Recent events may increase Donald Trump’s chances of being re-elected in November if he plays his cards right. The coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement has given the president vital opportunities to maintain his popularity in an election year. COVID-19 may help the Trump campaign, as it is a propaganda opportunity that he could use, to continue the same ‘America First’ rhetoric he has peddled since 2016. Trump has already begun this by shifting total blame towards China for the spread of the pandemic. Soundbites, such as ‘China virus’, shows that the sloganeering of the president thrives on, could work in the same way riling fears of Mexicans increased his popularity in 2016. All Trump must do then is present himself as the worthiest candidate to defend the USA against foreign threats.
It is important to consider the impact of coronavirus on the large swing states that helped Trump win in 2016 and how this could help or hinder him in 2020. Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are states that swung to the Republicans in 2016, total altogether eighty-three electoral college seats, enough to hand the presidency to Biden. Therefore, these are the states both candidates will want to focus on. Incidentally, all these states have had a high number of COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If these states deem Trump to have done a bad job at dealing with the pandemic, then this could be enough to bring down the POTUS.
However, some of the largest rallies against ‘stay at home’ orders in the US have taken place in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. By not denouncing the protests, Trump was seen to support these protestors. Therefore, ‘the plague’ could help him continue to present himself as the ‘man-of-the-people’, protecting the everyday American’s constitutional rights. This will surely strike a chord with many voters who hold traditional values. Even if Trump were to lose Florida, the electoral college votes of these three states would keep him afloat, providing he doesn’t lose elsewhere.
The recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement is also something to consider. As a reaction to the movement, Trump has started to shape himself in the same mould his predecessors, as a ‘Law and Order’ president, the same tagline used by Nixon and Reagan to increase their popularity. Trump’s ‘pro-safety’, ‘pro-police’ and ‘anti-crime’ slogans are his way of creating the same political environment. Amid protests and rioting, if he continues to turn the Black Lives Matter movement into a force that threatens the American way of life, threatening the white working classes’ prospects of achieving the ‘American Dream’, then Trump could quite easily maintain his support base.
Black Lives Matter does little damage to Trump, as it isn’t a narrative that resonates with his fans. His supporters’ main concerns tend to be the economy and family values; being called a ‘bigot’ who needs to ‘check their privilege’, as true as it may sometimes be, does little to turn a red vote blue, rather it deepens the red. As uncomfortable as it may seem to some, the ‘left’ is somewhat to blame for the rise of right-wing populism, as the Slovenian theorist, Slavoj Źiźek, suggested in his musings after Trump’s 2016 victory. By creating an environment hostile to conservative voters, no matter how moral their reasoning, ‘progressives’ do themselves an injustice. They are trying to open the right door with the wrong key.
The ‘left’ cannot become complacent. Trump is a master spin artist and can turn any situation, COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter, into something that paints him in glorious colours. Unless the Democrats can conjure up some inspiring story that is more powerful than that which Trump has been brewing throughout his first term, Biden is doomed. And that doesn’t just go for Biden. With Trump’s continuing support for the fossil fuel industry, and with our years to solve the climate crisis numbered, a death warrant for the Democrats means a death warrant for many across the globe. There are many matters at stake in November and it’s frightening how entangled they all are.
By Harrison Newsham
Illustration: by Tino Rwodzi