Nigh on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, it is time to ponder whether Donald Trump's all too real version of House of Cards will get another season.
In January 2017, I travelled to Washington DC to observe Trump's inauguration as president.
It was a salutary affair.
A reminder that US politics viewed from distant New Zealand, and mainly refracted here through the lens of liberal American media like the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, gives a rather narrow, disjointed view of what is actually happening in America.
There were some serious points to this.
It's apposite that in 2017, many in the New Zealand media were calling the presidential election for Hillary Clinton before the final swing states folded for Trump. Media here had been so thick with their open disapproval of Trump that a Sioux City-based neurosurgeon — a Kiwi who had been in the US for some three decades — through it instructive I should meet his sons while they were also in Washington DC for the inauguration to learn why they both voted Trump.
One son doing a masters in global value chains had been concerned over the hollowing out of the US industrial/manufacturing base to China. The other was concerned about US military over-reach and questioned why the US appeared to have fostered insurgencies in failed attempts to secure democracies, the Iraq invasion, and why the US was shouldering too much of the fiscal burden for other countries' defence.
He was a polymath and a former supporter of Bernie Sanders, who switched support to Trump after the DNC gamed Sanders out of the play in favour of the hawkish Hillary Clinton.
There will be many similar vignettes this time round.
Some explaining why they have held their faith in Trump and others why they favour Joe Biden.
While Trump's presidential inadequacies are plain to see, the Democratic party's decision to nominate the 78-year-old Biden as their candidate is not particularly inspiring.
NZ chief executives, in a recent poll that I took, were not enthused about Biden, though they preferred him by a wide margin to a Trump return. A common sentiment was that the President had been an unmitigated disaster on many domestic and international fronts.
The US is now perceived as an unreliable partner by its traditional allies and friends. Far from making America great again he has accelerated the decline of the US as a world leader and in becoming more insular, the US increases the risk of global destabilisation.
But why not someone younger? Kamala Harris, or even Michelle Obama if she could be persuaded to run.
The 2017 inauguration was a learning curve.
I was not there as a "Trumpie" but as a "political tourist" — a journalist who, pre-Covid, has travelled each January to a major international capital city to immerse myself in the politics, think-tank forums, the political bookshop lectures and business trends.
Trump supporters had travelled from all over to DC. They expected Trump to deliver for them. Where many saw a graceless man, they saw hope. In the Irish bars, the leaders of the Pennsylvania steelworkers, the teamsters and their lawyers toasted (heavily) to a new era.
Some of those leaders are now disillusioned.
United Steelworkers Union president Tom Conway, quoted in the Pittsburgh Action News, said Trump hasn't delivered on repeated boasts he would bring back the American steel industry.
"Mr Trump boasts a lot. And I think that's the problem here. And it's easy to sort of grab a headline and do something that looks like it's going to change things, when it really doesn't," Conway said. He said Trump's steel tariffs had hurt and not helped American steel pricing.
"I remember President Trump, in those days, saying he had just spoken to the CEO of US Steel and they were going to build six more mills, then it would be seven more mills, eight more mills. But in fact, US Steel has closed mills left and right during this period of time," Conway told the Pittsburgh Action News.
Conway is endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's just announced "Made in America" policy. Under it, Biden would order the federal government to make sure tax dollars are used to "buy American" and "support American supply chains. There would also be tax credits to companies investing to create US jobs and penalties for those sending jobs offshore.
More protectionism in fact, which ought to give cause for NZ businesses to stay alert to the possibility a Biden presidency will also pose difficulties.
Another vignette. This January — just as the Covid virus was starting to make its creeping incursion into the US — I was again in DC. Trump was facing his impeachment trial and I decided to also look in on the March for Life rally. This annual rally protesting abortion is held around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision issued by the US Supreme Court which legalised abortion nationwide.
Trump had emerged on the dais of the Capitol and from bullet-proof glass told anti-abortion activists that unborn children "have never had a stronger defender in the White House".
He was the first sitting President to address the rally. In discussions with the Knights of Columbus members who were the marshals for the march it was apparent that many evangelicals and Catholics were prepared to overlook Trump's three marriages and other complications because of his pro-life stance — and determination to ultimately ensure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
The Knights of Columbus had planned to organise to get the Christian vote out for Trump.
This is unparalleled here.
The presidential election is important to New Zealand.
It will be significant if the US does re-engage and reassume an international leadership role in institutions like the World Trade Organisation and the World Health Organisation, and, re-engage with the Paris Climate Accord and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The absurdity of Trump's decision to move the US down an isolationist path is that it has opened the way for its strategic competitor, China, to make moves to occupy its leadership role in multilateralist institutions.
It would be foolhardy to assume that US media will predict the election correctly. (They didn't last time).
Trump cannot be counted out, yet.