About two hours of invective, interruptions and accusations between Donald Trump and Joe Biden have overcome the optimism of most editorial writers across the Atlantic. “A long and nasty debate”, “Democracy has lost”, the American press is sorry for the spectacle. Marc Landy, professor emeritus at Boston College in Massachusetts, co-author of Presidential Greatness, analyzes the consequences of this election on an American democracy plagued by doubt.
Le Point: In your book, you analyze the presidential style of five of America’s greatest presidents from George Washington to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The election of Donald Trump was a profound change. Can American democracy reconnect with what made it great?
Marc Landy: You’re right, something broke with the election of Donald Trump in November 2016. Something that had to do with a long and important tradition established within the presidency. The current president does not address the American public correctly, he delivers misinformation, he exaggerates and constantly tries to test the limits of his own power, that of the Oval Office. Biden will probably have a more “sober” view of the exercise of his mandate. Will he succeed in restoring the spirit of the Constitution? I do not know.
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The battle in the battle is the appointment of a new judge to the Supreme Court. What do you think ?
This is one of the most terrible things being debated right now in the United States: Donald Trump’s appointment of a new judge [conservateur, NDLR] to the Supreme Court, one of the pillars of the American institutional system, after the death of the judge [progressiste, NDLR] Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now Democrats threaten to appoint new Supreme Court justices if they win – in English “To pack the court” – with the idea of redistributing the balance of power within this jurisdiction so important in the United States. This is already a violation of the spirit of the Constitution. Trump, for his part, forces the appointment of a judge by Congress as the election is so close while the Democrats propose a constitutional “never-seen”. In both cases, I must say that it is a great mistake vis-à-vis the balance of our institutions.
Hasn’t Trump already won the war by appointing two, maybe soon three, judges to serve for life? A legacy that will last, regardless of the outcome of the election.
I think his main legacy will be to have significantly disrupted what we call the “Decency in politics” or “decency in politics”. This is his main legacy for American democracy. Does that also mean his appointments to the Supreme Court? As I said, Democrats could choose to bypass this obstacle by stepping up nominations of progressive judges, which would eradicate the possibility of a purely conservative court. That’s why Trump is risking it all for everything.
You have to distinguish between the packaging and the content.
Empathy, emotion… so many virtues in politics attributed to Joe Biden against a Donald Trump considered cold and arbitrary. Biden elected, would the Americans find a more paternalistic and consensual style of presidency?
That’s one of the good things about Joe Biden. He seems to be a good, sensitive, elegant person, a “Gentleman” if you prefer. But the real question is: will he be strong enough as president? I think people are hoping for strength from the occupier of the White House in the face of the major challenges of our time. There is this hope in the American electorate that the president is a strong man. Trump appears strong, but he has not shown real skill in managing Congress, for example, in his ability to push through reforms, which has reduced his political aura. He presents himself as a strong person but I’m not sure that necessarily translates into action. Did he show enough strength to mobilize the administration against the virus? A distinction must be made between the packaging and the content.
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It is likely that the outcome of this election will be contested by both camps. In the event of a tight score, what is the possibility for Trump to prevail on the wire?
It is very difficult to predict. If the score is very tight, Trump is likely to challenge the results of the postal vote. It will then be up to the courts to rule, but without legal precedent, no one really knows what the result would be. They will try to challenge the votes in the courts of each state and possibly even the Supreme Court. Obviously, a strong Conservative majority would give him the necessary support in case of litigation, provided his complaint is partly founded. Twenty years ago, in 2000, the Bush vs. Gore protest ended with Bush winning, but this time the Democrats will be much meaner. What will happen if the Supreme Court gets involved? We have never had this level of crisis. Will the military support the Democrats? My intuition is that if Trump has no proven fraud cases, rigged ballots at hand, it will be difficult for him to vindicate his reelection.
What is the main stake of this election?
The incivility of the debate was much noticed. This does not bode well for the democratic process, the main issue of this election being to restore the faith of the American people in the strength of our constitution.
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