Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



What will historians write about America in 2020?

Two crises, one real, the other potential, dominated our lives this year. The Covid-19 pandemic was a real crisis, the potential one was the 2020 presidential election. The danger to the country's economic and political stability cannot yet be calculated.

Impact of Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed our lives. Most indoor dining at restaurants ended, schools were closed to in-person learning, churches closed for normal worship, college football and basketball were played without fans, air travel was discouraged, and Thanksgiving was celebrated without families. We may hope that 2021 brings relief, as Covid vaccines become available. But the long-term impact on our children will be immense. Many local communities made it unlikely for youngsters to join with classmates and teachers, and on-line learning is difficult for both small children and parents. By comparison, Germany and France keep their schools open while restaurants, theaters, and other public places are shut down during the recent spike in infections.

The long-term effect of Covid-19 on American society is not easy to predict, but could be huge. An entire new way of working and of shopping has emerged. Amazon did a booming on-line business during Thanksgiving weekend while community stores and malls saw sharp declines. Major segments of business, government, and the professions now communicate on-line instead of in offices. Shopping on-line for meals and household goods seems easier than using stores.

Optimists say the country will return to some degree of normal life when vaccines are widely available. I'm skeptical, because many professionals, businesses, and government workers are now accustomed to working from home and will resist returning to the old ways. The invention of Zoom facilitates communication with colleagues without having to be at the office every day. It's as important as the telephone was in an earlier time.

A chaotic 2020 election

When President Trump delivered his acceptance speech on January 20, 2017, few Americans doubted that his "America First" approach represented a frontal challenge to the way America had dealt with the world and our domestic priorities. Gone was emphasis on international cooperation and multilateral agreements. Also gone was Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran that didn't curtail its clandestine military operations across the Middle East. And gone was the welcome to immigrants, especially illegal ones crossing our southern border.

Trump complained about America's large costs in defending Europe while NATO members resisted increasing their defense budgets and expanded their trade. His administration challenged trade relations with China, charging that its mercantilist policies cost American workers their jobs and forced small businesses into bankruptcy.

Trump's supporters applauded his success in putting America back to work and bringing the unemployment rate down to 3.6 percent. But the president's bizarre behavior and chaotic way of dealing with subordinates caused dismay among leaders in the military, diplomatic, and intelligence services. He didn't tolerate anyone who questioned his judgment, and that led to resignations and firings of key officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and three national security advisers.

When the 2020 election campaign opened, the president emphasized solidifying his base, which remained about 40 percent. In the month before the election, Trump campaigned tirelessly, using Air Force One as a prop, and harangued enthusiastic crowds across the country. His prediction of election fraud resonated with supporters, and with congressional Republicans whose members were unwilling to confront him. They feared a backlash from his supporters.

Joe Biden decided soon after winning the Democrat Party's nomination to "let Trump be Trump." His assumption was that voters were growing tired of his wrecking tactics and would turn to a more conventional candidate with long experience in government. That strategy worked. Still, some 71 million people voted for Donald Trump. It was not a time for complacency for the Democrats.

Outlook 2021

Neither the Covid 19 legacy nor the turmoil of the 2020 election will go away in 2021. Even though anti-virus vaccines will soon be available, the general public won't receive its benefits before spring/summer 2021. Controversy is emerging over who should get the vaccine early and who will wait. Meanwhile, Trump's persistence in calling the election rigged against him suggests his campaign against Democrats will surely continue after he leaves office. 2021 will be another turbulent year for Americans, but we eventually will have Covid vaccine, and Joe Biden will be president.

File last modified on Saturday, 7-DEC-2020 04:10 PM EST

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