What the US Election Tells Us About America

Los Angeles, 5 November 2020, 11:45 AM

Second in a series on the 2020 US Election

It appears, at least as of this moment, that Joe Biden is headed for the White House in January 2021.  A considerable segment of the American people will feel greatly relieved, as indeed they should, and what many characterize as the ‘nightmare’ of the last four years appears to be coming to an end.  Biden had, among other things, declared this election as a referendum on ‘decency’ and many Americans will doubtless feel grateful that their country, long accustomed to viewing itself as the world’s greatest power, the leader of the free world, and as a shining beacon of freedom and hope to the rest of the world, has had its reputation restored.  There were fears that the election would be marred by violence but even international observers have declared themselves satisfied that the election proper has been conducted fairly, insofar as there does not appear to have been any violence at polling states, and indeed little effort appears to have been spared in ensuring that voters had multiple options to cast their ballots in the midst of a major public health crisis.  None of this detracts from the ugly fact that for weeks Trump and his election campaign team had been making attempts to obstruct mail-in ballots from being counted and that lawyers representing the campaign have filed multiple legal challenges to bring the counting of votes to a halt.  That there should be any question at all about whether votes should be counted or not is astounding and will be the subject of a subsequent essay.

Nothing in the present circumstances should however permit a benign reading of the US election, unless of course one has been deluded into thinking that America is and remains exceptionally great.  The most brutal fact that must confront every observer is that, whatever the final outcome, nearly half of the electorate that went to the polls cast their lot with Donald J. Trump.  He seems on the verge of losing the popular vote by around the same margin of 3 million by which he lost the popular vote in 2016.  The balance of power in both the Senate and the House of Representatives has tilted a bit here or there, but in every other respect the election results seem to suggest that nothing, absolutely nothing, transpired in the last four years.  Some of the most wretched politicians, all beholden to Trump, have able to keep their seats and some have even retained them with a thumping majority.  That Trumpism without Trump will endure and flourish is all but certain.  It is as if time had come to a standstill in the last four years.  This is a fact most chilling to comprehend.

For days before the election, there was much talk of a Biden landslide.  The polls were nearly unanimous in predicting a comfortable if not solid win for Biden.  If he wins at all, it would have been by razor-thin margins in several states. But let us leave all this aside, since election polling, far from being anything even remotely resembling a science, is on the whole an unintellectual exercise and interesting largely to those who find thinking rather difficult.  The most germane fact is that the US has become pitiable in the eyes of the world.  The most powerful and richest country in the world, which dominates the world’s headlines and is inescapably part of the imaginary of people everywhere, has been unable to contain the coronavirus pandemic while impoverished countries such as Vietnam, which the US sought to bomb into extinction five decades ago, and Cuba, which the US has sought to isolate from the rest of the world through a brutal regime of sanctions, blockade, and political repression, have succeeded admirably in altogether halting the advance of the virus.  (I have discussed this in my recently published book, The Fury of Covid-19, though the data there is naturally somewhat outdated.)  The US death tolls exceeds that of every other country in the world, and exceeds the death count in India by around 100,000.  Around 1000 people are dying in the US every day and yesterday over 104,000 Americans tested positive; in contrast, fewer than 92,000 people have been infected in China since the outbreak started there some ten months ago.  All this has not merely happened under the watch of Trump:  not only has he been declaring since March that the virus is disappearing, but the helter-skelter of the policies of his administration have led tens of thousands of Americans to a premature death.  In a just world, Trump’s sheer recklessness and callousness would be enough to warrant his trial on charges of crimes against humanity and the abetment of genocide. And yet almost 50 percent of the voters evidently cherish him.

There is far more, of course, to Trump’s shenanigans, deceit, skullduggery, and criminality.  He described Mexicans as rapists and his contempt for immigrants (especially from, to use his own language, “shit-hole” countries) is palpable.  He excluded Muslims from the US with preemptory “Muslim bans” and would all too gladly deport the Muslims that are in the US if he had the power to do so.  Though he has described his wealth as running into billions, and his golf courses, office buildings, and luxury residential towers are tastelessly adorned with large bold letters bearing his name, he paid all of $750 in federal income tax in 2017 and there have been years when he paid no taxes at all.  Waitresses, clerks in grocery stores, store attendants, and delivery men habitually pay more in taxes than Trump did, but the President attributes this to the fact that they are “dumb” and he is “smart”.  He prides himself on his ability to engage in massive tax evasion and is equally a swindler, judging from published records about his career as a developer and owner of luxury properties.  At least twenty women have come forward with allegations of sexual impropriety or assault on the part of Trump and his various pronouncements leave no doubt that he is a misogynist.  But the indictments against Trump constitute a story of Biblical proportions, far exceeding the Biblical admonitions against adultery, greed, larceny, and other sins.  He is at heart a white supremacist and has lost no opportunity over the years to suggest that the United States is fundamentally a white Christian country and that all others live in it at the pleasure of the master race.  American cities have burned many times before he took office, but he has set the country aflame with his openly declared love of white nationalists and barely disguised hatred of “the radical left” and the “Socialists” who allegedly “hate our country”.  And yet almost 50 percent of the electorate decided in this election to cast its lot with him.

Joe Biden has said on many an occasion that “the American people at heart are decent, honorable people.”  Referring on the day before the country went to the polls to the rancor, hostility, and bitterness that have characterized the entire election season and American politics with its deep divide between Democrats and Republicans in recent years, Biden remarked:  “It’s not who we are, not what America is.”  What this election has demonstrated is precisely the opposite:  though some might take heart and encouragement from half of the electorate’s repudiation of Trump and everything he stands for, the other half of the population has shown that the cruelty of the Republican Party, a party which celebrates obscene wealth, xenophobia, racial hostility, misogyny, crass masculinity, a frightening insularity, and a fierce determination to ensure that white elites can enjoy their dominance within the US and American hegemony around the world, is entirely acceptable to them.  If that is the American way of life, then the world must stand behind the firm rejection of this way of life.  What the Election of 2020 has shown is that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the rest of the world to turn to the US and it is time for them to allow their imagination to run without the United States of America.  It may be a good thing if the US has lost its supposed “moral leadership” of the world.

This is a slightly revised version of an essay first published a few hours ago on the ABP website under the same title here: https://news.abplive.com/blog/us-elections-2020-blog-what-the-us-election-tells-us-about-america-1382290

Also published in Hindi, here.

Translated into Finnish by Elsa Jansson and available here.

4 thoughts on “What the US Election Tells Us About America

  1. Media has parsed the vote for Trump as a widening urban/non urban divide, with working class whites voting against Silicon Valley elites etc. Looking at the polling maps, do you think this is basically a class or a racial divide? Thanks 🙏🏻.

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    • Now there is no question that metropolitan centers in particular voted heavily for Biden. “Urban” and “metropolitan” are generally taken to be synonymous, but I suspect that metropolitan has more of the suggestion of the cosmopolitan, with a greater density of population. There may be various ways to think of constituencies: for example, as I will argue in a later essay, Cubans, Venezuelans, and Iranians all generally vote in the same way. Why? Read one of my subsequent essays! To some extent, the racial and the class divides are there, but they are not sufficient to explain the 70+ million votes that Trump still received, after all the outrages and atrocities of the last four years.

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  2. I very much agree with what you have written here. I would add that in addition to half the electorate voting for Trump, the overall voter turnout in the US remains pathetically low compared to other democracies. Even in this election, described by the media as the “most important in our lifetimes”, 4 in 10 eligible voting age Americans did not cast a vote. This is a clear indictment of American “democracy” and demonstrates that a significant portion of the US population has no investment or faith in the process at all.

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  3. What annoyed me most about so many people claiming that Biden would win in a landslide, as you commented on, was the fact that they fail to look at history, and in particular, the 2016 election. Many Trump supporters have become the “silent majority,” and due to this, they are not taken into account in these polls. Clinton, especially after Trump’s “grab them by the p****” remarks, was supposed to win in a landslide as well. However, due to extremely low voter turnout, Clinton lost. One of the main reasons Biden won was the extremely high voter turnout, which is why I believe voting day should be a national holiday, similar to most European countries, Australia, etc. Voting should be encouraged, and citizens should not have to worry about missing work or not getting paid simply because they wish to exercise their right to vote.

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