The Financial Express

US Presidential Election 2020: A view from outside

US Presidential Election 2020: A view from outside

President-elect Joe Biden claimed victory as it became clear he was the winner securing the majority of electoral college votes (290), and he also secured the majority of  popular votes (50.8 per cent) which is not essential to win the presidency. His victory was celebrated as a victory for liberal Americans, many of whom may have reluctantly voted for him spurred by the fear of  giving his opponent another four years, the incumbent  Donald Trump whom Noam Chomsky described as "the most dangerous criminal in human history''.

There has been a widespread fear that  a second term for Trump would be a tragedy from which not only the US but also the world would never recover. This is simply because one must not forget that the US is an imperial power, therefore whoever runs the US  matters  not only for the US but also for the rest of the world.

Biden's electoral victory has been  greeted with congratulatory messages from leaders of  close allies of the US who are mostly across the Atlantic like the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The list also includes other very close allies like the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Many other  world leaders also did the same.

Meanwhile, no sooner had Biden claimed victory, then  internal dissension among Biden supporters started heating up. Progressives are gearing up to follow Biden's victory with a combative approach towards the powerful Right within the party known as corporate democrats. Similarly, the leaders on the corporate democrats side have already signalled their intention to aggressively marginalise progressives within the party. But that did not stop frenetic scrambling for jobs in the new Biden administration.

But a far more challenging situation appears to be emerging for the president-elect Biden. President Donald Trump is refusing to accept his electoral defeat and is now actively engaged in a coup like attempt to nullify the election result alleging election fraud. In a country where large proportion of the population do not bother to vote out of hard borne experience because they think it does not really matter which of the two parties wins as the outcome will be the same. Yet according to the PBS, voter turn out for the 2020 election was the highest since 1900, based on eligible voters who cast vote. In fact, close to 160 million voted in this presidential election relative to 136 million in the 2016 election.  Despite such high voter turn out, Trump is not only claiming voter fraud but also maintaining that the election is not over yet, and contesting the results in several states.

Most leading Republicans refuse to acknowledge Biden's victory. Senator Lindsey Graham has urged Trump not to concede and to challenge the election.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even said 'a smooth transition to a second Trump administration" in response to a question asked on the smooth transition of power to the Biden administration.  The Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel declared  that Trump was 100 per cent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh in his options.

As senior members of the Republican Party stood behind President Trump in refusing to accept the election result, many are wondering why it is so given the inevitability of the outcome. The reasons are-- if  President Trump is not supported, he will become disengaged causing a less energised voting base, and more importantly a disenchanted Trump will lead to diminished ability of the Republicans to raise funds.

Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr has authorised all US attorneys asking them to initiate investigations into vote fraud if that "could potentially impact on the outcome  of a federal election". In fact, Trump claimed victory even while the election was still on in his determination to stay in power.

Biden, in fact, won a razor thin victory. This narrowness of Biden's margin of victory further transpired the aggressiveness of Trump and the Republican Party machine. To add to Biden's  worries, the Democrats failed to win the Senate majority and lost seats in the House of Representatives. They also could not flip a single Republican state legislature.

Trump has in reality managed to turn the political fabric of the US inside out. The Financial Times summed up the situation in an editorial on Trump's intention in declaring victory and challenging the counting of ballots even before polls closed and vote counting started and wrote " was not to prejudge the result but to taint a President Biden (if the Democrat is elected as such) as illegitimate. He may yet succeed".

The post-presidential election picture of the US seems to be getting uglier as one looks from outside. President-elect Biden's lofty declaration on the election day that "there will be no red states or blue states, just the United States" sounds quite hollow, even very fanciful. The country looks very deeply divided.

Biden is considered a liberal Republican in his political orientation, rather than a good old Democrat of the Roosevelt era or even a democrat of the 1950s through to the 1970s.  Yet, Republicans find him so unacceptable that they now  are challenging his legitimacy as the duly elected president. That indicates how far right the Republican Party has moved to and if necessary, willing and ready to undermine the confidence in the democratic process, constitutional institutions and values that have been in place for 230 years despite all the flaws inherent in the system. Also, for the Democrats moving to the right of the right is not yielding the desired results.

The US experienced its biggest voter turnout in 120 years, yet the election appears to be signalling a failing if not  a failed system. Trump has never been the real problem, he is the symptom of the problems spawned by the American "exceptionalism". His success lies in his ability to channel Americans' frustration and anger at political and economic system they clearly see failing them and articulates who should be blamed--  immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the multilateral global order and what not.

Trump should be given the credit he deserves. He clearly saw where the country was going and also very clearly understood the fault lines in way no one else did and used that to his full advantage. Trump will go but Trumpism will survive. Trumpism has split the US in a way that has not been imaginable since the civil war. The country is most unlikely to see the heightened sense of unity ever again. More alarmingly, Americans are losing trust in political institutions, hardly any trust in the fourth state. Now even the judiciary has become polarised as reflected in the divisiveness in Supreme Court confirmations.

Trump's cult of personality still holds tremendous sway over the Republican base made up of white heartland, working class Americans. He will become the voice of Republican opposition and continue to stoke the crisis of legitimacy with potentials for destabilising the Biden administration. More alarmingly, a significant part of his base has already embraced fascist ideology without being capable of articulating that: it could be termed proto-fascists. There is a growing feeling that a new Trump will emerge to further energise his base and direct his fury to destabilise the Biden Administration.  There will be further calls to the base to "stand back and stand by''.

Now the US as an empire is in steep decline, but empires rarely go so quietly. Empires are always war-making machines. Even when they are not at war, they rearm themselves. Warrior kings over-extend their reach and drain the resources. The US now have troops in more than 150 countries with about 165,000 troops permanently based outside the US. These numbers do not include troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and special forces. The empire is now the single largest debtor country in the world. Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" is the  testimony to the empire's decline although very few recognised it at that time.

The presidential election clearly showed that the US is equally divided. The fact that 71 million people voted to give Trump a second term in office is to be taken seriously. In a way, Trump almost pulled off a second term with no legal coup required.  As Professor Richard Wolff, a well know TV commentator  said in a television interview  that " roughly half  of  the Americans  do not find anything to vote against Donald Trump and Republicans and seem to like them and vote for them. That's an amazing achievement for a president  presiding over a collapsing economy  and the worst failure of maintenance of public health probably in the history of the USA''. Trump not only  defied the Democratic Party establishment's belief that Trump would self-destruct himself in 2016 and 2020 elections but also even in defeat he remains a powerful opponent to reckon with.

President-elect Joe Biden tries to orchestrate his very working class origin  in Pennsylvania, but his popular image remains as an integral part of the American establishment. That puts him at odds with billionaire  Donald Trump who has been very successful in portraying himself as  an anti-establishment  guy who champions the cause of the ordinary white folks but such a portrayal is also absurd and false. American journalist and author Chris Hedges in a television interview described Joe Biden as  a  "phenomenally arrogant, full of himself and intellectually lightweight and no moral core".

Despite the US political environment looking increasingly ugly, fractured and desperate, President-elect Biden is trying to bring in some semblance of normalcy and not letting President Trump's refusal to accept the election result and stop him from preparing to take the rein of the office. He has already appointed  his long time adviser Ron Klain as his chief of staff and assistant to the President. But his cabinet decision still remains challenging in view of placating various interest groups, often competing. The big question remains what  would the Biden administration  be like. The best way to sum that up is to quote Joe Biden himself and what he told to his elite Manhattan campaign donors last year, that in a Biden Presidency " Nothing would fundamentally change". This is a clear  indication that his presidency will maintain status quo.

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