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Kelly McParland: Election won't solve America's underlying issues

U.S. President Donald Trump, left,  and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate, in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 29.
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate, in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 29.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Joe Biden wins the U.S. election on Nov. 3. Let’s also say there’s no national uprising of angry white folks, no court intervention and President Donald Trump agrees to leave peacefully rather than lock himself in a closet in the White House.

Biden takes the oath of office in January and the United States — and the world — sets about trying to recover from four years of chaos and uncertainty.

Big victory? In one sense, yes, of course. The world can’t help but be relieved by removal of the most ill-suited president in American history. But Trump’s departure will be minor compared to the problem he leaves behind: what to do about the conditions that led to his election in the first place?

Trump garnered almost 63 million votes in 2016, 46 per cent of those cast. Even if his share falls to 41 per cent or so, as polls indicate, that’s still 55 million people who feel nothing that’s happened in the past four years has changed their minds that he’s the man for the job. Voter turnout could increase substantially, of course — it seems a certainty given the long lineups at early voting stations and the massive increase in requests for mail-in ballots — suggesting that, even if he loses, Trump could end election day with a vote total close to his 2016 results.

Either way, 50-60 million voters is nothing to sneeze at. Especially given the type of people we know Trump appeals to, the depth of their disenchantment, the lack of progress in addressing the issues that drive them and the lack of evidence that official Washington has learned anything from the experience.

Trump was elected on a pledge to drain the swamp that is the U.S. capital. His victory demonstrated how poorly served Americans feel by a ruling class they see as distant, inept, out-of-touch, uncaring and ineffective. And old.

Trump’s performance has done nothing to lessen that sense; many of his enthusiasts delight in him precisely because of the turmoil he’s brought to the capital’s cozy ways and self-serving practices. They love the fact that he disrupts a world they despise. Which leaves Biden to face the fact that millions of voters will be just as disgruntled the day he takes office as they were the day Trump took the same oath. Perhaps more so.

Trump is 74. Biden turns 78 next month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , the senior Democrat, is 80, six years older than Bill Clinton, who’s been out of office for 20 years.

On average, Congress may not be ancient, but its leaders certainly are. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, is 78 and was first elected in 1984. Chuck Grassley, a member of the judiciary committee now questioning Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, is 87. Nearby sits the panel’s senior Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, who’s also 87.

More than half the Congress is reckoned to be millionaires — some of whom managed to amass their fortunes while serving as career politicians. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida is believed to be the richest, with a net worth of around $260 million. Feinstein’s wealth is estimated at $90 million-plus. Pelosi’s is figured at a minimum of $30 million and as high as $115 million, with her own Napa, Calif., vineyard and a husband with holdings in Apple, Walt Disney Co. and Facebook.

These aren’t the people who are going to lead a renewal in Washington, much less engage in any swamp-draining. Democrats devoted much of Trump’s term to efforts to overturn his victory, first via Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence, and later by impeachment.

Last week, Pelosi proposed a commission to assess whether Trump could be declared unfit for office , just three weeks before voters will make that judgment in any case. Republicans quickly introduced a resolution to have Pelosi declared mentally unsound. You can’t expect either party to correct a quagmire they created. They can’t even see it, because it’s them.

Biden’s biggest challenge is a country ill-suited to deal with the changes pressing in on it. When the Soviet empire dissolved, Americans were told it was the end of history and they were the only remaining superpower. Why adapt to a world when you supposedly dominate it? That the predictions were wrong hasn’t sunk in yet.

Rather than deal with the impact of globalism and the rise of China, Republicans want to wish it away with border walls and punitive tariffs. Democrats want to subsidize it into submission with free tuition and “buy American” laws backed by US$400 billion ($526 billion) in federal funds. More handouts are an unlikely solution when the fundamental problem is that so many people in the world’s richest country need handouts in the first place.

Trump’s policies did nothing to better prepare the country, and none of Biden’s seem likely to do better, precisely because they don’t address the collapse of the country’s sense of itself.

A nation supposedly dedicated to liberty, opportunity and self-reliance has somehow created a vast underpopulation that can’t survive should it miss a single paycheque. And rather than forge a workable compromise, the two sides would rather go to war with one another.

Former president Ronald Reagan reinvigorated a drifting country by sharing his sense of an America in which disparate perspectives all saw a place for themselves. Trump’s forces champion the opposite: division, rivalry and resentment — an us-against-them attitude in which “them” is anyone different. If Biden wins and, as seems likely, serves just one term, he could claim a great achievement if all he did was find a way to bind America together again in a shared ambition, a more practical understanding of its place in the world and a sense of how to use its great gifts to bring that about.

National Post

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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