Upon making even the most cursory of glances at the US election, it swiftly becomes apparent that neither candidate appears to understand that the purpose of an election is to garner as many votes as possible.
Both candidates seem to be solely focused on appealing to their base and appear to have little to no interest in converting supporters from the opposing party.
The message from Biden is that he is the light, while Trump and his supporters are the dark, a strategy that follows on from the disastrous “deplorables” accusations that did little to help Hilary Clinton in her presidential bid in 2016.
Trump, on the other hand, despite avoiding such biblical imagery, is just as happy to paint Biden and his supporters as enemies of America.
While it is hardly a surprise that both candidates are spending vast sums of money to disparage each other, this new strategy of also disparaging the other half of the electorate appears to be counterintuitive.
Given this backdrop, the election is routinely described as toxic. Good news for the hyperbolic and partisan media, less good news for the electorate.
While accusations of toxicity are hardly new during a presidential election, the inability of either candidate to create a consistent message of optimism for the future appears to ignore the lessons of recent campaigns.
In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned around the commitment to “Make America Great Again”. In 2008, Barrack Obama centralized his campaign around the positive message “Yes We Can”. These simple and aspirational messages helped to persuade enough voters, especially in swing states, to put both men in the White House.
Fast forward to the 2020 campaign and neither candidate has created a slogan of any note, a dearth of inspiration that is also mirrored by the seeming lack of policy ideas being offered.
Considering the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the US economy having shrank at a record 32.9% in the second quarter of the year, you would expect that the dominating theme of the election would be the economy. Inexplicably, the headlines have instead focused on fringe groups such as Q-Anon and the Proud Boys. Even the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head appears to have received more scrutiny than the economy.
This is a great shame, an election should be the time for politically opposed candidates to share their visions of the future. It would of course be naïve to expect no mudslinging, but in focusing solely on the shortcomings of their adversary and offering little in the way of policy ideas, both Biden and Trump do a great disservice to the American public.
Problems always require solutions, and following the dramatic social and economic impact of the pandemic, it is disastrous that the largest democracy in the world is not using this election to debate how the country can recover.
Like it or not, America remains the global leader of ideas and sets the tone for global discourse. An election in which different ideas to tackle the social and economic challenges of the pandemic are shared and debated would be good for the world as a whole, not just America.
Thankfully, both campaigns still have time to move their rhetoric away from the shortcomings of their opponents and start to clearly enunciate their vision and policy framework for the next four years.
The historical success of the US has been its ability to embrace free-market enterprise and create global demand for its culture and products. It is a country that has defined itself by hard work, freedom, and the optimistic vision of the ‘American Dream.’
Both Biden and Trump would do well to remember this and start to sell their visions through the market place of ideas, rather than through the negative lens of their opponents. Ironically, they should start to make their pitches to the electorate more American.