2020 U.S. Presidential Election: What's at Stake?

us election

2020 has seen its fair share of unordinary events, from the coronavirus pandemic to economic recessions and a myriad of unexpected road bumps in between. The upcoming U.S. presidential election is no exception to this year’s lack of normalcy, according to Karim Haggag '92, professor of practice of public policy and administration and director of AUC's Middle East Studies Center.

As Americans take to the polls to choose between keeping incumbent Republican President Donald Trump for another term or bringing in Democratic candidate Vice President Joe Biden, their decisions are being made in a critical time and will have major consequences on the future of both parties, the country and the rest of the world.

“It seems that we’re at a moment of multiple crises for the United States,” Haggag said. “On the one hand, we have this polarization, and it seems to have coincided with the racial divisions, the coronavirus and the economic crisis induced by the pandemic. All of this is putting on a lot of stress.” 

Haggag was recently appointed as a visiting fellow at the Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. To him, this election comes not only in the midst of ‘multiple crises,’ but at a significant turning point in American politics after four years of a presidency characterized by unprecedented political moves.

“We see the erosion of trust in institutions and in scientific expertise, and that can have a very significant impact on the credibility and integrity of the election itself,” he said. “This can potentially culminate in a political or even constitutional crisis, and the actual results of the election may be contested for some time.”

When Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country in late May, President Trump denounced calls to defund the police and labeled the protests as violent. As the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States early this year, the president played down the threat of the virus and the effectiveness of wearing masks. With millions of Americans opting to mail in their election ballots to avoid crowding at polling stations, Trump has been warning Americans of fraud and manipulated election results. 

Biden’s campaign has been fighting back with a promise to turn the country around and restore peace, justice and trust in science, which has both gained him a strong following and also exacerbated the polarization in the country. But while recent polls have shown Biden leading, Haggag says it still isn’t clear what will happen given Trump’s base of unwavering support, even after a mixed-reviews debate and his recent diagnosis with COVID-19.

“It’s not clear to me whether this moves the needle either way for either of the candidates,” Haggag said. “These things are fast moving developments, and we’ll need some time to see if this will have a discernible impact on the election.” 

This election has put a lot at stake for different parties inside and out of the United States. With projections that the Republican Party might lose its majority in the Senate, Haggag says an identity crisis might be in store for both political parties. 

“If that's the case, there may be a real reckoning inside the Republican Party as to what its political identity is and how they reached this situation under Trump. For Democrats, they will have a reckoning between progressive democrats and the established center. All of that comes after getting over this hump of the election,” he said.

Turning to the Middle East, Haggag said that over the past few years, the region has been of less national interest to the United States. However, under a Biden administration, we would be expected to see some reversal on some of Trump’s most controversial moves in the region. 

“With the Israel-Palestine conflict you could see the Biden administration taking a more even-handed approach and a turn to a negotiation process toward Iran,” he said.

As for Egypt, the results of the election don’t seem to matter as much, given the country’s track record of dealing with both political parties, Haggag added. 

But it’s no question that the image of the United States on the global stage has changed significantly under Trump. The question is whether or not a Biden administration can restore a sense of confidence in the United States as a global leader. 

“We’re looking at whether Biden can bring back trust in global issues that witnessed a sudden change under Trump, like arms control, global governance and climate change,” Haggag said.

The focus will also be on domestic issues that, according to Haggag, have revealed that the United States isn’t free of problems that other countries face. 

“Many of the crises I was alluding to...like racial inequality, economics and a possible constitutional crisis undermine America’s image as an exceptional country,” he said.

As part of his fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative, Haggag is conducting a series of interviews to gauge Arab perceptions of American objectives and foreign policy. His research focuses on regional security issues, issues of Mediterranean security and Mediterranean energy politics.