3 November 2020
By the time you read this you may know more than I do as I write it, but some conclusions about the US election are already certain.
First, this has been essentially a re-run of the 2016 presidential election. The final Electoral College tally and therefore the presidency may still be in doubt, but we already know the popular vote, and it’s about the same ratio as when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee four years ago.
Biden currently has 50% of the votes versus 48% for Trump, and the races in the remaining undecided states are all very close so that ratio is unlikely to change. This means that Biden got at least 3 million more votes than Trump, but that is no more a guarantee of victory than Clinton’s 3 million majority in 2016.
So the Electoral College is as big a problem as ever, and the Great Demographic Shift that was going to make a Republican victory impossible is still becalmed somewhere over the horizon.
Secondly, the Republicans are almost certain to keep their majority in the Senate, in which case they can block any new legislation the Democrats want to pass even if Biden does win the presidency. That includes any attempt to tackle the Electoral College issue, which was a fairly forlorn hope in any case.
Not winning the Senate also means the Democrats cannot create new Supreme Court judges, which is their only possible way to roll back the Republican policy of packing that court with conservative appointees (currently a 6-3 majority). In that case Supreme Court decisions that will probably re-ban abortion and dismantle Obama’s healthcare reforms will be impossible to reverse.
Finally, the culture war (mostly without guns) that already obsesses and disfigures the United States will continue. Indeed, it will intensify if Trump loses the election but continues to deny it and claim fraud, as he most certainly will. Losing the presidency is virtually an existential question for him, since without it he would be exposed to an avalanche of legal charges.
There has been some speculation that an amnesty would encourage him to accept his electoral defeat and leave the White House quietly, and that would be a good idea if it could actually work. Unfortunately, even a victorious Joe Biden could only offer Trump an amnesty for federal charges, and some of Trump’s worst legal problems are at state level.
So Trump must hang on to the leadership of the Republican Party and mount as many legal challenges as possible to the voting and vote-counting processes. Back in his real-estate days his first reflex was to tie his opponents up in court battles, even if the courts were ultimately likely to decide against him.
At the very least that was a way of buying more time, and now there’s also the slim chance that some key lower-court decision might be get appealed all the way up to his friends on the Supreme Court.
The battle in the courts will be long and exhausting, and there’s not going to be any ‘closure’ or ‘healing’ in America in the aftermath of the election.
At the time of writing it looks like Joe Biden will eke out a win and become the 46th president, but his victory will be as unconvincing in the eyes of foreigners as it is to many of his fellow Americans. A conclusion that has been growing elsewhere about the United States since 2016 has only been strengthened by this election: America is not to be trusted.
Almost re-electing Donald Trump, after having had the opportunity to observe his behaviour close up for every day (literally) of the past four years, reflects very poorly on the common sense of the American public. If half of them cannot even see through such an obvious fraud, should they really be allowed out without adult supervision?
More importantly, are they to be trusted as partners and/or allies? For example, Biden might rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement (which the US officially quit on Wednesday), but it is actually a treaty and he’ll never get it ratified by the Senate. Obama got around this once by pretending it wasn’t really a treaty, but it’s hard to get away with that trick twice.
The same goes for America’s existing alliances and trade deals. They may be safe under a Biden presidency, but other countries would be unwise to count on them for the long term.
The partners and allies will have to start looking for insurance elsewhere, because it is now clear that Trump was not a fluke. The ‘other America’ is permanently just one roll of the electoral dice away from regaining power, and it is both ugly and unreliable.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“So…Court”)