Oct 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy
What Matters 2020

The missed opportunities for 2020 and beyond

Photo illustration of the words 2020 over a newspaper featuring images of news that occurred in 2020

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Jason Armond (Los Angeles Times), Noam Galai, Jabin Botsford (The Washington Post), Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the 2020 presidential campaign draws to a close, President Trump and Joe Biden have focused little on some of the most sweeping trends that will outlive the fights of the moment.

Why it matters: Both have engaged on some issues, like climate change and China, on their own terms, and Biden has addressed themes like economic inequality that work to his advantage. But others have gone largely unmentioned — a missed opportunity to address big shifts that are changing the country.

  • Here's a look at how Trump and Biden have addressed, or failed to address, the eight themes that Axios has identified as the most critical trends that will last beyond the election.

1) Mind manipulation on social media: Trump himself has become one of the most powerful vectors for misleading and manipulative information in the U.S., promoting inaccurate and at times bizarre notions about the coronavirus pandemic, election fraud, climate change and other issues, Axios’ Scott Rosenberg writes.

  • His office neutralized the first line of defense against misinformation — which is to avoid amplifying or spotlighting it. In a second Trump term, there's every reason to believe that the president would further double down.
  • Biden has scolded Facebook for failing to enact “any real reforms to stop the spread of disinformation on its platform," and his campaign accused Facebook of "regression" in September. But the campaign hasn't cited specific policies Biden would pursue, other than his promise to treat foreign interference in U.S. elections as "an adversarial act."

2) Artificial intelligence and robotics: Neither Trump nor Biden have devoted much time on the campaign trail to automation and AI, Axios’ Bryan Walsh reports.

  • In 2019 Trump signed an executive order to boost American investment in AI research, and this year his Administration asked to double federal spending on quantum computing and AI. He hasn’t really engaged on automation, which has had a particularly meaningful effect on jobs in heartland states he won in 2016.
  • Biden has called for a $300 billion investment in research and development on breakthrough technologies including AI, as well as expanding workforce development in digital and technology skills. He also wants to ensure that employers receiving federal funds give all affected advance notice of technology changes in the workforce.

3) China: Trump has made his hawkish approach to China a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, Axios’ Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports. He has repeatedly accused Biden of being "soft" on China, and has accused his son, Hunter Biden, of corrupt dealings there.

  • But the Trump campaign has not articulated what the next four years of its China strategy might look like. The dramatic deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship that has occurred over the past six months doesn't seem sustainable.
  • Biden has criticized China repeatedly on the campaign trail. But rising racism against Chinese-Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, inflamed by Trump administration rhetoric, has made it difficult for Biden to directly address the growing threat from Beijing without facing criticism from his own base for exacerbating anti-Chinese sentiment.

4) Climate change: This has become a clear wedge issue between the candidates, and their positions are about as opposite as you can get, Axios’ Amy Harder reports.

  • Trump has moved ever so slightly from his general dismissal of the problem to say humans have an impact on warming the planet “to an extent.” (Scientists say human activity is the driving factor, but it’s still a shift from his oft-cited remark that global warming is a “hoax.”)
  • Biden says he won't ban fracking, a controversial extraction method for oil and natural gas that contributes to climate change. But he's trying to balance that position with his climate plan — the most aggressive in U.S. presidential election history — and pressure from progressive lawmakers and environmentalists to be more aggressive and oppose fracking.

5) Health care costs: The coronavirus upended the health care debate and short-circuited any chance to talk about fixing the most expensive health care system in the world, Axios’ Sam Baker writes.

  • The Trump administration is still fighting hospitals over rules that require them to disclose their prices, and Biden still supports a new public insurance option, but those plans have taken a backseat to the urgency of the pandemic.
  • If any non-pandemic health care issue is breaking through, it’s the Trump administration’s effort to get the entire Affordable Care Act struck down in court — a winning issue for Democrats.

6) Demographic change: Both Biden and Trump have shown an awareness of two of the biggest demographic shifts — the importance of young voters and a shrinking white America — particularly in their choices of speakers at the conventions this summer, Axios’ Stef Kight reports.

  • Biden has targeted some campaign proposals to young voters as well, with plans to eliminate some student debt and make it easier for young people to buy homes and build wealth.
  • Trump hasn't been able to take full advantage of another demographic trend — the growing voting power of older generations — because he has struggled to hold on to his base of older voters this election cycle, largely over concerns about his handling of the coronavirus.

7) Capitalism and inequality: The failures of capitalism have become even more glaring over the course of the 2020 election campaign, thanks to the effects of the pandemic, Axios’ Felix Salmon reports.

  • Inequality has increased, and Biden has not been shy about saying so. If he wins, expect his administration to push through a quick January stimulus in the $1 trillion to $2 trillion range, followed by a bigger and more ambitious $3 trillion "build back better" bill a few months later.
  • If Trump wins, he has made vague promises to attempt another round of tax cuts — which would, by the nature of tax cuts, mainly benefit the rich.

8) Structural racism: Trump has repeatedly downplayed or redirected the conversation when asked about whether structural, or systemic, racism is a problem in the U.S., Axios' Margaret Talev reports.

  • He's focused on antifa, described #BlackLivesMatter as "a symbol of hate" and sided with police facing scrutiny. Asked in a recent Sinclair broadcasting town hall if there is systemic racism in policing, Trump didn't repeat the phrase but said, "I guess there probably is...I think there's not much."
  • Biden acknowledges systemic racism by name and proposes ways to address it in his "Build Back Better" economic plan. He has committed to tapping a diverse cabinet and naming the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, and has called for police reforms and other changes.

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What matters for 2020 and beyond

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