UPDATE Nov 7th: With a freshly counted lead of over 30.00 votes in Pennsylvania, Joe Biden has officially been declared the winner of the US presidential election 2020 by all major new networks, including FOX News. Current President Trump, as expected, refuses to recognize his defeat.
The fear, loathing, uncertainty and chaos over the US Election are far from being over three days later. How did we get here? Different LeipGlo contributors have given their opinions at different times before, during and at the current crossroads of the Trump administration (check out our “Donald Trump archives”). In the aftermath of votes being cast we feel like we need to say a word with the presidential candidates’ agendas (or lack thereof) in mind, as well as broader strategies, systemic failures and future prospects. Today we present both a Brazilian-American and a German perspective on issues.
The US Election as a personality battleground
The cult of personality tends to drive elections in presidential systems. In the US, a country where actors and other performers have arrived at the top of politics more than once, this is coupled with a penchant for constant entertainment. And US President Donald Trump fits right in, since he loves the attention. Be it positive or negative, it is better than being ignored. Because being ignored is death for the narcissist, and they tend to treat losing (power and hence the spotlight) as an existential threat and lash out in a fury.
Which is to say that attention is like oxygen for Trump, and over his life the star of The Apprentice has become very good at drawing it to himself. He seems to regard the US presidency as just another stage for his antics.
Somewhat like LeipGlo contributor Maximilian Georg in his latest article, I see Trump’s policies during his four years in power as having revolved around three lines:
- “Dividing and conquering,”
- and isolationism.
“Divide and conquer” has been the strategy of the far right wing internationally to sow doubt and mistrust among voters in their countries, and this of course applies to the US Election.
Indeed, Trump’s discourse is similar to other far-right leaders around the world. Far-right strategists like Steve Bannon likely knew that someone like Trump would not be elected by a large margin but that there could be enough of a margin to get him elected if the boundary between fact and fiction could be blurred via fake news, and people’s anger could be misdirected at scapegoats and at each other.
Trump went along with that and has built much of his presidency around it, becoming one of the main architects of the “post-truth era.” He habitually lies and changes his positions publicly as he sees fit for his own agenda at the time, one of the marks of a narcissist.
As a narcissist he has also learned – along his path as a shady celebrity and businessman and even shadier president – how to pander to the bases that could keep him in power.
“The Donald” goes where he knows he can directly reach the masses – e.g. Twitter – and gives voice to the wild theories of conspiracy theorists. He makes them feel legitimized and special. He tells otherwise undecided voters that he is saving the economy and their jobs while convincing them that his opposition is malicious, destructive and dishonest – a classic narcissistic trait of projecting one’s own flaws onto others.
Trump gives his electorate a cast of enemies to pin all their troubles on and simplistic, fake, dangerous fast “remedies” to problems, not least of which is COVID-19. While his behavior as an aspiring despot who can relate more to Putin, Ergodan and Kim Jong-un than historic US allies in liberal democracies has driven away prominent supporters in the Republican Party, they have fallen short of stripping him from office. He has implemented policies in line with the Republican Party’s priorities and undone progress that was made under the Barack Obama administration.
Moreover, the US president’s isolationist approach to international relations deeply resonates with populist bases.
Populists tend to be distrustful of globalization and blame it, along with immigrants, for the loss of their livelihood. They see Trump as a welcome break from the establishment. Ironically, though, Trump represents everything that is wrong with the system.
The US Election results will be extremely close, which means that the US electorate is still deeply divided. Early and absentee voting ballots, still being counted, will be crucial in deciding the elections. So US Americans living abroad get to play a big role in this.
Trump would probably die before conceding defeat, however. And that is worrisome, to say the least. His supporters are already protesting the results outside a vote-counting center in Arizona and I bet this is only the beginning of a long turbulent road to the next president’s inauguration.
Former US Vice-President Joe Biden is the much more sensible option – which is not hard when compared to Trump – but he is hardly exciting for those of us longing for systemic change.
Another battleground often overlooked in favor of the big president show are the House of Representatives and US Senate races.
While the House has been controlled by Democrats, the Senate has been a Republican stronghold under Mitch McConnell’s leadership. The chamber has caused huge structural changes in the legislative and judicial branches towards a much more conservative future.
Here, establishment Democrats have failed incredibly to turn the tide on several levels. A blue wave was expected to sweep across the US and consequently undo some of the ultra-conservative changes. However, lackluster election promises and extremely centrist campaigns have failed to attract young people and alienated a lot of the new progressive grassroots movements.
In a time of extremes, recession and health crisis, it is a historic political failure to be unable to capitalize on a general public that is so unsatisfied with the current state of affairs. This is another testament to the deeply ineffective and toothless Democratic establishment.
A closer look at the Senate reveals just how disappointing this election cycle will turn out to be for Democrats who had hoped to break open the entrenched power Republicans have held over the institution over the last two elections. Looking at the current results, Dems will only be able to flip two seats while conceding another of theirs to Republicans, leaving only a one-seat gain. One of those two new Democrats in the Senate is the 2020 presidential primary contender John Hickenlooper. A fiscal conservative and former petroleum geologist and businessman, Hickenlooper is hardly a win towards a more progressive Senate.
Meanwhile, in Georgia we have the unlikely possibility of two run-off elections on the horizon. Both races’ contenders are likely to fall behind the mandatory 50% margin, necessary to secure a victory. The special election between Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat challenger Raphael Warnock is already set for a run-off in January with both candidates receiving well under fifty percent of the vote. At the same time, the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. David Perdue is still too close to call despite nearly all votes counted. The incumbent Republican currently holds just 50.03 % of the vote, leaving a good chance of falling behind that narrow margin when all ballots are accounted for.
The US Election as a deep rift in society
A narcissist will do anything to stay in power. Including wreaking havoc and destruction.
Trump gave a speech on Election Night falsely declaring victory and claiming he would go to the US Supreme Court to stop votes from being counted (which could work in a despotic regime but not in one that still has funcioning democratic institutions). I interpret this as an act of desperation, similar to when the president was trying to manipulate the US Postal Service so that mail-in ballots including absentee votes from abroad would not be properly delivered. Or when he incites hatred and violence.
It’s a belligerent baby running with matches around a powder keg – and with the nuclear codes. It’s a fence being built around the White House over the fear of post-election riots.
Trump knows that the record number of early votes cast in this US Election could very well mean, when all is said and done, that he has lost the election, since Democrats tend to win when a lot of those votes come in.
If Biden wins and stays true to his announced agenda, some of the damage under Trump could be undone, such as Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, attempts to take away the rights of LGBTQ+ people, decision to separate adults and children illegally entering the US, and tax cuts for the rich in detriment of the working class. However, the divisions, racism, violence, and social inequalities in the US run so deep – having been worsened but definitely not started under Trump – that it would be a long road to fixing many of these problems.
A wish of mine is that “social democrats” will eventually be able to get to the US presidency, preferably women of color. The election of such candidates would reflect a change in mentality among the majority of US voters towards prioritizing increasing social protections, the power of having a choice over one’s body and lifestyle, and the inclusion of the so-called minorities in decision-making.
This would mean that people would be waking up to the social and psychological illnesses that are actually causing inequalities, mutual hatred, and disrespect for fellow humans and for the natural environment to continue. It would mean that as a society they would be deciding to do something concrete about it.
The US Election as a chance to begin healing – or fall further down
Biden as a moderate, seeking to revive or expand some of the Obama administration’s key policies, would likely get the healing process underway in the US – and perhaps pave the way for his (arguably) more left-leaning Vice-President Kamala Harris to take over. Under Trump, however, the decline would continue and worsen.
For instance, it would be difficult to improve the ailing US economy if workers are not given proper protections, testing or sick leave, and end up getting fatally ill and/or making others fatally ill with COVID-19. It is, of course, already happening in huge and rising numbers. Biden has a plan for addressing those significant failures, while Trump has no coherent agenda and seems to act on whim and to have no qualms about playing with people’s lives if it benefits him politically.
The continuation of the patterns promoted or swept under the rug during the Trump administration is destroying the fabric of society and threatening our own survival on this planet. That is why Trump’s policy lines are so dangerous.
Besides climate change, Trump’s bad relationship with international organizations and with European allies like Germany could be detrimental to peace. Biden has promised to try to repair these relationships and to look into how to implement a “greener” economy in the US.
All we can do is wait and see how it all pans out. And stay home as much as possible.