Donald Trump Jr. doesn't want anything to ruin his good mood. Not the dark clouds gathering overhead on this afternoon and certainly not the terrible survey results that are sticking to his father, the president, like a piece of old chewing gum from the sidewalk.
Junior is standing on a podium on the outskirts of State College, Pennsylvania, and talking about the excitement that he is allegedly encountering wherever he goes. "This is 2016 on steroids," he says, as he looks out across a half-empty parking lot and the cleared cornfields of Pennsylvania. He says there are hundreds of people waiting outside and that he hopes they can get them in. Yet all he has to do is look a bit to the left to see that there are only a couple of stragglers waiting at the security checkpoint.
It's hard to imagine that even the president's 42-year-old son himself believes what he'll say in the next half hour. That his father will win a landslide victory on Nov. 3 and that his Democratic challenger Joe Biden shouldn't even be allowed to be president because he is on the payroll of Chinese businessmen. If there was anything to such stories, the FBI would long since have opened an investigation.
He claims that Joe Biden's son Hunter received $3.5 million from a Russian oligarch, money that allegedly comes from human trafficking and prostitution. "If I did what Hunter did, I'd be in Rikers Island doing my best not to drop the soap," he would later say at a rally in Florida, referring to the famous New York prison.
Nothing that he says is true, of course. There isn't even the slightest bit of evidence that Joe Biden has accepted any money from China. There is also no indication that his son was bribed by a Russian billionaire. And when it comes to the polls, they are currently showing that Biden will emerge victorious in next Tuesday's election. In an average of national public opinion polls, the Democrat has an almost two-digit lead over Trump, and his advantage in important swing states is also looking relatively stable, even if he loses a bit of ground in Pennsylvania in the final days before Election Day.
But Don Jr. isn't particularly concerned about all of that. His eyes are on the future, on a time when his father is perhaps no longer president but Trumpism remains alive and well. Significantly more than 30 percent of American voters will again cast their ballots for Donald Trump in this election, that much can be said with a fair degree of certainty. They will do so despite that the president's catastrophic pandemic mismanagement which is partially responsible for the over 220,000 coronavirus deaths in the country; despite his calls, like a wannabe dictator, for his attorney general to open an investigation into Joe Biden; and despite the fact that U.S. citizens now know that Trump, who has always bragged about his wealth, only paid $750 in taxes in the first year of his presidency.
Trump has managed to create a kind of parallel universe in which his words are all that matter. In the vast majority of cases, those words have very little to do with reality, but his most loyal followers don't seem to care. If Trump has ever uttered a true sentence, then it was his claim that his followers would continue to love him even if he was to shoot somebody dead on Fifth Avenue.
But what will Trump's fanatic base do if they see their hero fall in the election?
Joe Biden's most significant promise is his pledge to reunite America if he is elected president. In his portrayal, Trump is an "historical aberration" that can be corrected with a bit of effort and goodwill. But if you travel through the United States, if you flip through TV channels in the evening, if you speak with Trump supporters, a vastly different picture begins to emerge. It becomes clear that Trump alone isn't responsible for the deep divisions in American society, but is just a symptom of a much deeper crisis. And it is a crisis that won't disappear if he is voted out of office.
Trumpism is here to stay, even if the president goes, writes Republican political adviser Peter Rough, who has intimate knowledge of the conservative scene in Washington, in a position paper about the future of his party.
Police in San FranciscoFoto: Chris Tuite / imago images
Trump, if you will, has essentially magnified a development that began over 30 years ago. He is the product of a party that once professed the holy trinity of family values, military and "small government," only to then completely subordinate itself to the resentments and desires of wealthy donors. This lack of principles allowed Trump to rise to power against the resistance of the old party establishment. Now, the Republicans are led by a man who allegedly cheated on his wife with a porn star, who is said to have called fallen U.S. soldiers "losers" and "suckers," and who has presided over a $4.4 trillion rise in the national deficit during his term.
The wheels of Trump's rise were greased by media outlets whose business model depends on sowing the seeds of anger and discord. Without the hate machine of Facebook, the Kremlin would not have been so effective in manipulating the 2016 election in Trump's favor, while Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has outstripped all others in the history of television in transforming lies and propaganda into billions of dollars in profit and massive political influence.
None of that will disappear if Donald Trump is voted out of office on Nov. 3. On the contrary, in the last four years the president has systematically deepened the trenches dividing Americans. After him, there will still be plenty others seeking to take advantage of those differences. Over the course of several decades, for example, the Supreme Court was an impartial authority respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. Twenty years ago, two-thirds of Americans still had faith in the work of the country's highest court. Today, it is just half.
Trump has pulled the Supreme Court into the partisan trench warfare in which he thrives and appointed justices that will continue pushing through conservative positions even if Democrats manage to win control of the White House and both houses of Congress. On Monday, the Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett, a jurist who has never been shy about her desire to reverse the right to abortion, even though almost two-thirds of all Americans are opposed to such a reversal.
It will take years to repair the damage that Trump has done to American governmental institutions. The president has fired five independent auditors responsible for investigating corruption and cronyism in government ministries and agencies. He has inflicted significant harm on the State Department, once the pride of the U.S. government. Important posts have been left unoccupied for years and those concerned about their reputations preferred to avoid working for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a loyal Trump vassal. Most recently, Trump fired the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and replaced him with a researcher who has primarily attracted attention for his efforts to play down climate change.
Trump's son Donald Jr.Foto: Preston Ehrler / imago images
Never before in U.S. history has a president done such lasting damage to the fabric of American democracy in such a short amount of time. Trump has repeatedly insisted to his followers that a majority of American media outlets, from CBS to the Boston Globe, are nothing but fake news factories working on behalf of the Democrats. And it seems to have worked: Whereas 69 percent of Democrats say they continue to trust mass media outlets, only 15 percent of Republicans say the same. From Trump's perspective, that is perhaps his greatest accomplishment while in office.
When he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017, the White House claimed that never before had so many people gathered to pay their respects to a new president. Just a quick look at the aerial views from his predecessor Barack Obama's inauguration was enough to reveal the lie. Trump's then adviser Kellyanne Conway said in response to the criticism that the president's press spokesman had merely been presenting "alternative facts."
It was an early shot fired in Trump's war against the customs and conventions that American democracy had held dear to that point. And it was one that many observers felt was a response to the fact that he actually received 3 million votes fewer than his opponent Hillary Clinton and only won because of the antiquated Electoral College system.
Now, Trump is far behind in the polls, but he nevertheless continues to act as though the Democrats are trying to steal the election from him. "The only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged," he said recently. It is a claim that could have a toxic effect. After all, if the Democrats were in the process of planning a coup, wouldn't all efforts to stop it be legitimate? Even violent resistance?
A gun shop in Pennsylvania: Weapons purchases have increased rapidly this year, partly due to violent unrest and protests in the country that have been fuelled by Donald Trump.Foto: Sara Lewkowicz / DER SPIEGEL
It is difficult to picture Nathan Houck with a weapon in his hands. The 34-year-old has the look of a teenager and as he speaks, his four-year-old daughter squirms on his lap. Houck is a family man and a reliable employee, not the kind of guy you could imagine manning a barricade. Still, he believes it is possible that he might have to take part in an armed conflict. "If the Democrats win the House, the Senate and the presidential election, I am almost positive that there will be no fair elections anymore," Houck says.
His family's home is in a cul-de-sac at the end of a road that snakes through rural Pennsylvania. Signs on the side of the road leave no doubt as to who people in the area are going to vote for: "Keep America Great" signs can be seen in front of almost every home, with TRUMP in capital letters above them.
Stepping into Houck's home is like going back to the 1950s, with ceramic plates on the wall and a Bible on the shelf along with books full of stories of salvation. Houck's wife is raising their two girls and they are not planning to send their older daughter to a public school. Houck says he is concerned she would be "indoctrinated."
He wasn't always an enthusiastic follower of Trump. He says he was initially repelled by his boorish mannerisms and vulgar jargon. "He uses words that I wouldn't allow in our family," he says, looking at his daughter. But today, four years later, his view of Trump has changed. "He is fighting for our values," values that Houck believes would be under threat should Biden win. He says that Biden would transform the U.S. into a socialist police state. "I think in 40, 50 years, there will be persecution for being Christian."
He says he will spend the days after the election praying for America's future and will be keeping a close eye on how things develop. Will abortion continue to be legal? Will there be a ban on preaching against homosexuality? If that happens, he says, he'll have no other choice than to defend himself. "If it boiled down to me being able to worship my God versus me overthrowing the government, then I would be on God's side."
Protesters in LafayetteFoto: Go Nakamura / REUTERS
Frightened Republicans like Houck have been arming themselves in recent months. "We can't stock as many weapons as we can sell," says Paul, the owner of a hunting and gun shop called The Outdoorsman in Winthrop Harbor, a town in northern Illinois. On this recent Saturday, the store is busy as well. A married couple are examining a revolver while a young man wearing camouflage is checking out the sight on a rifle.
People want to protect themselves, says Paul, who is nervous about providing his full name in these uneasy times. But against what? "Everyone here knows what has happened," Paul says. "Nobody wants to stand by and watch as people attack their house and burn it down."
The events he is referring to took place two months previously in Kenosha, a town just a few miles away. A policeman there shot the young black man Jacob Blake in the back seven times. Violent protests erupted in response and houses and shops were set on fire.
With just days to go before the election, the mood is tense in several big cities across the country. Many in the U.S. are concerned about a flare up of political violence, or worse. According to surveys, fully a third of Americans believe that a civil war is possible within the next five years.
Protests in Kenosha: About one-third of Americans consider a civil war likely in the next five years.Foto: Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images
The idea isn't totally absurd. Armed groups across the country are arming themselves in preparation. If Biden wins, "we'll take the fight to him," says Chris Hill, the leader of an armed militia in Georgia. "I will attack a tyrant no matter where he is."
Many radicals share his view. "We have observed that militias and other right-wing extremist groups are actively talking about interfering with the election process, either on Election Day or after votes have been submitted," says Devin Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. In early October, the FBI arrested 13 men who were planning on kidnapping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The plan called for to be subjected to a kind of trial in a secret location because she had imposed a curfew in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
America is no stranger to political violence. Never before, though, has the country had a president who seeks to foment such unrest. Trump has said on several occasions that the country is facing massive voter fraud on behalf of the Democrats. During the first TV debate against Biden, the president declined to distance himself from militant groups, and in reference to the right-wing militia Proud Boys, he said: "Stand back and stand by." It was a bit like Trump was playing with matches at a gas station.
Police across the country have spent weeks preparing for the violence that Trump appears to be provoking. "I don't think we have seen anything similar in modern times," says Andrew Walsh, deputy police chief of Las Vegas. He says the time between the polls closing and the announcement of the final results will be particularly dangerous. Because of the numerous votes being cast through the mail, it could take days for all the ballots to be counted. What might happen if Trump declares himself the victor in the interim? And if Biden doesn't accept that declaration? Chaos would most likely be the result.
On 60th Street in Kenosha, many shops remain boarded up even though the riots ended quite some time ago. "The boards are going to stay there for the time being," says Kyle, a mechanic at Ed's Used Tires. "Violence can erupt again at any time."
Security forces in PhiladelphiaFoto: Yuki Iwamura / REUTERS
Trump has transformed the United States into a dangerous place. The president, whose job it is to unite the country, has incited Americans against each other. What makes his presidency so unique is that he lacks any understanding for the gravity of the job he holds. He doesn't understand something that all of his predecessors did: That the job itself is greater than the person who holds it. Almost worse than Trump's political aberrations - his contempt for America's European partners, his weakness for dictators, his denial of climate change – is the fact that he has desecrated the highest office in the country. The presidency was created to bring together a country whose only link is the belief in freedom and in personal responsibility.
Trump has introduced a degree of nepotism the country has never seen before, appointing his daughter and son-in-law as special advisers. He sent his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, around the world to ingratiate himself with foreign politicians and diplomats. He acted as though he was standing up to China, yet he secretly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for campaign support. He has transformed the state into a wing of the Trump empire.
Can he claim any accomplishments? Trump doubtlessly played a role in the strong economic growth the country experienced in the three years before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Wages in the U.S. climbed during that time, including for those men and women without higher education who had been excluded from economic growth for decades. He also oversaw the convergence of Israel with some Arab countries despite decades of animosity. It is an achievement that could ultimately find a mention in the history books.
But what value do such achievements have when the president is simultaneously taking an ax to the roots of democracy at home? One certainly cannot accuse Trump of not having tried to establish a close link with the electorate. Whatever goes through his head can be found a minute later on Twitter. Barack Obama may have dabbled in using social media as a political tool, but Trump has taken the strategy to insidious lengths.
Trump passes along slogans from conspiracy theorists and racists, insulted Democrats and Republicans alike and, ever since his poll numbers have begun falling, he has used Twitter to foment doubts about the legitimacy of the election. Trump has gone so far that internet companies are now considering muzzling Trump on election night to prevent him from triggering violence via tweet.
But Trump hasn't been alone in worsening the political climate in the country. No other television station in the country's history has sown so much hate and division as Fox News, the profit machine in Rupert Murdoch's media empire. How it works was on full display on Thursday of last week, when Trump and Biden met for their second debate.
When the two men separated after an hour and a half of sparring, most commentators were united in the view that nobody had really emerged as the winner. The president had pulled himself together and had been able to land a few punches, while Biden valiantly defended himself, even as he tripped over his tongue on several occasions as expected.
But then, Sean Hannity went on the air, the star of Fox News. Biden, he said during his introduction, had finally dared to emerge from his basement after several weeks in hiding. "He may come to regret it," Hannity intoned. The Americans, the Fox News anchor said, should not allow themselves to be misled into believing that Biden did well in the debate. He was "caught in lie after lie after lie. The mob of the media won't tell you."
Murdoch, Trump and Murdoch's wife Jerry Hall in 2016Foto: Carlo Allegri / REUTERS
Day after day, Hannity pounds home to his viewers that Trump is a brave outsider who is only attacked so viciously because he dares to drain the corrupt Washington swamp. In his version of events, every official in Washington is a representative of the "deep state,” and media outlets like the New York Times or CNN are pure leftist propaganda machines.
If you watch Fox News through European eyes, the hysteria of the nightly news has something unintentionally funny about it. Hannity consistently calls Trump's challenger "sleepy, creepy, crazy Uncle Joe.” According to Hannity, Biden is a senile puppet in the hands of radical socialists. The warmongering title of Hannity’s book on the election is "Live Free or Die." But Hannity isn’t some whacked-out conspiracy theorist broadcasting from a garage in West Virginia. He attracts an average of 5 million viewers each night, an audience few other political talk show stars in the U.S. could dream of.
Reed Hundt can still remember exactly how everything began. During Bill Clinton's presidency, the lawyer was head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which grants licenses for television stations. In 1994, he visited Rupert Murdoch, who had invited him to dinner at his home in Los Angeles. Murdoch was still making a lot of money on the British newspaper market at that time. But he had a plan to revolutionize the American television business.
He recalls how Murdoch told him that when he would go to newsstands in London, he would find the Times for the educated middle classes, the Guardian for the left and tabloids like the Sun and the Mirror for the rest. And how he told him that TV stations in America are jostling for the moderate audience in the middle. Murdoch’s ingenious plan was to create a television station that occupied a niche that no one had seen before: white men without higher education. Murdoch didn't say so at the time, Hundt says, but he knew that his viewers would mainly skew to the right.
In a way, says Hundt, the Trump presidency is linked to the success of Fox News. The cable channel has created its own audience, and at some point, a politician was needed to entertain those viewers. If Trump didn’t exist, it would have been someone else, he says. That’s why he doesn’t believe a Trump defeat will bring the people at Fox to their senses. The station will simply look for a new populist who can help deliver good ratings and political influence for the station. Fox News will create a new beast, says Hundt. This is the inevitable consequence of all the money that goes into politics like dirty water into a sink, he says.
Populists Hannity and Trump in 2018: On Fox News, Democrat Joe Biden is portrayed as a senile puppet in the hands of radical socialists, and millions of viewers are served these bizarre distortions every day.Foto: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images
American television wasn't always as mercilessly biased as it is today. Until well into the 1980s, a fairness doctrine reigned supreme, one that required the major broadcasters to present controversial political issues from both sides. The regulation was highly controversial, with many conservatives viewing it as an attack on freedom of expression. But the Supreme Court quashed all attempts to overturn it.
It was only under pressure from President Ronald Reagan that the regulation was eliminated. When asked whether the end of the fairness clause was the cardinal sin of American politics, Hundt just shrugs his shoulders. He says that as a cable-only channel, the fairness doctrine anyway didn’t apply to Fox News. Besides, Hundt says, when he looks at the Supreme Court today, he doesn’t believe they would allow a thing like that to happen anyway.
There’s much to suggest that Hundt is right. On Monday, the Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett as the third Trump-nominated justice on the Supreme Court. With that move, conservatives now dominate the court. No other U.S. president has transformed the judiciary as profoundly as Trump has in such a short period of time, and his appointees will continue to shape the country for decades to come. Presidents come and go, but federal judges are appointed for life, which gives them power and independence. It was the Supreme Court that heralded the end of racial segregation in schools, the right to abortion and the right to marriage for gays and lesbians -- not Congress or the White House.
That’s why Trump has put so much effort into appointing new judges and justices. Since the start of his term, he has appointed a total of 220 federal judges, 53 of whom sit on the country’s influential appellate courts, which are only one level below the Supreme Court.
One of those judges is Barbara Lagoa. The 52-year-old, pious Catholic, is the daughter of Cubans who fled from Fidel Castro’s socialist regime. Lagoa is a follower of the legal philosophy of constitutional "originalism,” which holds that judges must interpret the constitution in the strictest sense of the word and may, if necessary, orient their interpretations based on the intentions of the Founding Fathers of the U.S.
Lagoa has been part of the Atlanta-based Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit for a year now, where she is adjudicating fully in the Trump spirit. If the president were to get re-elected despite all the adversity he currently faces, it could in part be due to a ruling she played a role in.
Two years ago, the citizens of Florida voted in a referendum to restore the right to vote for convicted criminals after they have served their sentences. It was a far-reaching decision, in part because there are 1.4 million former prisoners in the state, including many blacks who tend to favor the Democrats. Another reason is that presidential elections in Florida have always been extremely close and the state could again be the deciding factor between victory and defeat on Election Day on Nov. 3.
Democrats were outraged when the Republicans in the Florida state legislature responded by passing a law that only allows former inmates to vote again after they have paid all their fees and fines. According to civil rights groups, the law serves the sole purpose of keeping those 774,000 convicted criminals who lack the money to pay their debts to the authorities off the voting rolls. The law eventually landed at the Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where it was upheld by Lagoa and her colleagues - not a huge surprise, given that five of the six judges who moved to affirm the law owed their posts to Trump.
The Democrats and many experts view Trump’s zealousness in appointing judges as an attempt to undermine the will of the majority. "The Supreme Court is too powerful," says Samuel Moyn, a professor at Yale University. He says the U.S. faces a potential culture war if the court overturns the right to abortion. He argues that political decisions need to be made again where they belong: in Congress. Moyn has proposed that steps be taken to curb the court’s influence, for instance by changing the law so that the court could only overturn laws with a qualified majority of six or seven of the nine justices’ votes, which would essentially give the liberal judges veto power over rulings.
President Trump, judge Barrett and their spouses: None of his predecessors transformed the American judicial system as fundamentally in such a short time.Foto: Brendan Smialowski / AFP
It would, of course, be healthier for American democracy if, with the possible end of Trump’s presidency, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate could relearn how to work together and compromise as they did for decades.
There are even a few Republicans who view the Trump era as one they would like to put behind them. Ben Sasse, a Republican Senator representing Nebraska, openly vented his anger over the president a few days ago in a conference call with supporters and staff, saying that Trump "spends like a drunk sailor.” The Senator railed that it is unforgivable that Trump "kisses dictators’ butts” around the world.
But it’s more likely that Sasse will remain a lone voice in a party whose moral foundation has almost completely crumbled. In the past four years, few Senators have shown the courage to stand up to Trump, with the vast majority simply looking the other way when it became apparent that Trump had blackmailed the Ukrainian government in an effort to force them to deliver dirt on his challenger, Joe Biden. They remained silent when the president publicly stated that he had more faith in Russian President Vladimir Putin than in the U.S. intelligence services. Nor was there any outrage when Trump disparaged his government’s pandemic experts as "idiots” a few days ago.
The Trump presidency is the product of the complete disintegration of the substance of the Republican Party, a process that began decades ago. The party suffers from the lack of a unifying ideological bond. The 80 million or so Evangelical Christians who form the core of the voter base have little in common with Wall Street bankers, who by no means consider sex before marriage to be a sin, but want to pay as few taxes as possible on their annual bonuses.
Trump supporters in ArizonaFoto: Ariana Drehsler / AFP
It was Newt Gingrich who turned what was then a rather well-behaved party into a populist movement at the end of the 1990s. The movement stirred up sentiment against a purportedly corrupt system in Washington and exploited the party’s ideological void. It led the Republicans in 1994 to win their first majority in Congress in over 40 years. With Trump’s election, Gingrich’s revolution came full circle.
Under Trump’s leadership, there are Republicans running for Congress who openly support the QAnon movement, which promotes an abstruse conspiracy theory that the Democrats are part of a satanic criminal ring that kidnaps children in order to extract a rejuvenating drug from their blood.
Trump is the logical consequence of the racism and hatred that has become the essence of the Republicans over the past three decades, former strategist and campaign consultant Stuart Stevens writes in his recent book, "It Was All A Lie,” a bitter and angry reckoning with his own party. "Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party,” argues Stevens, who led Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. "He is the Republican Party in a purified form.”
And whoever succeeds Trump in the party won’t be able to afford to alienate the voters Trump has lured with his brash language. "The Republican Party will be taken over by whoever knows how to take up the Trump rebellion and can turn it in a productive direction," says Peter Rough of the conservative Hudson Institute.
There’s just one problem: Who could that person be? Donald Trump Jr. undoubtedly has the trust of the most loyal Trump fans. After the cheering of his fans died down at the campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Trump Jr. shouted: "Make liberals cry again,” an allusion to his father's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again.”
But if Donald Trump loses his re-election bid, the Trump family myth will be shattered. "The president will be seen as someone who failed to deliver on his core promise: To always be on the side of victory,” says Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist who once served as an adviser to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Even Trump fans will say: 'OK, that was it,’ and they’ll start looking for someone else.”
Someone like Nikki Haley, who began her career as the governor of South Carolina and then served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. She quit in late 2018, but unlike former National Security Adviser John Bolton or ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, she avoided a public break with the president. On the contrary, at the Republican National Convention in August, she spoke as one of the few representatives of the old party establishment and called for the president’s re-election.
It is, of course, possible to have doubts about the sincerity of her words given that she, too, has been critical of Trump’s character. But with her speech, she secured the sympathy of those Trump supporters who will be looking for a new political home if the president is defeated. There are no doubts within the party that Haley has her sights set on becoming the first woman in the White House. And she has already proven that she has the agility necessary for the job.
But does she have the power to lead the Republicans back to the path of reason? It’s not only fans of the potential ex-president that any successor would have to keep happy. A successor would also need the support of Fox News. And the station, which often acts as Trump’s personal propaganda channel, has no interest in politicians who allow themselves to get muddled in the boring and tedious business of political compromise. Fox News’ aim is to sow hatred between Americans, says Blair Levin, who was in charge of media policy during Bill Clinton’s tenure and now works for the Brookings Institution in Washington. "And American society offers fertile ground for that hatred.”
Republicans Nikki Haley and Trump in 2018: There are no doubts within the party that Haley has her sights set on becoming the first woman in the White House.Foto: Jonathan Ernst / REUTERS
It appears some kind of evil curse has gripped America. There’s little that could be less helpful for the country right now than for the partisan blockading to continue. Over 12 million people are officially unemployed in the U.S., thousands of families don’t earn enough to put food on the table for their children in the evening. And Congress? It’s not even capable of deciding on an extension of a COVID-19 relief package that cushioned the worst effects of the pandemic until the autumn.
That failure by politicians is making life difficult for people like Jasmine Rognrud. The 26-year-old lives together with her female partner and their cat in a small apartment in Minneapolis. At the moment, she’s experiencing just how ruthless American capitalism can be. Until recently, she worked for a startup. The company didn’t pay a lavish salary, but it did promise a relaxed team atmosphere and the opportunity to be given new responsibilities quickly.
Then the pandemic struck. As sales plummeted, Rognrud’s company began laying people off. She was able to keep her job, but only by accepting a 30-percent salary cut. Still, Rognrud’s boss argued, at least she would be able to keep her health insurance. She agreed, but also soon realized that the salary was no longer enough to cover her bills.
Since then, Rognrud has found a new job, but one in which she has to cover her health insurance out of pocket for $300 a month. She’ll soon celebrate her 27th birthday, and then the cost will go up to $400. With money running low, she’s been forced to stop her treatment for an eating disorder. It’s too expensive. Rognrud says she doesn’t want to complain and that she has co-workers who are worried about losing their apartments.
Joe Biden has pledged help for people like Rognrud. He intends to establish a minimum wage of $15 per hour and has announced the introduction of a public health insurance option that would provide inexpensive coverage for people with low incomes. But the Democrat will only be able to push all that through if his party also manages to win the Senate on Tuesday. And if Biden’s fellow Democrats don’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the toxic political atmosphere the president leaves behind.
Will Trump just walk off the stage if he loses? Before he won the election in November 2016, Trump and friends had been considering launching their own television station. Many Democrats now fear he could revive that idea. In recent months, Trump has often complained bitterly that even Fox News has treated him unfairly. Of course, he wouldn’t have that kind of grief if he had his own station.
"Trump loses money with his hotels, and his golf courses aren’t profitable either," says former Clinton consultant Blair Levin. "But he does know how to make money in the entertainment business. So, the next logical step would be launching a station.”
That’s also what Hundt, the former head of the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. media regulatory authority, believes. He says Trump has always been envious of Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who got rich with television stations that subsequently helped catapult him to the position of prime minister. He says it drove Trump crazy that he didn't come up with the idea himself.
That’s why Hundt believes that after his term, Trump will go knocking on the doors of everyone he’s done favors for. In a first round, he could surely raise a billion dollars for a new station. The list of those he has helped is very, very long, Hundt says.