The US presidential election, if no procedural surprise, will be held on November 3rd with more or less mail-in ballots depending on the situation of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The agenda occupying voters mind can always be put in the two major categories of Foreign Policies and Domestic Issues since they are the responsibility of the Presidency. However, each of the two categories contains many complex problems which challenge the President’s ability and measure his or her performance. The voters’ attention on these issues and their score cards generally get sharpened as the election campaign enters into the last ten weeks. This year is of no exception, the various foreign and domestic issues began to stack themselves with a few critical ones rising to the top of the voting population’s mind.
At this point, what are the critical foreign policies and domestic issues in the 2020 Presidential election then? Among foreign affairs, of course war and casualty are the most critical issues, but the Trump Administration despite of his unorthodox practice, his foreign policies are generally scaling down military conflicts and commitments by either withdrawing US troops from foreign land and reducing commitment in world obligation or shifting so called ‘security and defense’ burden to allies or applying ‘negotiation and sanction’ tactics against a few targets. These approaches were applied in the Middle East (‘ending the senseless wars’ policy), Europe (NATO versus Russia) and Asia (Korea Peninsula, Japan and Iran) except the South China Sea (involving China, ASEAN, Australia and India).
Trump has deliberately linked the China Relation to US domestic issues by accusing China as the culprit for US economic downturn, large trade deficit, falling competitiveness in technologies and even the disastrous COVID19-19 pandemic disease (the U.S. has the highest death toll in the world). Therefore, China Relation has been pumped up as the most critical foreign affairs issue in the 2020 Presidential election. Trump Administration not only hired staff with ‘McCarthyism’ ideology but also allowed them to infest the White House with their anti-China one-track mind (with little first hand experience in dealing with and knowing China, unfortunately) . The current status of US-China relation can be characterized with I. “continuing trade war with no end in sight”, II. ”destroying successful Chinese technology companies and deny them the U.S market”, and III. “provoking China on her sovereignty issues (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, South China Sea, etc. dividing Chinese people against their government )”.
Whether the above China issue overshadowing other foreign affairs will also overshadow all domestic issues or not is a billion dollar election question. Among domestic issues, economy (unemployment), pandemic, violent protests (racial discrimination, BLM, and gun violence) are intertwined as the most critical domestic issue. Infrastructure, border wall, immigration, gender equality etc. etc. are pushed below the critical level, because the top three domestic issues (economy-unemployment, pandemic and discrimination-violence-gun control) are all portrayed as one lumped issue. In this year, the above lumped issues are also artificially tied to the US-China relation as Trump Administration deliberately cast China as the single culprit or create the image that China is the single source for our problems: China stole our jobs by selling us cheap goods. China stole our technologies and became leader in technology such as 5G communication. China created the Corona virus and caused the U.S. pandemic with world highest death toll and huge economic set back.
Trump’s election strategy seems to be betting on that the voters can be easily fooled by creating a monster image (China) to be responsible for all of our problems. I think the U.S. voters are not so dumb, especially they see that the Trump Administration does not really have a working strategy to deal with the monster if it really exists as it is painted. In the trade war, China agreed to buy more goods from the U.S. yet the U.S. apply more sanctions to Chinese companies which do not solve the trade imbalance. Arbitrarily forbidding Chinese tech companies to do business in the U.S. or confiscate or close down their operation may loot a one-time benefit but it forces the Chinese corporations to be more independent of the U.S. industries in the future. The antagonizing maneuver against China especially in the South China Sea only accelerates China’s military defense. Can the U.S. risk a major war (likely nuclear war) with China? I think the American voters can see through the above scenarios and realize that the White House staff and Pompeo’s ‘China strategy” is a ‘Mirage Solution’ to the U.S. problems.
Floyd’s death under police brutality created the Black Lives Matter movement. It even propagated world wide even though domestically we always tried to deflect the (300 years) racial discrimination issue into another tangential subject. BLM triggered violent protest. Police and protesters clash. Gun violence and gun control surface as a debate topic as they do every election-cycle. The National Riffle Association (NRA founded in 1871) has always been a big donor in Presidential election and an avid lobbyist for gun ownership based on the 2nd Amendment. This year this issue probably will not become a serious debate subject since the Presidential debate is in limbo. However, a recent news that the New York Attorney General Latetia James has filed a lawsuit on 8-6-2020 to dissolve the NRA on the ground that its current and former officials have engaged in a massive fraud against donors. The lawsuit demands millions of dollars for restitution and penalties.
At the White House, Trump (whose charitable foundation paid $2m settlement last year in a lawsuit launched by James) commented lightly on the NRA lawsuit: “very terrible thing.” He urged the group to move to Texas and said, “It would be a great place for the NRA”. One can see that the gun issue pales in importance compared to another coming trade talk with China in a few days, sanctioning Hong Kong Executive Carrie Lam to travel to the U.S. and Trump’s recent executive orders that would impose new limits on Chinese social-media apps TikTok and WeChat and set a 45-day deadline for an American company to purchase TikTok’s U.S. operations. All these anti-China activities seem to occupy Trump’s attention and serve as ammunition to his re-election strategy creating a ‘Mirage Monster’ even though China has so far acted with calm and rational responses by standing firm on her principles and avoiding to get dragged into the U.S. Presidential election.
Although the Democrat Joe Biden does not spurt an exciting election campaign, but I am afraid that a ‘Mirage Solution’ will not secure a second term for Trump.