inclusiveness” of the four-party security dialogue system, which allows South Korea to engage to some extent. South Korea will assess the net gain between the “gain” on the US side and the “loss” on the Chinese side. China would strongly protest and fiercely respond to any country’s measures to intervene in China’s domestic affairs and restrict China’s rise.

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Political Violence and Elections: Should We Care?

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The next Sunday 6th of June, the Chamber of Deputies along with 15 out of the 32 governorships will be up for grabs in Mexico’s mid-term elections. These elections will be a crucial test for the popularity of the president and his party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). They currently hold majority in the Lower Chamber of the national Congress, and these elections could challenge this.

Recent national polls indicate that the ruling party, MORENA, is still the most popular political force in Mexico, and they are poised to win not only several governorships, but also several municipalities. They are also expected to maintain control of the Lower  Chamber, although with a loss of a few seats. In order to ensure MORENA keeps its current majority in the Congress, they have decided to pursue an electoral alliance with the Green Party (PVEM) and the Labout Party (PT). It is expected that with this move, they will be able to ensure the majority in the Chamber of Deputies in the Congress.

There is, however, another aspect that is making the headlines in this current electoral process: The high levels of political and electoral violence, The current electoral process is the second most violent since 2000. The number of candidates that have been assassinated is close to 30% higher than the mid-term electoral process of 2015. More than 79 candidates have been killed so far all across the country.

Insecurity in Mexico has been an ongoing issue that has continued to deteriorate during the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). AMLO has continually criticised his predecessors and the valid problems of their approaches to insecurity in Mexico along with the War on Drugs policy. However, to date, he has yet to offer a viable alternative to tackle the security problems he inherited. During his campaign, AMLO coined the phrase “abrazos no balazos” (hugs not bullets) to describe his approach toward improving security in Mexico. He believed that to successfully tackle the worsening crisis of insecurity, the structural conditions that forced people to commit crimes had to be addressed first: Namely inequality, poverty, low salaries, lack of access to employment etc. To date, insecurity in Mexico continues to worsen, and this had become evident during the current electoral process.

This nonsensical approach to insecurity has resulted in the first three years of his government reaching over 100,000 murders, along with the nearly 225,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

What should be particularly worrying in this spiral of violence, is the prevalence of political and electoral violence during the current process. Political violence represents not only a direct attack on democratic institutions and democracy itself, but it also compromises the independence, autonomy, and integrity of those currently in power, and those competing for positions of power. It affects democracy also because political violence offers a way for candidates to gain power through violent means against opposition, and this also allows organised crime to infiltrate the state apparatus.

Political violence is a phenomenon that hurts all citizens and actors in a democracy. It represents a breeding ground for authoritarianism, and impunity at all levels of government. This limits the freedoms and rights of citizens and other actors as it extinguishes any sort of democratic coexistence between those currently holding political power and those aspiring to achieve it. Political violence also obstructs the development of democracy as it discredits anyone with critical views to those in power. This is worrying when we consider that 49% of those assassinated belong to opposition parties. This increase in political violence has also highlighted AMLO´s inability to curtail organised crime and related violence.

Assassination of candidates is only the tip of the iceberg. Organised criminal groups have also infiltrated politics through financing of political campaigns. Most of electoral and political violence tends to happen an municipal levels, where it is easier for criminal groups to exert more pressure and influence in the hope of securing protection, and perpetuate impunity, or securing control over drug trafficking routes. This should be especially worrisome when there is close too government control in certain areas of the country, and there is a serious risk of state erosion at municipal level in several states.

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