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State of the Uncertainty: US Elections 2020; All Possible Scenarios will Impact Mexico

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On November 3, 2020 — in just over a year — the United States faces a watershed presidential election that will pit Trump against a yet to be decided Democrat.

 

Interest in the elections is already high because the choice is stark and the potential ramifications enormous; Re-elect Trump and go further down his America First road of racist nationalism or choose the unnamed Democrat who can only win if she/he can engage and mobilize tens of millions of voters old and new who don’t necessarily see eye to eye on much of anything beyond their common rejection of Trump.

 

It is a fractious moment in the United States and with over a year remaining before the election, predictions are difficult. But some things are already clear: Both sides are preparing to fight tooth and nail; the electoral playing field is slanted to favor Republicans; Democrats will need unprecedented turnout by youth and people of color to win big. Dirty tricks are likely. And the consequences of the election – no matter the outcome — will be deeply felt in Mexico.

 

If Trump remains in power, Mexico will face more of the same racist bullying and economic intimidation that he has already inflicted – most recently threatening Mexico with stiff tariffs unless they carry out his immigration enforcement dictates. In the U.S., millions of people of Mexican origin will continue to be targeted by his agents and extremist followers.

 

A slanted Playing Field:

 

Almost three years ago, in the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s defeated Hillary Clinton’s only because of “Electoral College” votes he gathered from state level victories. Nationwide, Trump had over 3 million votes less than Clinton, but nevertheless he eked-out a technical victory and became president after unexpected wins in the key “rust-belt” states of (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) where “disaffected” white voters and anti-Clinton resentment are said to have put Trump over the top.

 

The same anomalies of skewed electoral vote distribution together with well-honed Republican techniques to reduce voter turnout in communities of color will continue to advantage Republicans in 2020.

 

To truly extinguish the power of a president like Trump – one who has repeatedly “joked” about being President for life (vitalicio) — his defeat must be unequivocal and numerically overwhelming. Only such an unassailable electoral rejection can drive a stake through the heart of the nationalist ultra-right mobilization Trump has inspired.

 

Winning big won’t be easy, but  rejection of Trump is deep, widespread, and powerful.

 

Resistance to Trump

 

Resistance to Trump started immediately in response to the shocking news of his victory. It grew stronger when he began to attack immigrants and refugees immediately upon taking office. 

 

Nationwide the pushback against Trump’s administration built into the electoral wave of 2018.  That midterm election brought out the highest percentage of registered voters in more than a century. Democrats gained 39 seats and convincingly flipped the House of Representatives.

 

For millions of Democratic voters the 2018 victory was sweet even if incomplete. It revived hopes that investigations of Trump could move ahead and that he could potentially be impeached. The 2018 wave brought many new voices into the Congress and onto the national stage — like the outspoken Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – and her “squad”. 

[Caption]The “Squad” – all newly elected in 2018 has drawn Trump’s ire. left to right: Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.)

 

The electoral comeback staged by Democrats in 2018 was impressive — scoring a record margin of more nine million vote over the Republicans. But something else became clear as well. Republican had avoided a much larger loss by armoring themselves at the state level… using redistricting powers to “gerrymander” dozens of key electoral districts to favor their candidates.

 

As if that weren’t enough, Democrats face the very real potential of a 2020 repeat of massive Russian cyber-electioneering or other illegal election interference that would almost certainly once again benefit Trump and Republicans.

 

Trump and the Republican controlled Senate have rejected consideration of measures to curtail Russian (or any other foreign) election intervention. As a result it remains a serious threat of other unknown dimensions.

 

Why are Republicans cheating?

 

Republicans are disproportionately old and white. They know their power will wane as a democratic, multi-cultural nation incorporates new voters and new values. That is why they have turned to a war on migrants — using systematic deportations and openly rigging the electoral system against people of color.

 

The latest example of their perfidy is Trump’s campaign for a “citizenship question” on the decennial Federal Census.

 

Their idea is to scare undocumented people and their families away from being counted in the census. They could thereby undercount the true population density of immigrant communities. The Supreme Court hesitated on turning the Census — what is supposed to be an objective count  — into a tool for diluting the representation of communities that are home to immigrants and people of color.

 

Do the Democrats have what it takes to beat Trump?

 

The Democrats currently have more than 20 candidates running for their party’s presidential nomination.  Some of them – like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris — and a couple of others — have develop strong campaign traction, raising tens of millions of dollars and have gained significant standing in opinion polls.

 

But the race is still wide open.

 

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the best known of the candidates. He has been discussed as the “safe pick” by many in the punditry. They note the Republican strategy will be to attack any Democrat as a purveyor of dangerous “socialist” ideas.

 

They hope Joe Biden, a “traditional” Democrat who got his political chops during the Reagan era, is the right antidote to this classic red baiting. But Biden had a rocky performance in the first Democratic debate that reminded everyone: The race is still wide open.

 

“Minor” Democratic candidates like Julian Castro, Andrew Yang, and Tulsi Gabbard have brought important elements to the national discussion as well. Castro has called for decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings; Yang advocates for a thousand-dollars a month universal basic income for all Americans, and Gabbard (an Iraq War veteran) calls for an absolute renunciation of US “regime change” wars.

 

Some of the smaller campaigns will no doubt fade as resources dry up in the stretch and expensive state-by-state “primaries” get underway, early in the new-year. In the meantime candidates vie for attention, package their stories, enlist allies, raise money and road test their messages.

 

But even as the Democrats debate and build up their campaigns, Trump continues to dominate the national stage. And as election season draws ever closer the already aggressive tone of his tweets has become ever more menacing and dictatorial. 

 

Trump’s recent attack on the four Democratic Congresswomen of color who make up “the Squad” –telling them to “go back to the countries they came from” – is just the latest example of his deliberate attempts to stir race hatred and use it as political tool. His actions are intentionally malevolent, something that no one in Mexico can afford to forget.

 

Most Democrats and their many candidates agree that Trump represents an unprecedented danger to the nation. They agree that his treatment of immigrants, especially children is abhorrent, and they agree that climate change is real and needs to be urgently addressed.

 

They understand that Trump is essentially a modern day Caligula whose re-election will further demean and perhaps forever weaken our Republic

 

On other important matters like health care, foreign policy, and the specifics of immigration differences are wider, but this much is clear: Whoever the Democrats nominate will have enormous support. The slogan “No Matter Who, Just Vote Blue” sums up that sentiment.

 

To unequivocally end the Trump era, Democrats need a resounding win that overcomes Republican structural and propaganda advantages – they need to win big by sheer force of numbers. 

 

Such a best-case outcome for Democrats requires a good candidate too. Just being against something does not make for landslides. The most important work in the next year will be registering, mobilizing, and turning out tens of millions of voters — new and old — in tens of thousands of electoral districts Red, Blue, and otherwise, all across the land.

 

Trump can be beaten. He is a widely disliked pathological liar, a serial philanderer, and he directly benefited from Russian electoral intervention in the 2016 elections.

 

Trump deserves to be impeached but Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, thinks the best strategy is to investigate, but then to vote him out in November 2020.

 

Pelosi believes the Senate would block any consideration of a House impeachment resolution and hence she thinks repudiating Trump at the ballot box is the necessary medicine to quell MAGA nationalism.

 

Resentment and fear of Trump could get Democrats close to victory. But overwhelming victory requires enthusiasm and belief in a new leader to reset our national mood and speak again to our sense of common national purpose. 

 

How does it end?

 

I believe that Democrats will win and win big. But that outcome is anything but guaranteed. Historically, populist authoritarian movements can generate great power and Trump has amply proven himself as a master demagogue.

 

 

Let’s look at some possible outcomes:

 

We looked at a best-case dream scenario above: Trump’s Democratic opponent wins big across the country with majorities in both houses of Congress. Trump concedes. Our new leader begins a reset of our national mood and looks for ways to speak again to our sense  of common national purpose (and whose actions reflects her genuine respect and admiration for Mexico and its people).

 

A best case could happen if 1. We do everything right, 2. The Russian don’t interfere, and 3. Trump is willing to leave without a fight. But there are nightmare scenarios too. Like these:

 

Nightmare scenario 1:  Trump refuses to concede after narrow Democratic win:

 

In the case of a close election that goes against the Republicans Trump could simply stonewall, assert that contrary election findings are just fake news.  Republicans back him.

 

If you think that sounds far fetched, ask yourself what you thought about Donald Trump’s chances of becoming president when he launched his campaign four years ago, in the summer of 2015.

 

This outcome is so disturbing that it is hard to talk about. It’s only reasonable to think about how we’d fight back if confronted with such circumstances.

 

Nightmare scenario 2:  Democrats win, Trump is forced out, but mobilized right-wingers block presidential initiatives:

 

Imagine that a ticket of Elizabeth Warren P and Kamala Harris VP move into the White House after a bruising electoral battle. Sore loser Trump and his (armed) followers refuse to accept her authority and openly resist new Federal initiatives — on gun regulation, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, and immigration. 

 

The right would certainly try to block big initiatives on regulating guns, getting serious about climate, getting real about abortion access and getting honest about immigration policy.

 

Building broad movement coalitions before, during, and after elections is the best way to make sure no one steals our democracy.

 

Nightmare scenario 3: Trump wins outright.

 

Trump winning outright would be its own kind of nightmare. It would surely accelerate the dissolving of bonds between Americans. It would intensify the sense that our national project has been hijacked and that our fellow countrymen had lost their way. Re-election would normalize and embrace all the vitriol and racism that Trump has spewed since his youth and continues to  today.  

 

Trump’s re-election would almost certainly result in new demands on Mexico — demands to more efficiently hunt down and deport Central Americans and other refugees. And because Mexico has granted Trump virtually everything he has asked, he might even revive his old demands that Mexico “Pay for the Wall”.

 

The good thing about nightmare scenario 3 is that it is not going to happen. America is polarized, but Trump’s demagoguery has its limits. 

 

Mexico can’t do much to help us, but here a couple of suggestions. If you are Mexican and have relatives who are US citizens, let them know every vote counts. And if you are president of Mexico, please don’t invite Trump to visit Mexico or otherwise help his re-election effort by capitulating to his never ending demands.

 

Finally, no matter who winds up living in the White House, people on both sides of the border of Mexico and the US need to maintain non-governmental lines of communication and mutual support. And rest assured, we will do our absolute utmost to defeat Trump and drive a stake through the heart of his ultra-nationalist movement.

Ted Lewis

Ted Lewis

Es educador, organizador y defensor de los derechos humanos; así como director de la ONG Global Exchange. Desde los años ochenta ha trabajado en promover los derechos humanos en América a través de la acción directa y la educación. Ha organizado numerosos actos de acompañamiento con un enfoque en derechos humanos, observaciones electorales y eventos de coalición sobre temas urgentes como los asesinatos derivados de la guerra contra las drogas, represión policial y violación a lo derechos de los migrantes.