Now that the Democrat and Republican Conventions are over, the scenario is set for the most unique presidential elections in the United States in recent times, where continuity versus change will be tested by voters and the Electoral College. 

Trump and Pence, ratified as the Republican formula, represent more of the same, that is, continuity, trade wars, lacking leadership in the world, confrontations with key allies, and a so far unknown economic plan to “make America great again” amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

On the other hand, the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Democratic formula has benefited from Trump’s mistakes. In fact, even though Biden has criticized the role played by Trump during the pandemic – both at home and abroad – and his reluctance to building a better health system, not to mention his economic policy, it is evident that the Democrats make progress against the President, more because of Trump’s decisions than by Biden campaigning himself. Thus, Biden-Harris means change, but more in the “getting back on track” sense.

Until now, Biden’s strategy of “not campaigning beyond the strictly necessary,” seems to have worked. Trump’s shortcomings make Biden look strong. Most polls show a good performance by Biden, and he is ahead of Trump in most of them. Biden shows a stable lead nation-wide of 50 percent against a 42 percent of his Republican rival. This is a major change compared to the 2016 elections, where the leading candidate was not as clear as it is today.

Yet, there’s a long way to go before November and certainly, some things may change. Remember the 2016 elections, where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump realized that it is more important where you win the votes rather than how many you get. Also, the distance between Hillary and Trump was shorter than it is today. One important difference in 2020 is the support coming from the battleground states that made possible Trump’s victory in 2016.

According to the polls, Biden is ahead in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where Trump won in 2016 by less than one percent. One may also keep an eye on Georgia, Iowa and Texas, where Trump leads by a small margin, as opposed to the 2016 elections. Take Texas as an example: back in 2016, Trump won by 9.1 percent. In Iowa Trump prevailed by 9.5 percent. But today, the polls indicate Biden has closed the gap and has 45.6 percent of preferences in Georgia, 45 in Iowa and 43.3 in Texas, against Trump’s 46.7, 46.7 and 46.8 percent, respectively. This explains why Trump fired his re-election campaign manager last July and insisted on his concerned on “fake-polls,” insinuating he may not recognize the results of the November election.

What is going to happen in the months to come? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, massive meetings, rallies and such will be surpassed by a virtual exposure where social networks will play a more prominent role. Mail-in voting will start shortly and most probably Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, will be the focus of all sorts of criticism and attacks from the Republicans. Why? Well, to start with, she is a new kid in the neighborhood. Both Trump and Biden are well known, the first as president, the second as Obama’s vice-president. Trump is 74 years old. Biden is 77. Even Mike Pence, who is 61 and plays a discreet role under Trump – though he leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force – is known to people. Kamala Harris, instead, is 55. Not only younger than the three gentlemen mentioned before, she is of African and South-Asian descent and is the third woman to win a major party ticket in the U.S. elections history, preceded only by Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin. 

Born in California, she has had a prominent career as district attorney and U.S. senator. An advocate of environmental protection, Harris voted against the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement (USMCA), by arguing it would have negative effects on the environment. Previously, she has also distinguished in law enforcement by ordering the arrest of different criminal groups operating in the Tijuana-San Diego border area and other parts of California. She favors strict gun-control measures. Her stance on abortion has changed from 100 percent pro-abortion rights to stop providing elective abortion prescriptions. A while ago she said she favors LGBTQ rights. She also supports the legalization of marijuana at federal level.

With this profile in mind it is expected Harris will be taking the fire directed against the Democrats in the days and weeks to come. That is already happening. Once confirmed as Biden’s running-mate, Trump campaign advisor and lawyer Jenna Ellis tweeted that Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee “Kamala sounds like Marge Simpson.” Of course, Ellis intended this as an insult, but her comment turned against her. As it is well known, The Simpsons represent a nostalgic and satiric view of the long-gone nuclear family. Marge is responsible for keeping the family together. Certainly an attack on Harris based on Marge, is a huge mistake.

Shortly after, The Simpsons posted a short clip in which Bart’s mother appears on an empty stage and addresses Ellis’ comment, saying, “The president’s senior adviser, Jenna Ellis, just said Kamala Harris sounds like me — Lisa says she doesn’t mean it as a compliment! If that’s so, as an ordinary suburban housewife, I’m starting to feel a little disrespected.”

Marge’s statement gained critical acclaim. This is so because Hollywood has a say in domestic and international politics. And so does The Simpsons. In a well-known study edited by Joseph S. Foy titled Homer Simpson goes to Washington, the relationship between politics and popular culture is addressed. The authors of this volume explain that “The cartoon sitcom The Simpsons has used American politics to shape its plotlines since its debut in 1989. Politics has always influenced entertainment, and Americans increasingly use popular culture to make sense of the U. S. political system and current debates. There is, however, another factor to the relationship between politics and popular culture: education. Exposure of political ideas through television, film, and music generates interest and increases knowledge among viewers and listeners. The presentation of political ideas in popular culture often begins a dialogue through which citizens develop opinions and interest in political ideas.”

Thus, Ellis unexpectedly pushed Harris profile to the top, because the Vice-Presidential candidate comes from California – where Hollywood is based – and many Californians – and not only there but nationwide – identify themselves with a woman whose profile and political views fit well today’s America. Thus, the attacks on Harris turned into attacks to millions of supporters of her views, not to mention The Simpsons’ followers took the opportunity of recalling the way in which the cult sitcom in successive episodes voted for the Democrats. In fact, The Simspons have expressed their concerns on the Republicans, by criticizing George Bush Sr., George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, with more favorable views on Clinton and Obama. One may recall one of the earliest episodes when Homer Simpson fights George Bush Sr. over Bart’s misconduct, as a way of responding to what the then President commented on The Simpsons as a bad model for American families. After that, the first lady Barbara Bush softened that view and found The Simpsons ‘adorable.’ The moral of this story is: do not use Hollywood as a battleground if you are not properly prepared to do so.

There is another reason for attacking Harris. This election is about aging political candidates. One may remember how important age was in the last years of the Soviet Union, specially after the passing of Leonid Brezhnev – he died at 76 – in 1982 and his successors, Yuri Andropov – who died at 70 in 1984 – and Konstantin Chernenko – very seriously ill, who stayed in power barely for a year and died at age 74 in 1985. Then came Mikhail Gorbachev, the young reformist – he was 54 at that time – who buried the Soviet Union. Age matters in politics. Aging politicians have lots of experience. Yet, with some exceptions, they tend to be conservative, reluctant to changes, and comfortable with the status quo. Younger politicians may not be that experienced but they can promote transformations, sometimes for good – remember New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern before and during the coronavirus pandemic?

Trump is already the oldest to become President in U.S. history – he was 70 when he was elected in 2016 – and Biden, now 77, will be 78 a few days after the November election. He has already mentioned that, in case he wins, he may not run for reelection. This is understandable. By the time he finishes his first term, Biden would be 82. Thus, Kamala Harris has the potential of becoming President once Biden retires. It is very hard to ignore the fact that some may feel uncomfortable about it. 

In addition to that, if Biden wins, Harris is expected to be an active Vice-President, possibly like Al Gore in the Bill Clinton years, and certainly much more prominent than Mike Pence has been in the Trump Administration. Harris also represents a younger generation of politicians, somebody whose expertise as well as her vitality may be strongly required in the post-pandemic United States. Fresher views, different and innovative approaches to challenges: that’s what Kamala Harris is expected to offer to a hard-hit society, not only by COVID-19 but most important by the economic crisis, whose persistence is threatening the American way of life and the role of the U.S. in the international arena. The U.S. may need to move to a damage-control strategy both internally and in the world scene, where the credibility of the Trump Administration has been lost, due to the withdrawal from multilateral and regional organizations, his lacking support of the global environmental agenda and his trade war against virtually everyone. 

Thus, the Americans will have to decide what is best for them: continuity or change. Yes, it’s the economy stupid! And the economic crisis will be a tremendous burden for Trump. But there is much more at stake: it may take a lot of time for the United States to recover politically, socially, and even culturally after the Donald Trump years.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Mexico City-based author, researcher and academic María-Cristina Rosas. To reach her email: [email protected]. The guest column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author.


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