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British Association for American Studies


US Presidential Elections Conference - British Association for American Studies


US presidential elections conference


American Elections 2024 – Trump/Biden: the Rematch?

 Call for papers  

October 24-25, 2024

Grenoble Alpes University

In 2020, the presidential election that saw the Democrat Joe Biden rise to power took on a rather exceptional character. Not only did it take place in an unusual context – that of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had an impact on the campaign itself, as well as on voting procedures (Sullivan and Stewart III 2022) – but the results were so close in some states (e.g. Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina…) that the official announcement of Biden’s victory did not occur until November 7, four days after the election (Collinson and Reston 2020). Moreover, for weeks – and even today – this exceptional situation discredited the final result, with the defeated president refusing to concede victory to his opponent (Liasson 2020). This discredit culminated in the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the day the results were certified. This grassroots movement led by disappointed Trump supporters was fanned by Trump himself. Its aim was to overturn the results in the name of the will of the people. While this historic event is interpreted by some as a sign of an attack on American democracy, it is also indicative of deeper trends that have been shaping American society: fear of downgrading for a part of the population, rising conservatism, ideological polarization, the emergence of identity politics, etc…. (Kydd 2021).

Be that as it may, nearly four years on, American democracy seems to be in a bad position. More than just an election, what seems to be at stake in November 2024 is the future of American democracy. According to Joe Biden, “democracy is on the Ballot” (Biden in Schmidt 2024). However, this line of argument may not be so far from the truth. In December 2023, American media outlets warned of a potential dictatorial drift of power that a second Trump presidency could entail (Tharoor 2023; Davis, Ordoñez, and Montanaro 2023). Driven by a sense of revenge, Trump himself makes no secret of his ambitions to reinforce his authority and even his authoritarianism. In particular, he wants to make those who stand in his way pay, even though he claims he will only be a dictator “on Day One” of his new term (Colvin and Barrow 2023).

The 2024 election promises to be just as exceptional as the 2020 one. If Donald Trump wins the Republican primary and takes office in November, he will become the second president to serve two non-consecutive terms since Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897). Similarly, the age of the two likely candidates gives the election a particular dimension.

Whoever wins, they will be the oldest president ever elected – 78 for Trump and 82 for Biden. As far as Democrats are concerned, this aspect seems more problematic and raises questions about Biden’s ability to mobilize the party’s base, even though he had announced himself that he intended to be a transitional president. As such, he has failed to meet the expectations of the more liberal and progressive wing of the Democratic Party, whose support among young Americans is significant and matters electorally (E.J. Dionne Jr. 2023). This change in approach can be explained by several factors, starting with the war in Ukraine, which seems to have reinforced Biden’s desire to last a little longer in order to ensure a form of stability at the head of the executive branch. Be that as it may, this illusion of a transitional presidency has had the immediate effect of overshadowing the American Vice-President, Kamala Harris, whose voice and weight have waned over the months, to the point of being contested by some, even though her nomination had been presented as a strong and historic symbolic choice (Herndon 2023).

On the Republican side, while Trump’s age is not a bone of contention among his most fervent supporters, his troubles with the law may represent an obstacle among the more moderate wing of the party. In addition to the various lawsuits that Trump is still facing, if he were to win the election in November, he would become the first president who has been impeached (twice) to be re-elected, raising the question of his credibility and, more generally, the proper functioning of American institutions.

Paradoxically, it would seem that these two candidates, who are not unanimously agreed upon, will be at the Democratic and Republican conventions in the summer of 2024, auguring another tense, even violent, general campaign, reminiscent of their televised debates four years ago.

More generally, the election is being played out against a backdrop of cultural war: the country is going through an identity crisis, dividing and tearing itself apart over many different subjects. From abortion rights to immigration and the rights of LGBTQ+ people: never since the Civil War has the United States been so “disunited”, even “fractured” (Kaspi 2023, 347). This is mirrored in the institutional gridlock that is becoming more and more frequent, limiting the possibility of bipartisan compromise on the legislative front. It would seem that American politics is more than ever at an impasse. This is evidenced by the threat of shutdowns in the US Congress symbolized by the difficult negotiations on aid to Ukraine or the struggle to appoint a Speaker in the House of Representatives. Similar issues seem to be emerging as a migration crisis is looming on the Mexico/US border, reflected in the antagonistic positions of Joe Biden and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (Liptak 2024). Beyond a simple ideological and legislative disagreement, what emerges in the backdrop is also, potentially, an institutional crisis symbolized by tensions between the Federal government and States’ governments. The political paralysis fostered by this situation had already been conceptualized by some American researchers in 2022 in their analysis of the effects of the 2020 presidential campaign in which they emphasized how it had “rigidified” and “calcified” American politics even further (Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck 2022).

Against this backdrop, the United States finds itself at a crossroads, mired in societal divisions that are mirrored on the political stage. While the phenomenon of polarization is not new, it seems to have taken on new dimensions, to the point of being encapsulated in the notion of “identity politics”, which reflects this widening gap in many cultural issues, as Lilliana Mason explains in her book Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity (Mason 2018).

This symposium will therefore reflect on what this “rematch” means in the light of the various issues peppering the presidential campaign. For the time being, no single issue ostensibly dominates the political debate, proposing instead the image of a country split between two diametrically opposed and still irreconcilable visions. While Joe Biden’s desire to restore America’s soul remains relevant, it would seem that the outgoing president’s position (as is tradition) is more defensive this time, as he insists on protecting American democracy (Biden 2024). For his part, Donald Trump, encouraged by the ever-enthusiastic “Maga Republicans” and supported by a traditional Republican Party in need of a strong-enough figure to challenge him, will once again seek to make America great again, in an unstable geopolitical context where his decisions will be anxiously scrutinized. Some of his advisors claim that this time he will be better prepared to assume the presidential position (Ordonez 2023).

Through this symposium, the organizers wish to focus on several topics.

  • Theme 1: The Biden presidency. Proposals focusing on the Democratic president’s term of office and the key events that punctuated it are sought. The focus will be on Biden’s policies, in particular his economic stimulus policy embodied in his “Build Back Better Plan”. We may wonder why the effects of this proactive policy are not being perceived positively by a large portion of the American people despite some obvious results that helped the US recover from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic.
  • Theme 2: What project for the Republican Party? If Donald Trump seems to have won the primaries beforehand, as evidenced by his victories in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, and if he can count on the unfailing support of his “Maga Republican” base, he will nevertheless have to convince the moderates, and above all, the independents, bearing in mind that he has never won the popular vote. To do this, what strategy will he put in place? What ideas will he include in his program? How will it differ from the policies he pursued during his term of office? More generally, what impact would a new Trump presidency have on the Republican Party?
  • Theme 3: What are the electoral stakes? In 2020, Joe Biden’s election was made possible by his victory in key swing states such as Michigan, Arizona and Georgia, which he took back from Trump and more generally from the Republicans thanks to the on-the-ground efforts of local party members. What are the dynamics structuring these states in 2024? What has the Democratic Party done to continue mobilizing decisive electorates to ensure Biden’s re-election? Are demographic changes in certain states (e.g. Texas) likely to alter the Electoral College results? What about the credibility of the vote and of American democracy, given that the governors of some Southern states have severely restricted access to the vote, particularly for minorities? Will minorities, who had given victory to Biden in a particular context linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, mobilize as much in 2024?
  • Theme 4: What role for the United States in the world? With the current geopolitical situation marked by large-scale conflicts (e.g. the war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tensions in the Gulf of Aden, etc.), what are the two presidential candidates’ positions on these issues? Between a wavering internationalist tradition and overt isolationism, Biden and Trump seem to embody two diametrically opposed foreign policies. In the face of China’s rise to power, the role of the United States has been increasingly called into question, raising the question of the country’s role on the international stage. Traditional lines of force have been challenged by the war in Ukraine, and the military-diplomatic hegemony of the United States no longer seems as strong as it used to be, particularly on the African and South American continents.
  • Theme 5: Papers may also address more institutional issues, and in particular the role played by the Supreme Court in such far-reaching decisions as the end of constitutional protection of the right to abortion, or the questioning of the principle of affirmative action. The articulation between the three powers will be at the heart of concerns over the next four years. Given Trump’s latest statements, are we in danger of seeing a return to the “imperial presidency”?

The aim of this symposium is also to encourage dialogue between disciplines. Proposals borrowing from American studies, history, political science, and international relations are welcome.

Proposals must be sent by June 15, 2024 to the addresses of the two organizers

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People will receive a response by July 10, 2024.