Watching some of the exchanges in the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, featuring chief executives Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai of Google, I realized that no matter how the November election shakes out, the underlying dynamic is not likely to change in the coming year.
No matter what happens, many Republicans will be angry because they suspect Big Tech companies suppress conservative voices, and many Democrats will be angry because they suspect Big Tech companies don’t do enough to suppress conservative voices. Both sides will wonder if these companies are getting too big and powerful and simply have too much authority to set the terms of public discourse. No matter how the election turns out, Americans will not begin 2021 with the attitude, “You tech giants are doing a great job, just keep doing what you’re doing.”
There are other aspects of the Trump agenda, or at least the Trump-ian attitude, that are likely to continue to be political factors in the years ahead, even if Joe Biden wins by a large margin this year.
No matter who wins in November, the American electorate is likely to be more skeptical and suspicious of China from here on out. A year ago, Biden sounded like the most pro-China voice among all the Democratic candidates. Now Biden runs ads insisting he would be tougher on China than Trump is.
Support for free trade in general might be increasing, but it is difficult to envision a scenario where Americans want greater economic ties with China.
A President Biden would no doubt seek to pass legislation to change the American immigration system. But defunding or abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement isn’t going to happen, nor is decriminalizing crossing the U.S. border — and if the Biden administration did push for those changes, Democrats would face a furious pushback in the 2022 midterms. Biden probably wouldn’t do much to create additional border fencing, but he felt the need to promise to “invest in better technology coupled with privacy protections at the border, both at and between ports of entry, including cameras, sensors, large-scale x-ray machines, and fixed towers.”
And while populism as a political force can be nebulous, it is hard to believe that a Biden election would suddenly restore public faith in society’s leaders. Populism in its most basic form of believing in “the rot at the top” — that we in the general public are poorly served by elites who are selfish, corrupt, irresponsible, and who abuse their power — is likely to continue as a factor in American politics.
Trump was carried along in 2016 by some salient and often under-discussed issues and attitudes. As his first term winds up, those issues are not really resolved, and haven’t gone away. A Biden presidency might find itself facing a congressional opposition that offers a version of Trumpism without Trump.