It is not quite 10am, Brussels time, this day after the U.S. presidential election. The BBC World journalists, their faces showing deep fatigue after an all-night vigil, closed out the morning news broadcast with the uncertainty that still remains over the outcome of the vote, admitting that it may take days or more before a definitive result is clear.
However, to my thinking there are already definitive results, not on who will take the oath of office as president in January, but over the status of the American electorate, over the support Donald Trump enjoys among those who first supported him in 2016 despite the wild ride and the havoc induced by the Covid19 pandemic. These are self-evident results that our mainstream media refuse to present.
First, the very tightness of the race was something one could not fathom from all major media reporting leading up to the election. They, to a man, focused on the poll results which showed Joe Biden ahead by as much as 8% nationally in the days just before the vote. However, they all hedged their bets by reference to the surprises of the 2016 election. The real news is deeper.
By all accounts, from analysts of all political persuasions, the re-election campaign of a sitting president is a referendum on his running the country for the preceding 4 years. Given the often bizarre aspects of the Trump presidency, given its flouting the long entrenched conventional wisdom of American political elites in so many different policy areas, it is utterly stunning that Trump has done so well yesterday and may even win a further four years despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastation inflicted on the economy by the lockdown of this past spring.
This leaves us with the certainty that Trump would have been re-elected handily had there been no pandemic. Those here in Europe who believe that the policies of the Trump with respect to NATO and to international organizations are an aberration must think again: they are policies which seem to enjoy the support of one half of the American electorate. That was not knowable before Trump, precisely because the American media have been wholly partisan in support of the Liberal Internationalist positions, and wholly dismissive of America First.
Another take-away from the preliminary electoral results is that whoever wins the White House by the free acknowledgement of defeat by his opponent or by decisions of the courts, the coming four years will see further vicious partisanship exercised in the Congress, in the courts and wherever possible to frustrate the ambitions of the incoming administration just as has happened in the past four years under Trump. A great deal will depend on the outcome of the elections to the Senate, which at this moment stand in the balance. If the Democrats win the three or four seats they need to overturn the Republican majority in the upper house, then they will have a somewhat easier time implementing their domestic programs. However, the mechanisms of the legislature present great opportunities for frustrating the will of majorities.
Finally, a word is due about the “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton characterized the Trump supporters in 2016. They are, as we have seen in this election, not some marginal antisocial fringe group. The days of the ‘Tea Party’ are long past. The Trump supporters are close to half of the U.S. population. Once called by Vice President Spiro Agnew “the silent majority,” they are silent no more.
The only path for reconciling these deep differences in values and policies between Democrats and Republicans in the United States will be for the mainstream media to get off the Democratic Party positions and open their pages to genuine policy debates, devoid of defamation and cheap populism. These differences are suppressed by the media and the result is intense frustration and potential for violence.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020
[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]