The Russian – Ukrainian Conflict

Early Thursday morning, Feb 2022, Ukrainian citizens awakened to the sounds of bombs while thousands of Russian troops and tanks moved into the country on three fronts.

Soon after, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was launching a “special military operation” in Ukraine. This special operation includes sending in over 100,000 troops in a full scale invasion of the country that has resulted in dozens of Ukrainians having already been killed.

So how and why is this happening? This situation is incredibly complex but there are three main reasons.

1) Putin wants to restore the Russian Empire to its former glory

2) Russia wants to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and protect its border with Western Europe

3) Russian is protecting its economic interests

1. Restore Former Glory

To understand why Russia would invade its neighbor, you first have to understand the history behind the collapse of the Soviet Union. When the USSR ended in 1991, one of the world’s powerful nations split into 15 countries, Ukraine being one of them. Relations between Russia and its former satellite states have been tenuously fragile ever since. During the waning years of the Soviet Union, Western nations verbally promised former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev that they would respect Russia’s sphere of influence and not expand NATO onto its borders. This promise was short-lived as many former Soviet countries, such as Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO after 1997. Although there was never a written agreement, Putin is under the impression that NATO willingly deceived Gorbachev and has fostered mistrust for the West ever since.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance that was formed after WWII

In his most recent speech announcing the invasion, Putin listed all of the grievances Russia has suffered since the end of the USSR. He claimed that Russia has been habitually humiliated and wouldn’t take it any longer.

Putin was born during the height of the Cold War, started his career as a KGB agent, led its successor the FSB and became the country’s leader. He is a man of extreme nationalistic and patriotic pride who believes the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe”. He believes that these former Soviet state’s sovereignty is a mistake and their newfound alliance with the West/NATO to be an embarrassing humiliation. In previous speeches, such as in July 2021, he argued that Ukrainians and Russians are one people and hinted at his ultimate goal being the reunification of Ancient Rus. Now, it seems that Putin is trying to make this idealized goal into reality and Ukraine is paying the price.

2. NATO/Border Protection

Diplomatic relations between the two nations was actually cordial for years until 2014, when Ukraine authoritarian leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after he rejected a Ukrainian-EU trade treaty in favor of improving relations with Russia. Yanukovych had previously expressed tepid interest in joining NATO only to back away from the idea in 2010. Once he was removed from office, Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO was reignited. While that wasn’t going to happen for least several years, the idea that Ukraine, which borders Russia, would join a Western alliance was a frightening prospect for Russia. Ukraine would be one of many former Soviet states that moved away from Russia and positioned itself with Western Europe instead.

The United States has the Monroe Doctrine and Russia has the Putrin Doctrine. If Eastern Europe falls under Russian domain, then Western interference in Ukraine is an attack on Russian sovereignty.

In 2008, this belief was put into action when Russia invaded Georgia. Russian separatists had been fighting Georgian troops in the disputed region of of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Putin, under the guise of a peacekeeping mission to protect Russian citizens, invaded Georgia. While the war was over within weeks, Russia successfully amnexed the disputed regions, expelled ethnic Georgians and established permanent military bases. Putin has made it very clear that he is willing to use Russia’s military to protect Russian’s geopolitical influence in its neighboring states.

In 2014, Russia used the same playbook when they invaded Crimea, a disputed region in Ukraine where Russian separatists had been fighting Ukrainian troops in a shadow war for years. Once again, Russia invaded Crimea only to then quickly pull back their military a few weeks later, but not until illegally annexing the region.

In December 2021, after the invasions of Georgia and Crimea, Russia demanded that the U.S. prevent further eastward expansion of NATO, prevent any military bases from being established in former Soviet territories and disallow former Soviet states to join the alliance. This was an impossible demand. The US and it’s fellow NATO nations were never going to agree to prevent Ukraine or any other nation from joining their alliance. Even if such an agreement were to be accepted, how could either nation trust one another to uphold the agreement? For all of the mistrust that Russia has towards the West, it’s not like Putin is entirely trustworthy either. Putin has lied, misled and repeatedly went back on his word when it comes to diplomacy with the West. He has ordered cyberattacks on other nation’s infrastructure and their elections. In 2004, Ukraine agreed to dismantle 5000 nuclear warheads in exchange for security guarantees from the US and Russia. Clearly, Putin has shown little regard for previously agreed upon treaties.

Now, in February 2022, Russia once again declared two more disputed regions (Donetsk and Luhansk) as Russian territory where, wouldn’t you know it, Russian separatists had been fighting Ukrainian troops. This new invasion of Ukraine is itself a violation of the Minsk Agreement, signed after Crimea in 2015. That agreement promised to end the 10 months of fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine, the region Putin claimed was now Russian. Putin has also said the Minsk Agreement is null and void.

3. Economic Interests

In addition to Putin’s personal motivations to restore Russia’s former glory and prevent NATO from establishing itself on its borders, there are also economical reasons why Russia would invade Ukraine.

While not a petrol state in the sense of Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern nations, Russian gas exports account for 60% of Russia’s GDP. Russia’s economy would greatly suffer if they could not export their natural gas. However, the countries Russia exports oil to to includes Ukraine and much of Europe, which means the stoppage of oil would also cause economic problems for those countries as well. Russia is the second biggest exporter of crude oil and the world’s largest natural gas exporter. The EU is dependent on Russia for about 35% of its natural gas supply. Much of Europe would be economically damaged if Russian oil stopped flowing and vice versa.

As of now, Russia exports their gas to the EU through two major pipeline. One major pipeline (Northern Druzhba) is through Belarus, a Russian ally who has facilitated and aided the Russian invasion of Ukraine from its own borders and the second (Southern Druzhba) goes through Ukraine. Russia sends 40% of its gas through the Ukrainian pipeline. Without this pipeline, it would be incredibly difficult to export their oil into the rest of Europe. That is why there have been several legal and economical disputes between Gazprom (Russia’s Oil producer) and Ukraine. In 2019, Gazprom paid a $1.9 billion settlement to Ukraine to transport gas for 5 more years. Germany is particularly vulnerable as it has shut down nearly all of its nuclear power stations and aims to eliminate coal by 2030. It’s why Germany and Russia agreed to a newly proposed pipeline called the Nordic 2 which would bypass Ukraine. Russia would no longer have to pay Ukraine’s high transit fees to distribute their oil and weaken Ukraine’s diplomatic leverage with Russia. The world has become a tangled global web of economical interdependency. The EU would face gas shortages and economical panic if Russian gas exports were to stop or sharply decline.

Map of Russian oil pipelines into Europe

Russia is a Kleptocracy. While there is economic freedom in Russia, most of the money is concentrated in the hands of powerful businessmen who rapidly accumulated wealth during the era of Russian privatization in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and who Putin is reliant on to stay in power. They have formed a partnership in which Putin allows them to concentrate wealth as long as they stay out of politics. That relationship is a delicate situation, one that Putin has formidably controlled for decades.

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So how and what should Biden and NATO do in response?

For the last several weeks, the Biden administration has openly broadcasted Russia’s intentions to invade. He has combated Russia’s misinformation campaign by directly confronting Putin’s lies and laying the blame of this incursion solely on his feet.

In terms of retaliation, the US and EU have a few avenues they could explore to punish Russia. One option that is off the table though, is direct military intervention. Biden already said he won’t be sending US troops into Ukraine. There is also a complete lack of will by NATO and the US to be dragged into another war. War fatigue, pandemic fatigue and a global economical recession has rendered a US military intervention a non starter. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself has said that he does not want US troops on Ukrainian soil. Instead, the US and NATO have agreed to provide military equipment and intelligence in order to support Ukraine on the ground. This equipment has been slow getting into the country and may arrive too late to help Ukrainian troops. *It should be noted that the withholding of $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was the reason behind Trump’s Impeachment. Trump threatened to withhold the aid unless PM Zelenskyy “did him a favor” by finding dirt on Biden before the 2020 election.

The US and the EU have also agreed to a new round of economic sanctions against Russia. The particular aspects of these sanctions is still unclear. Here’s the deal though, as Biden likes to say, sanctions only work when everyone follows them. The US can freeze Russian bank accounts, levy fines on Russian imports and ban Russian individuals from conducting business in certain areas, but that only works if everyone adheres to the law. Past sanctions levied against Russia have been effective but many other sanctions have been relatively toothless. It depends on how far the EU/US is willing to go.

This time around though, with a full on invasion taking place, there does seem to be the political will to actually impose severe sanctions, the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite a while. There are currently discussions being held that could ban Russia from using SWIFT. Swift global messaging system for financial transactions that connects more than 11,000 banks and other organizations in more than 200 countries and territories. It’s a critical part of the infrastructure needed to conduct business between international banks. This would be a major, historical step against Russia. It would also result in economic damage for the US and Europe.

Sanctions could be levied at specific Russian citizens. Biden’s team have talked openly about confiscating Russian oligarch’s US properties and any other assets they own outside of Russia. They could, theoretically, make it nearly impossible for any Russian to conduct business with the EU or US by freezing their bank accounts and blacklisting them. By putting pressure on the Russian elite, they would start to put pressure on Putin to end the war, or so the theory goes. Putin however, has shown an incredibly resiliency and in the past, has refused to capitulate to the complaints of the Russian elites.

America and Europe could also ban imports of Russian oil, but again, that would have repercussions for not just Russia. Germany however, in a major win for NATO, has put the Nordic 2 pipeline on hold. The EU will most likely adhere to a ban on other Russian exports such as wheat, but China has already said they would allow wheat imports from Russia which will ease the blow.

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So how will this end?

Honestly, I don’t know and anyone telling you otherwise is just guessing. Putin is a rational person but he is only rational based on his internal beliefs. These beliefs happen to be that Ukraine is actually Russian territory.

Putin decided this course of action as soon as his ally in Ukraine was deposed, possibly earlier. Crimea was clearly just a test run. He also backed himself into a corner. By amassing troops and preparing for war for months, only for Russia to withdrawal now, it would be a humiliating defeat, as he would’ve conceded to NATO without taking any tangible action. Russia has already secured a win by severely weakening Ukraine. Ukrainians are leaving in droves and a prolonged war will cause citizens to pour into Poland and other NATO states, possibly causing another refugee crisis. It has also, in theory, helped Putin’s position in securing a written agreement that Ukraine won’t join NATO. If that is truly his goal, which seems doubtful, he will most likely claim that a signed agreement would result in the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and he will have gotten what he originally wanted in the first place.

On the flip side, this invasion is incredibly unpopular within Russia. Already we are seeing mass protests in Russia, something that doesn’t often happen. If Russia is planning on occupying Ukraine, they will face a unyielding insurgency by Ukrainian nationalists. They will also, as previously stated, face devastating and crippling sanctions, nothing like they’ve seen before.

Previous sanctions and overall antagonism between Russia and Europe have pushed Putin to look east. Russia and China have formed a quasi-partnership between their respective authoritarian states, but China is a geopolitical rival. Putin has in turn, isolated Russia from the rest of the world and made it dependent on China. By focusing on a delusional notion of rebuilding the Russia empire, Putin has enfeebled Russia’s international standing and turned any remaining international public support against him.

There is still a chance that this is all just a repeat of the last two invasions, which included a rapid military incursion, a quick annexation of disputed territory, negotiations and then a partial withdrawal. Putin would spin this as a victory by claiming that he has freed Russians from the tyranny of Ukraine and demonstrated that Russia will not back down from NATO. If the goal is to make Russia seem like a premier superpower once again, this symbolic victory could placate Putin, for now.

At this present time though, it certainly seems this is more than just a quick attack. It appears Russia is trying to occupy and annex all of Ukraine.

Putin is an aging tyrant with fantasizes about being Alexander the Great. For Putin, the past is the present and the future. Yet, for someone so focused on the past, he seems to have forgotten how the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan ended. He also seems to have forgot about the USSR’s own failed invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s which helped facilitate the downfall of the communist regime. We could be witnessing yet again, the last dying grasp of declining nation. A new paradigm shift in this quasi post-cold war European detente. In the meantime, thousands will die, refugees will pour out of Ukraine and the global economy will suffer even more. My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine.

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If you’re so inclined. Here is the Kenyan ambassador to the UN eloquently explaining how people suffer under manufactured borders.

Afghanistan – Graveyard of Empires

As Kabul falls and the Taliban retakes the country they once ruled over with an iron fist, there is palpable frustration over how it all unfolded. Over $200 billion spent, nearly 3,000 American lives and countless Afghan lives lost and all of the civil rights progress, was wiped out in mere hours. 

Much of the current dialogue in the media has centered around which President deserves the blame instead of focusing on the real issues that prevented America from being able to build a stable and long-lasting democracy in Afghanistan. While there is much blame to go around, there are 4 major reasons why America’s intervention in Afghanistan failed.

1) America’s lack of a cohesive vision for the war

2) Misunderstanding of the tribal dynamics in Afghanistan

3) Corruption/Payroll problems

4) The U.S. Military industrial complex 

1.

After 9/11, America wanted revenge. Osama Bin Laden and his fighters were hiding in Afghanistan, so President George W. Bush’s administration decided to invade, while still concurrently fighting in Iraq. After that fateful day, the American government itself was entirely remade and repurposed for counter terrorism (i.e The NSA, TSA etc). In regard to defeating terorrism, America was actually quite successful. We destroyed Al-Qaeda and there hasn’t been a major attack on the West since 2005. In 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared the new goal of the war to “rebuilding” Afghanistan. In that regard, 18 years later, it’s safe to say that we failed. 

Mission Accomplished" Banner Could Go on Display at Bush Library - CBS News
George W. Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished” in 2003)

America was never going to succeed in rebuilding Afghanistan, never. It takes an imperialistic arrogance, a nation fueled by jingoistic, nationalistic pride, to think the USA could invade a territory with a two-thousand years history of internal turmoil and warring tribes and create a westernized, puppet government of our own design. How else can we describe our beliefs after watching the Russians invade Afghanistan just 20 years prior? A war that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We rebuilt Afghanistan, sure, but America never intended to establish a government by and for the Afghan people. No, we built a government designed to combat terrorism and ally itself with the West. A government that crumbled within hours of America’s withdrawal. 

2. 

America has always failed to understand the dynamics of tribal politics. That’s what Afghanistan is, a nation of tribes (Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara). The Taliban itself are mostly Pashtun tribesmen. To establish a stable peace, America brokered with warlords, tribal leaders, militia groups and various former terrorist groups to form a coalition, but nothing bound these people other than the American military paying/supporting them. We built a government with a leader, but not a government with a state. There was no underlying social infrastructure or cohesive ideology holding the government together, only America’s military might.

What’s worse is that America had ample knowledge and prior experience with the tribal politics of Afghanistan. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, America armed the Mujahideen rebels who fought alongside the Taliban to repel the invasion. After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, Afghanistan went through a civil war, ending with the Taliban taking over in 1996. Bin Laden himself and his fighters received American funding and they were even trained by the CIA itself. 

3. 

The U.S has known for years that the Afghan government/military was rife with corruption and incapable of carrying out its duties. According to the International Corruption Perception Index, Afghanistan ranks 177 out of 180 countries. During the waning years of the war, due to corruption and mismanagement, Afghan soldiers weren’t even getting paid and lacked basic necessities. Soldiers would take bribes, illegally steal land, and confiscate civilian goods. Many Afghan soldiers didn’t actually even exist. Afghanistan was a nation of “ghost soldiers”, soldiers who didn’t exist but were used to inflate the numbers in the salary bill and siphon off millions of dollars annually. Former President Hamid Karzai (2001-2014) allegedly stuffed the ballot boxes for his re-election campaign and openly admitted that the CIA had delivered bags of cash to his office for years. 

The most recent President of Afghanistan disappeared and left the country with over $190 million dollars. He has most recently shown up in the UAE. The government we built in Afghanistan had a judicial system that rewarded bribery, leaders that stole from their own people and a military with inflated numbers that was seemingly incapable of defending itself. How and why would the Afghan people support a government that they couldn’t trust? 

4. 

Most of the criticism over the collapse of Afghanistan is being directed at President Biden. However, this withdrawal plan was signed by Trump and the Taliban in 2020. President Trump himself, while in office, was adamant in withdrawing all troops as quickly as possible. 

It seems people aren’t so angry about the withdrawal itself, but the execution of it.  

Here’s a question though.

What else could America have done? What could we do when Afghanistan’s own President quickly left the country with millions of our money and not a single Afghan soldier fired a bullet against the Taliban? In fact, the complete surrender to the Taliban only reinforces the fact that we shouldn’t be there anymore. A government that collapses within hours isn’t and wasn’t ever actually viable.

President George. W. Bush started this war, but in 2001 and for many years after, Congress and the American public supported it. President Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan, but he too was committed to it, electing to keep troops there while drastically increasing the use of drone strikes. In 2009, Obama even launched his own “Tet offensive” and sent in a surge of 17,000 troops. President Trump also sent in a surge of troops in 2017, before reversing course two years later.

So why did 3 consecutive U.S Presidents continue fighting an increasingly costly and increasingly unpopular war even as our allies abandoned us?

As former U.S WWII General and President Eisenhower said in his farewell address in 1961, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” This military industrial complex has had a stranglehold over foreign policy for decades. 

The U.S military has known that Afghanistan was an unwinnable war for the last decade. The Washington Post proved this with the release of the “Afghanistan Papers”. In it, it shows how U.S. officials have known for the last several years that U.S.-backed personnel in Afghanistan were not a viable fighting force. Even as our NATO allies abandoned us and America was left to fight entirely on its own, the Pentagon insisted that things would turn around. In 2014, US and NATO officials declared the war to have officially ended and held a ceremony to make the occasion. In reality, during that same time, Russia had shut off their supply route into Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S Sanctions and left the U.S solely reliant on Pakistan for moving supplies, crippling America’s ability to move goods into the landlocked Afghanistan. Still, even after the war was declared over, American troops stayed and military leaders insisted that things would turn around. For nearly a decade, government officials lied about the reality of the war and the chances of successfully leaving behind a stable Afghanistan. 

You can read the entire paper here- https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/ 

Conclusion

The war in Afghanistan was an unwinnable war that plunged the U.S into insurmountable debt, destroyed any privacy Americans once had and ignited a global conflict in the Middle East. For a long time. America had a debate whether the country should have interventionalist or isolationist foreign policy. After the Allies victory in WWII, the debate ended and America spent the next seven decades using its newfound confidence and military might to fight wars all across the globe.

America should intervene in global affairs. It is how we intervene that is the problem. America is a nation of great promise and can do great things for people abroad. Sending in our military to topple a government and creating a generation of Afghans who have known nothing but war, is not the solution. Even after the failures of Vietnam, we continue to make the same mistakes.

All across our screens, we are seeing images of the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. In the past week, the three major news networks have devoted dozens of hours to Afghanistan, but in the past 5 years, Afghanistan coverage averaged only 24 minutes a year. Biden has gotten more negative press about America’s evacuation than Trump and Obama got combined for their failed policies and for all the troops that died under their watch. All of the media’s coverage has centered on America’s “botched” withdrawal plan. What is never talked about, after America’s troops leave another nation, is the lasting damage we leave behind. What about the Afghan people? We’ve seen videos of desperate people trying to escape their home country, of women bravely protesting the Taliban and countless other inspiring stories. Do you think we will still hear about any of this in a week or two? No, we won’t. We will quickly move onto the next story. The Afghan people won’t be able to do that. Many of them will be killed, put in jail, and have all of their civil rights taken away. The attention we will spend on Afghanistan will last a week but the damage we’ve left behind will last for generations.

LAW AND ORDER – Trump 2020

Just a quick note. I intended to write this blog months ago back in August, but in Trump world, political events that would end any other politician’s career become outdated in mere milliseconds. Scandals that would shake a nation to its core are forgotten about by next week. For instance, the President was hospitalized by Coronavirus, said he was cured by a miracle drug made possible by stem-cell research that his own appointed judges are trying to ban and is already attending rallies. All of that happened in just one week! So, you get the point. Anyhow, it’s still prudent to touch on a dominant aspect of his campaign which will have a major impact on his re-election chances.


We are in the midst of a country breaking at its seams. A global pandemic has resulted in millions losing their jobs, countless businesses being shuttered and 200,000 Americans dead. After months of people being confined to their homes, this summer, a powder keg exploded and social unrest poured out into the streets. Americans quickly and loudly took to the streets to protest police violence and structural racism against black citizens. They were and still are condemning a system they believe to be unjust and unfairly stacked against black people. In a matter of just 3 weeks, the cases of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police violence were seared into the nation’s consciousness. Politicians, movie stars, athletes, everyone with a voice was talking about Black Lives Matter and police brutality. It was on the news, it was on social media, it was everywhere. Then, just a few weeks after that, TV’s broadcasted rioters and looters destroying retail stores, people fighting each other in the streets, cars being destroyed and cities literally on fire. During a year in which the majority of small businesses and retailers say they won’t survive another year of economic stagnation/depression, cities were now having to deal with civil unrest. Meanwhile, mayors of these cities were put in the awkward position of having to be reliant on the very same people (the police) that were being protested against.

Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo

Amidst the mayhem, President Trump saw an opportunity. He promised to be the candidate of “Law and Order”.

This isn’t the first time an American politician pledged to end to social unrest and restore peaceful order to the country. While we’ve never had someone quite like the President before, the fundamental character of this nation is still the same. Even amongst all of the social and cultural upheaval, the problems we see today stem from decades, even centuries ago. Specifically, the dynamics of this current election can be traced back to the election of 1968, where law and order took center stage.

Before we get into that though, a quick history recap.

On April 4th 1968, MLK was assassinated, resulting in a surge of rioting known as the Holy Week Uprising. Soon after, Robert F. Kennedy was killed (he could’ve been the Democrat primary nominee), opposition to Vietnam spread across college campuses and in August of that year, 10,000 anti-war activists went to the Democratic Convention and clashed with 23,000 members of the Chicago police and the National Guard. While anti-police and pro-equality protests were happening for a few years before (under LBJ), this period between MLK’s death and the election, at the time, was considered to be the greatest period of social unrest since the Civil War.

Three candidates vied for the Presidency: Nixon, George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey. Both Wallace and Nixon used law and order to win over voters but in slightly different ways. Wallace, the Democratic Governor of Alabama, was an open segregationist, and as such, his message of law and order focused on the erosion and therefore restoration of social and cultural barriers between black and white citizens. Nixon, following Barry Goldwater’s campaign against LBJ in 1964, promised to restore peaceful order to cities that were disrupted by counter-culture protestors. Nixon, like Goldwater, linked the problem of crime and unrest to welfare programs and urban disorder. Sound familiar? So while Wallace was focused on race, Nixon focused on a more generalized law and order and allowed those perturbed by Wallace’s rhetoric to vote for someone more palatable. Nixon’s campaign promised white Americans a return to when America was great, before all of the sociocultural changes upended their way of life.

Just take this quote from one of his stump speeches:

“As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night. We see Americans dying….. As far as this problem of law and order is concerned, I am for law and order.” – Nixon

A year later, after a tumultuous first year of his Presidency, he dubbed his supporters, the “silent majority”.

Which brings us back to this 2020 election, in which Trump is trying to emulate Nixon and recapture the support of voters he lost after a year of protesting and growing urban blight. He has been vocal about law and order and proclaimed himself to be the only defense in protecting the suburbs from the encroaching chaos of the cities.

In September, Trump toured American cities, led by Democratic leaders and disrupted by protests, and posed in front of burning buildings as he spoke about how he will restore peace and lawfulness.

His message is that these Democratic leaders have failed to protect their communities and allowed civil unrest to destroy people’s homes, that only Republican leaders can fix these cities. Many Americans, even Democrats, were disturbed by the violence. Gallup found that only 8 percent of US adults thought “looting and property damage during protests on racial justice” was justified and most Americans do not support the rioting.

I’ll admit, that these poll numbers are not directly indicative of the riots, as there could be other reasons for the drop in support. One reason simply being the time elapsed since the protests reached its apex in June. That being said, there has been a decline in support of the BLM movement.

It isn’t difficult to figure out why the President is leaning so hard into this message. Trump’s poll numbers after year 3 were bad, but then Coronavirus happened, BLM took off and his disapproval ratings reached record lows, all the way down to 38% in June 2020. Trump has since rebounded back to ~45% approval but he still has a limited path to re-election. He is polling well on the economy and trade, but that’s about it. He can’t win on his response to the virus, which senior voters take very seriously, regardless of how the President feels. Apparently old people don’t like being told that their lives don’t matter! So weird!! He can’t win on healthcare, no matter how indomitably he tries to convince people that once Republicans appeal Obamacare (still in the courts) he will come up with a new plan. Proof 1. Proof 2. He is even losing ground on immigration, which was a winning policy issue for him in 2016.

He has one path to victory. Fear.

His only opportunity is to present Democrats as feckless leaders (and socialists) who will make America less safe. He needs to keep using the fear many have of the far-left (both economic and social), because he will not win over new voters or even win back the voters he lost with his policy decisions. It’s why you keep hearing about ANTIFA (Anti-Fascists). Trump and the GOP use ANTIFA as a catch-all term to encapsulate the dangers of the far-left. He is trying to connect the violence of ANTIFA and the looting to Democrats with the aim of delegitimizing any and all peaceful protests. He is doing so because he has lost the support of white suburban women (key for him in 2016), especially in the Rust Belt, which will determine the election. If Trump can increase white voter turn out in Wisconsin even more then he did last election, then it won’t matter how many black people in Milwaukee he upsets, as he will still win the state. That is why he was touring Kenosha. That is why he tweets out things like this:

Area man begs woman who once loved him to take him back (October 13th, 2020)

The President isn’t wrong that white suburban homeowners, especially self-proclaimed liberals, don’t want low-income residents in their neighborhoods, as it lowers property values and there is a (albeit debatable) perception that it increases crime. This issue of housing inequality is for another blog though. The point is, by touring Democratic cities enveloped by protesting, targeting low income-housing and repeatedly mentioning ANTIFA, he is using racial fears to bring the white suburban voter back to his side. Additionally, he has forced Biden to make a tough choice and take a solidified stance on police funding, rioting and BLM.

Biden is clearly worried about all of this. He toured Kenosha soon after the President and met with Jacob Blake’s family. While many Democrats on Twitter defended the rioting and looting, even going so far as defending ANTIFA (which is truly absurd in my opinion), Biden didn’t fall for the trap. He has said he will not defund the police, a major social media talking point that has little real-world support. He has strongly condemned the rioting, even making it the focus of a major advertising campaign and his speeches.

It seems like Biden has been successful in defending himself against the narrative Trump is selling. Nevertheless, its important to note that places like Wisconsin and Minnesota (where George Floyd was shot) will help determine the election. So will Florida, a state that often determines the election. While Florida hasn’t been directly affected by protests, Biden is lagging with Hispanic (Cuban) voters there. Cuban voters in Florida fled Castro and still have deep-seated fears of communism and far-left governments. Though their fears of crime/rioting may seem unfounded, they do not want civil turmoil disturbing their neighborhoods and view it as a product of leftist leanings. There is also historical evidence to suggest that rising crime rates help Republicans. There is a reason Trump has paraded walking corpse Rudy Giuliani on national television as his surrogate, since it was the former Republican mayor’s tough on crime approach that propelled him to two mayoral terms in a Democratic city. Being tough on crime has worked for Republicans in the past, even in Democratic areas. Nixon won in 1968 and even after impeachment, Republicans won four out of the five next elections. That is why Democrats are worried about all of the social discord.

All of that being said, there is a difference between Nixon in 1968 and Trump in 2020. First off, Nixon was a first-time candidate and this time around, Donald Trump is already President. As political history shows, the incumbent politician/party gets the credit and the blame for events happening under their watch. It’s much harder to present himself as a political outsider and as the protector of leftist violence when its happening under his own Presidency. Especially when it is the President himself who ordered unnamed, fully armed, federal officers to violent attack peaceful protesters in front of the White House for a photo op.

Trump can blame Democratic mayors and governors all he wants, but Biden is running for President, not Governor Whitmer (Michigan) or Gov. Evers (Wisconsin). Recent polling indicates no major shift took place in May on a national level. In fact, Biden’s lead grew in June, just mere weeks after Floyd’s shooting. Even polling for Wisconsin shows Biden has actually increased his lead with white voters. Biden is doing well in the battleground states and is doing incredibly well with seniors, who are the most reliable voting base. Biden may actually produce the strongest performance for a Democrat among seniors in a generation. Trump will continue to sell this narrative of “law and order” and portray Democrats as the party of chaos and himself a strongman leader who will rein in the disorder. It’s his only path to victory, minus another last-minute scandal that flips everything on its head. But Biden isn’t Hillary Clinton, no matter how much Trump still tries to campaign against her. An email scandal or Hunter Biden’s dealings in Hungary is not likely to deter Biden voters. There is no built-in political/misogynistic resentment of the Clintons to lean into.

Nixon’s election was a welcome relief to white Americans tired of all of the social upheaval. Four years later, after Nixon campaigned on law and order, he ended up impeached, resulting in Democrats retaking the Presidency. Trump has already been impeached, so at least he has that going for him. The election will tighten, many people who say they are voting for Biden may change their mind when they get to the polls. An open SCOTUS seat may change some swing voters mind’s. Trump still has a path to victory, but not a wide one. So while Democrats are understandably protecting themselves against another heartbreak, Biden does seem to be in good shape to win the election. Then again, that is what the pollsters said in 2016. Either way, we will know very soon.

Bonus (Very on brand for me):

My prediction for the 2020 election: