Lionel Shriver

The Democratic debates are proving to be the perfect advert for Trump

6 July 2019

9:00 AM

6 July 2019

9:00 AM

I have plenty of shamefaced company in having rashly predicted, as pundits are warned never to do, that Donald Trump wouldn’t win the White House in 2016. I don’t plan on repeating that mistake. Liberals are especially prone to confuse the words ‘should’ and ‘will’. Just because Trump shouldn’t win in 2020 doesn’t mean he won’t.

Nevertheless, American Democrats are approaching an election that ought to be a slam dunk. In Gallup polls, Trump is the only president in modern history never to exceed a 50 per cent approval rating (having sunk as low as 36, he’s currently at 42, with a disapproval rating of 53). Within days of his inauguration, more Americans disapproved than approved of the guy, and the same rough ratio has prevailed ever since. He can’t talk. He has dumb hair. He doesn’t read. The continual exodus from his administration has looked like a wildebeest migration, and swathes of government positions remain unfilled. What more beatable an opponent could the Democrats possibly want?

As the party’s field of candidates now resembles the Boston Marathon, you’d also think that by sheer accident, given the numerical odds, one of them could win. Yet while resisting that trap of making firm predictions, particularly this early on, I still came away from the first two Democratic primary debates fearing that — however impossible it might seem — not one of these candidates is likely to whoop that bastard.

Only 26 per cent of Americans classify themselves as liberal. On national television, nearly all of the 20 candidates who were admitted to the debates were fighting to win over the very most liberal of liberals — i.e., less than 26 per cent of Americans. These Dems are not good at math.

Further bear in mind that the US Border Patrol now apprehends 4,200 migrants at the southern border per day, with total apprehensions this fiscal year of 610,000 — and that’s only the visitors they catch. This accelerating surge from Central America may not quite qualify as a national emergency, but it’s close.

Yet during the debate’s second night, the ten candidates fell all over themselves to out-liberal each other on immigration. Would they demote illegal entry into the US from a crime to a misdemeanour (translation: to a parking ticket, and one that you don’t even have to pay)? Eight out of ten raised their hands. Would they refuse to deport anyone who had no criminal record? Every hand shot up. So unless one of them murders your mother, all those daily 4,200 guests of the nation get to stay. Would the candidates’ health-care plans cover undocumented immigrants? Again, every hand shot up. I felt as if I were watching a 2020 Trump advert, in which these lavish displays of generosity and love for all humankind at American citizens’ expense are certain to feature.

You don’t need a PhD in political science to decode that if you never arrest the uninvited, you almost never kick them out, and you throw in free health care to boot, you’re advertising the kind of over-attended, more-the-merrier party that gets so many young people in trouble on Facebook when their parents leave town. Along with Democratic support for immigrant amnesties and pathways to citizenship, these positions amount to an open borders policy. Guess what? Eight out of ten Americans oppose open borders. Some of those folks even vote.

The grab bag of fiscal giveaways promoted on that stage was bottomless. If elected, between them these candidates are promising not only free health care but free child care, free baby bonds (for immigrants’ children, too — another incentive to holiday permanently in the States), free parental leave, free universal per capita income of $1,000 per month, an expansion of a social security programme already going broke, and free college, while also offering to cancel all student debt. Why, you’d never know that the US government is already in hock to the tune of more than $22 trillion. A lot of the American electorate is pretty dumb, but they’re not that dumb. Clearly, if you actually have two cents to rub together, to cover all those freebies the feds will be coming not only for both pennies but will kidnap your firstborn and auction off your house.

As Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney remarked recently: ‘People will vote for someone they don’t like if they think it’s good for them.’ Plenty of alienated American moderates see Trump as inarticulate, erratic and undignified, if not also as criminal and immoral. But the voting booth is perilously private. When nobody sees by whose name you place that X, you’re liberated from public shaming. Faced with the confiscatory tax policies of a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, plenty of middle- and upper-middle–class earners will furtively vote in their economic self-interest and not tell anyone. Alternatively, Democrats repelled by both a blatant idiot and a bankrupting socialist could simply stay home — which in effect would still put that X beside the Donald.

For the droves of Americans and anxious foreign onlookers alike desperate to prise that fat orange forefinger from the nuclear button, here’s the super-duper bad news: the ostensible hero of the Democratic centre ground, the ‘electable’ candidate, the safe pair of hands we might all be able to rally round, gave the worst performance of both nights. Regarding countenance and content, Joe Biden was pale. He looked old and sounded tired. He stumbled. He was barely coherent. Though he claimed still to be ‘carrying the torch’, that only made the audience worry that the befuddled geez might set the auditorium on fire. Rather than capitalise on his every minute, he used up some of the tiny amount allotted to each candidate demurring that, oh, sorry, his time is up — perhaps in more than one sense. On one show-of-hands question, he lifted a single feeble finger just above the podium, as if he hadn’t the strength to get his arm above his head. And this is the guy whom, however half–heartedly, I’ve been supporting.

God help us.

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