The Eurasia Group‘s President, Ian Bremmer and its Chairman Cliff Kupchan, writing in their annual “risk list,” say that “We’ve never listed US domestic politics as the top risk, mainly because US institutions are among the world’s strongest and most resilient … [but, they write] … This year, those institutions will be tested in unprecedented ways. We face risks of a US election that many will view as illegitimate, uncertainty in its aftermath, and a foreign policy environment made less stable by the resulting vacuum.” And, of course, we now have a new flare-up in the Middle east which complicates matters in America, too.
In summary, they say, “we’ll have an election that—in advance—will be perceived as “rigged” by a large percentage of the population. Public opinion polls already show this risk is on the rise. According to a 2019 poll by IPSOS, just 53% of the public believed the presidential election will be fair. But the biggest drop in confidence has come among Democratic voters. In 2016, 84% of Democrats believed that year’s election was fair; the number fell to 39% in September 2019 when asked about this year’s election … [and they say that will lead to] … Legal challenges, which will likely fail in a conservative-leaning Supreme Court … [and] … could even lead to calls from some quarters for the vote to be postponed or boycotted, which would be unsuccessful but further undermine electoral legitimacy. Alternately, if Trump feels he’s likely to lose, he could blame external actors such as Ukraine for interference and attempt to manipulate outcomes (especially in existing but vulnerable red states, where Trump allies hold political sway) in the name of ensuring election security. It will be the worst political climate for a national election that the US has experienced since the (effectively failed) election of 1876.” (As a reminder that was the election that brought Rutherford B Hayes to power; Hayes was not a bad president but, as in 2020, US political divisions in the “reconstruction era” (1865-77) were incredibly deep.
The divisions in America are, I think, in some part because the ‘moderate middle‘ has lost faith in both America’s politicians and in its political processes. They have abandoned both parties and the so-called political “grassroots” have been taken over by radicals, including Donald J Trump, himself. There is, I think, no political level to which the enraged Democrats and the Trumpian Republicans will not stoop to gain victory. Both parties have moved far beyond anything like reason; both seem to run on emotion. Neither (steadily dwindling) base of “grassroots” fanatics seems to care even a wit for mainstream America or its values and vital interests. Both sides see, to me, to be driven only by hate.
I do not discount the threat of actual violence in the streets in November 2020 when the votes have been counted. I believe feelings (not reason, for sure) are that intense.
As Messers Bremmer and Kupchan say: “Meaningful (France-style) social discontent becomes more likely in that environment, as does domestic, politically inspired violence. Also, a non-functioning Congress, with both sides using their positions to maximize political pressure on the eventual election outcome, setting aside the legislative agenda. That becomes a bigger problem if the US is entering an economic downturn, on the back of expanded spending and other measures to juice the economy in the run-up to the election.“
We can be sure of one thing: China, Iran, various radical Sunni (Arab) Islamist factions and Russia will all exploit these divisions, sometimes economically, sometimes using other, darker, tools.
“More broadly,” Ian Bremmer and Cliff Kupchan write, “both US allies and enemies over the past years have come to wonder whether the United States intends to lead – and they’ve hedged their bets accordingly. In the midst of a disputed 2020 election, many of those countries will wonder whether the US can govern itself. It’s a period of unusual geopolitical vulnerability to shock and escalation.“
Canada is, still, America’s closest neighbour and one of its largest and most reliable trading partners … unlike China, Europe and Japan, America and Canada are, roughy, balanced in trade. Canada relies upon America far more than the other way around, especially for security. Pierre Trudeau famous quip about sleeping with the elephant is even more valid, today because Canada is weaker than it was in the 1960s and ’70s. The problem is that the “twitches” and “grunts” about which Prime Minister Trudeau spoke are likely to be more pronounced in 2020 than any time, since the 1860s. The impacts (the plural matters) on Canada are likely to be strong and, mostly, unwelcome.
My best guess remains that despite the recent impeachment and, perhaps, because of the crisis in the Middle East, President Trump will find a way to win in 2020 … or, possibly, it’s better to say that the Democrats will find a way to lose. A reelected Donald Trump will be bolder than before, making the whole world a more dangerous place, and he is not especially pro-Canadian.
Canada, as I have said, is weaker, in every way, than we have been since the “dirty thirties” when the Great Depression, coupled with a dreadful drought on the prairies, and timid political leadership wreaked havoc on pretty well everything.
I believe that America will have a very rough, even violent political season in 2020 that will, in all likelihood end with a narrow and deeply divisive Trump victory. Canadians, generally, oppose President Trump and his policies; many Canadians see the Trudeau-Freeland team as the “anti-Trump.” In many respects, they are right: where President Trump is a populist-nationalist they are progressive-globalists. Where President Trump appeals to the American precariat they serve the interests of the hypocritical Laurentian Elites. But the issue is that the USA is central to almost everything on Canada’s political agenda, including climate change. As John Ibbitson says, in the Globe and Mail: right now in early 2020 “Canada’s highest priority is to secure American ratification of the revised North American trade agreement. This is no time to anger the Trump administration.” Duck and cover is the politically expedient tactic, for now, even though a solid majority Canadians share the Democrats’ rage against President Trump.
“Nonetheless,” Mr Ibbitson writes, reflecting, approvingly, I think, on Jean Chrétien’s political manoeuvering during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, “if the United States becomes embroiled in something approaching war, however asymmetrical, with Iran, or if U.S. forces truly are preparing to leave Iraq, creating a power vacuum, then once again chaos will grip the Middle East, forcing Ottawa to navigate between U.S. demands for solidarity and the demands of Canadian citizens to keep this country out of quagmires … [and, he concludes] … Mr. Trudeau has adopted a lower profile during his second, minority, government. But if things hit the fan again in Iran and Iraq, the Canadian people will expect him to lead.” I can think of no one, since Mackenzie-King in 1939, less well equipped to lead Canada in a strategic crisis than are Justin Trudeau and/or Chrystia Freeland … and I suspect that, as some observers suggest, Justin Trudeau may be choosing or maybe will be pushed, by the Liberal Party, to take that famous walk in the snow.