AMELIA BRACE: Americans have either forgiven or forgotten Trump’s chaotic final year in power

Amelia Brace
The Nightly
4 Min Read
AMELIA BRACE: Americans have either forgiven or forgotten Trump’s chaotic final year in power.
AMELIA BRACE: Americans have either forgiven or forgotten Trump’s chaotic final year in power. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When considering which way to vote, Ronald Reagan famously encouraged Americans to ask themselves whether they are better off today than they were four years ago.

It’s a catch-cry the Trump campaign is leaning on heavily.

But if you carefully consider the question, the answer for most Americans is almost certainly “yes”.

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I was living in America in mid-2020, and it was not a place I’d vote to return to.

COVID had decimated the nation. Millions of Americans had been infected. Hundreds of thousands died. And by the time Donald Trump was voted out in November, 20 million people were unemployed.

Add to that, the civil unrest that swept the nation through the summer. Riots. Racism. Anarchy. The fourth year of the Trump administration was a disaster, derailing his confident plans of re-election, but only just.

Despite parts of the country quite literally being on fire that election year, he nearly won. This begs the question, what if the poll was held a year earlier? Or a year later?

Or — as we’re about to experience — four years later.

Recent polling shows majority of Americans have either forgiven or forgotten the train wreck of 2020, or at the least they don’t blame the former president for it. Rectifying the playing field, to give us the showdown we should have had four years ago. And, to borrow from another historical campaign (this time Clinton ’92), in 2024 it will come down to one thing: “the economy, stupid”.

May 7, 2024; New York, NY, USA; Former US President Donald Trump sits in court at Manhattan criminal court at the New York State Supreme Court. Mandatory Credit: Win McNamee/Pool via USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA
Former US President Donald Trump sits in court at Manhattan criminal court at the New York State Supreme Court. Mandatory. Credit: USA TODAY Network/Win McNamee/Pool via USA TODAY N

Like Australians, Americans are grappling with a cost-of-living crisis. The high inflation is without doubt a result of a pandemic hangover, but voters are less likely to grant a pass on this one. With the impacts of economic stimulus wearing off, families are hurting. And, while wages and employment have obviously improved since the onset of the pandemic, many don’t feel financially better off.

Despite 2020 (or more likely, forgetting it), voters remember Trump’s economy as being better. And like in 2020, he sees his economic record as his ticket to re-election.

Another record that cannot be ignored this election cycle is age. President Biden, 81, and Trump, who will be 78 on polling day, are the two oldest presumptive major party nominees in US history. And while Trump is now eight years older than when he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Joe Biden seems to have aged more significantly and harshly.

In February, an extraordinary Special Counsel report said what many had muttered, that Joe Biden was cognitively struggling, labelling the President an “elderly man with a poor memory”.

It was political gold for the Trump campaign. Further assisted when Biden confused the presidents of Mexico and Egypt while attempting (very much in vain) to defend himself.

There’s no doubt many question whether President Biden is mentally fit to be commander-in-chief, but his supporters have a quick counter: is Donald Trump ethically fit?

The former president is currently navigating criminal-four indictments. He could very well go to prison. But Teflon Trump is unfazed.

He has successfully been able to turn his legal lemons into lemonade, using the steps of a Manhattan courthouse as a stage for daily rallies, the testimony given inside as evidence of yet another political witch hunt. Even behind bars, many would see him as the victim. A martyr of free speech.

In fact, at least half of Republicans surveyed earlier this year said they would have no problem voting for Trump, even if he were convicted (remember, this is the president who was impeached twice with little political consequence).

Polling also shows that — ironically — the man who has spent much of the campaign trail thus far in a New York court, is seen as stronger on law and order, and certainly on the border and immigration, a growing cause of unease in the electorate.

The legal dramas could very well play into his hand. Another chance to disrupt the establishment. Defy authority. His consistent breaching of gag orders, evidence of his intention to politicise the process to his own advantage. And it’s working.

Even the judge presiding over the case seems more concerned about potential imprisonment than Donald Trump. Pleading, as he once again found the Republican nominee in contempt of court: “It’s important you understand, the last thing I want to do is put you in jail”.

“You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president, as well.”

I would say, it’s not just possible, but likely.

Americans don’t need to imagine life under Trump or Biden, they’ve lived it.

And while, in answer to President Reagan’s question, most are in fact better off than the last time they went to the polls, many — maybe a majority — would like to give Donald Trump a second chance and the second term that COVID robbed him of in 2020.

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The PM, the terrorist and the A-list barrister demanding war crimes charges.