Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Was Donald Trump 2020's biggest loser?

Simon Cowan

02 January 2021 | Canberra Times

In many respects, the pandemic completely flipped the conventional political script on its head. Words like debt and deficit were forcibly stricken from our language, as governments around the world spent up big.

Yet for all the lows, some people have come out of 2020 riding high. So who are the winners and losers of the late lamented year?

The biggest loser, in more ways than one, is Donald Trump. For a brief window it looked like Trump would win a second term, something that would have been far less concerning in reality than many in the media wished to pretend.

Yet, Biden’s victory ended up merely being act two in the ongoing drama.

Trump, of course, has every right to exercise his legal rights in respect to the election. But at every turn, Trump’s legal challenges have proven to be not just unsuccessful, but in fact baseless.

He, and his advocates, have been actively promoting the idea the election was stolen. Yet when given the opportunity to present evidence, none has been forthcoming. Nor have they resiled from their increasingly conspiratorial claims.

It is perhaps paradoxical that, in some respects, American democracy was one of the biggest winners from this year. Trump’s extended temper tantrum has gone nowhere. The supposed constitutional crisis has not emerged.

Fears that Trump’s appointed judges would ignore democratic norms, and legal principles, to support Trump have been proven equally baseless. His three Supreme Court picks, whom Democrats smeared as naked political appointees, refused to even hear his case.

This seriously undermines the Democrats’ case to expand the Supreme Court, as Biden’s electoral victory did to the case to expand the Electoral College. However, if the Democrats win both seats in the Georgia Senate rerun, Biden will face serious pressure to do both. If he does either, it would make American democracy the loser of 2021.

Closer to home, the news is far better for the incumbents. Scott Morrison once again finishes the year a winner.

It was a tough start, with the bushfires stripping some paint off the Prime Minister’s approval rating. Yet, despite some early missteps, his pandemic management has been incredibly popular.

To the extent there have been subsequent COVID stumbles, the blame has been (appropriately) sheeted home to the states.

The budget was better received than many in recent memory, despite – or perhaps because of – the massive deficit. This is a double-edged sword. In many respects, it’s easier to spray the cash hose than to turn off the taps. There are some unpopular decisions that must be made in the years ahead.

No federal treasurer since Peter Costello has had any luck in substantially reining in deficit spending.

And the related issue of climate change remains a potential weakness for the Liberals; one potentially exacerbated by the election of a Democratic president in America.

Of course, climate change is far trickier an issue politically than it may appear, especially during an economic downturn. Labor may have more success de-centralising it from its platform.

Not that Labor leader Albanese is short on people giving him advice. Not surprisingly, as the fortunes of his political opponent have risen, his own have fallen. Only some of this has been of Albo’s doing.

Opportunities have been thin on the ground, but even so many of the things within his control have been mismanaged. Labor looks rudderless.

Or perhaps more accurately, Albanese seems to be incapable of preventing others from seeking to impose their vision on Labor. Vision counts for a lot, even in the midst of a crisis requiring a series of tactical decisions.

And for several months, the competing visions of pandemic management at the state level have dominated politics. On the one hand, Gladys Berejiklian and the New South Wales government have been exceptionally effective in managing to suppress COVID outbreaks through contact tracing and isolation.

Gladys remains popular in New South Wales, despite what you might describe as her ‘relationship woes‘. Much hinges on the attempts to manage the ongoing outbreak on the northern beaches of Sydney. This event is similar in scale to the outbreaks that seeded the second wave in Victoria. If it is successfully contained in coming weeks, as it appears it may be, it will completely vindicate the New South Wales approach.

All of the other states have taken an extremely heavy-handed, lockdown-first approach to pandemic management – as can be seen in the South Australian response to just a handful of cases, and Victoria’s recent outbreak.

For now, the premiers of the lockdown states remain very popular.

A glance at social media shows, far from opposing these stringent measures, residents of these states are almost actively rooting for the NSW approach to fail. One wonders what will happen to that popularity if the New South Wales approach does remain viable until the distribution of a vaccine.

Of course, that such a vaccine could be developed, tested, and begin to be distributed in such a short time frame, is itself remarkable.

The pandemic has certainly done much to rehabilitate the reputation of experts; though some have been caught not following their own rules. And others being even more hypocritical. It is not clear, for instance, why mass protests over racism are not dangerous but attending a church must be banned. It seems some experts just can’t move beyond their love of telling us how to live. If so, it’s unlikely our newfound respect for expertise will be long lived.

On the other hand, 2020 will undoubtedly be a year we remember for a long time. Its consequences will stretch for many years to come. Who won and lost may matter more than some other years.

However, the most important thing is that it’s finally over!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email