A U.S. referendum on Donald Trump – and things aren’t looking good for the president

Like many Canadians, my head tells me that Donald Trump can’t possibly win the presidential election.

That’s due to the polls, the rising COVID-19 death toll, his dreary standing with seniors, the sky-high turnout of young voters, and the super-smooth Joe Biden campaign. It has benefited from Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s star power with suburban women.

All the stars seem aligned for a Donald Trump drubbing.

But then I see those enormous Trump rallies and realize that strongman politics continues to play well with voters around the world.

It makes me wonder if Trump has a chance of winning enough states to pull off a second victory while still losing  the popular vote.

Trump’s populist approach has worked in other countries. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, India’s Narendra Modi, Turkey’s Viktor Orbán, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have all won elections employing similar tactics.

They scapegoat others—minorities, elites, and even doctors and scientists in the case of Trump—while acting like they’re the only ones strong enough to protect their nations. And that can work wonders with large sections of the electorate, particularly those who’ve been economically savaged by automation.

Blue-collar male workers, in particular, have felt the brunt of the rise of robots in workplaces, making them prime targets for Trump because they’re already so alienated. Now, automation is spreading to the customer-service sector of the economy, including retail.

Author and international-affairs columnist Gwynne Dyer has linked this trend to the growth of right-wing political populism.

In a lecture at SFU Woodward’s in Vancouver in 2019, Dyer described populism as a “tactic”, which Trump employs to great effect.

“In the first decade of this century, six million more American manufacturing jobs disappeared and almost none of them went abroad,” he said. “They just vanished in place. The individuals who held them either became fully unemployed or cascaded down from the $25 [an hour] onto the minimum-wage jobs.”

With the rise of self-driving vehicles, automation could conceivably wipe out hundreds of thousands if not millions of truck- and taxi-driving jobs in the years to come.

If Trump confounds the experts and the pollsters and somehow wins a second term, it will be due to his message resonating with these alienated workers.

His candidacy gives them a chance to give the proverbial finger to the elites when they’re inside the voting booth.

Right now, it doesn’t seem likely that Trump will win, given the deep-seated hostility that he has generated across America and particularly among American women. I’m betting he’s a one-term presidential pony.

This column originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.


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