Matters of The Moment
The divisions in the US have been deep and bitter. America must be United again for, above all, its people
By Mrinal Roy
It has taken days to determine the outcome of the US presidential elections as it has been a neck and neck battle all the way. It must be said that President Donald Trump echoes the angst and anger of large sections of Americans who feel that they have been let down and short changed by the political class and the political Establishment. He is considered a maverick by the political Establishment but his brand of disruptive policies appeals to large swathes of Americans.
The elections were therefore extremely polarized and divisive. The United States is profoundly divided between those who wanted four more years of Donald Trump policies of putting ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ and those who wanted to put an end to a presidential term of office which was perceived as disruptive and alien to the values and founding principles of the United States.
The mano-a-mano between the two camps has mobilized the US electorate and has resulted in the highest (66.9%) turnout of voters since 1900. More than 160 million electors out of 239 million voters braved a devastating Covid-19 pandemic to exercise their right to vote. It is evident that the tenor of policies adopted by President Trump to put ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ commanded support from a broad cross-section of US voters. On the other hand, pro Democratic Party voters who had not exercised their right to vote at the 2016 elections, which they lost to Donald Trump, were determined not to make the same mistake twice. They rallied in support of Joe Biden and voted massively for him. The right to vote was so arduously won from the forces of reaction that it should be anathema for voters not to actively exercise this fundamental right at each election.
Despite the polls giving a commanding lead to Joe Biden before the elections, there was no ‘blue wave’ of Democrats surging across the United States. The elections were a closer race than pollsters had predicted. The outcome of the elections has been too close to call. There was drama and suspense. The stock market was in turmoil. The uncertainty regarding the result of the elections lasting several days was a nightmare for markets and leaders across the world. The world had to wait for the counting of all the votes of some of the fiercely disputed battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada or North Carolina to be completed to know the outcome of the elections. These votes included a huge number of postal votes cast during a Covid-19 pandemic afflicted election. A record 101 million early votes were cast in person and by mail before the polls even opened on election day.
Every vote counts
In a tight presidential race, when the counting of the votes was still going on, Donald Trump made the outrageous and unsubstantiated allegation that ‘the election was a major fraud on our nation’ and that they would be going to US Supreme Court to contest the election results. It all seemed already scripted after the strong criticisms voiced against mail-in ballots or postal votes during the run-up to the elections. It is flabbergasting that the integrity of the voting system in one of the largest democracies be contested by an incumbent President, especially as there is/was an online tracker to monitor the counting of the votes including in the fiercely fought battleground states. His campaign team has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia to contest the electoral process and the outcome of the elections. These legal challenges could further delay the official announcement on the outcome of the presidential elections. Such a stance is bound to exacerbate the deep divide in the country and prevent those who lose the elections to fairly accept the result of a democratic process and help the country come together.
The unsubstantiated allegations of fraud made by President Trump have however not been endorsed by prominent members of the Republican Party such as Utah Senator Mitt Romney or House Representative Will Hurd of Texas who tweeted: “A sitting president undermining our political process and questioning the legality of the voices of countless Americans without evidence is not only dangerous and wrong, it undermines the very foundation this nation was built upon.” Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania said in a statement that once the state’s final election count is “reached and certified, all parties involved must accept the outcome of the election regardless of whether they won or lost”.
It was clear from the trend of the votes count in the last five disputed battleground states, namely Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina, that were fuelled by postal votes from predominantly pro-Democrat counties , Joe Biden had overtaken and gone ahead of Donald Trump in all these states except North Carolina. Donald Trump had urged people to vote in person whereas Joe Biden had encouraged people to vote by post in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Joe Biden won Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, states that President Donald Trump had won in 2016. He has tallied 279 electoral votes which are more than the 270 electoral votes required for winning the 2020 US presidential elections. He is expected to obtain even more electoral votes when the vote count is completed. Donald Trump is the first incumbent president to lose re-election since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.
It is a comforting and historic moment that the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections was decided in Pennsylvania where the US Declaration of independence was adopted on 4 July 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Changing demographics and voting patterns
It must be flagged that the demographics of the United States and its distribution across US states keeps shifting. Research results released in September 2020 showed that in all 50 states in the US, the share of non-Hispanic White eligible voters declined between 2000 and 2018, with 10 states recording double-digit decline in the number of eligible voters. In contrast, Hispanic voters now represent increasingly larger shares of the electorate in every state. These gains are particularly large in states like Nevada, California and Texas which have registered a rapid growth in the Hispanic share of the electorate. For example, in the battleground state of Arizona, Hispanic adults made up about one-quarter (24%) of all eligible voters in 2018. In the US Hispanic voters represent 13% of eligible voters. However, within the Hispanic voters, a majority of Cuban eligible voters residing predominantly in Florida lean towards the Republican Party. These materially changing demographics have a significant bearing on voting patterns and the political leaning of battleground states.
We the people
The Preamble to the United States Constitution begins with the words ‘We the People’. It is a brief introductory statement of the US Constitution’s fundamental purposes and guiding principles.
The tenor of the statements and acceptance speeches of President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris reflect the letter and spirit of these fundamental principles and depict the ideals which underpin their political engagement and future actions. Speaking on the electoral process, Joe Biden said: “In America the people rule. Power cannot be taken or asserted. It flows from the people. It is their will that determines who will be the President of the United States and their will alone.” He further stated: “We have won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of this nation. I will now be an American president. I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who does not see red and blue states, but a United States.”
Kamala Harris stated in her thanking speech: “America’s democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. And protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it and there is progress, because we the people have the power to build a better future. And when our very democracy was on the ballot in this election, with the very soul of America at stake and the world watching, you the people ushered in a new day for America.” The young aspiring to serve the country must take inspiration from and live up to such ideals.
These lofty ideals and cardinal principles of governance are in sharp contrast with the quality and standard of ethics of the political class and the deplorable state of our democracy undermined by appalling governance, nepotism, ongoing investigations on various allegations of corruption involving politicians, the opacity which shrouds the terms and conditions under which substantial bailout funds drawn from some Rs 80 billion allocated to the Mauritius Investment Corporation Ltd (MIC) are being advanced to distressed companies, the lack of transparency and accountability in state procurement tenders and public spending as well as the shameful state of parliamentary democracy systematically sapped by decried highhandedness.
No amount of spin doctoring on national TV on the state of our democracy can mask these abject realities. After missing out on the Illovo deal, are those in charge yet again bungling the opportunity of leveraging substantial bail out public funds to recast the ownership of prime assets in the country for the common good?
The support for Donald Trump in the US is such that despite being defeated he obtained some 3 million votes more that in the 2016 elections when he was elected President. Being a businessman his outlook on how to deal with national and international problems and challenges was totally different. He questioned the established order and free trade agreements and globalization which he found detrimental to the interests of the US as it delocalized industries to countries with significant competitive advantages, closed factories and caused unemployment, deteriorated balance of trade and led to the emergence of new rival superpowers.
He thus renegotiated NAFTA to inter alia significantly reduce the substantial trade deficit with Mexico and impose rigorous norms on auto manufacturing companies to ensure a more level trade playing field to safeguard US manufactures and jobs. He also imposed tariffs on Chinese imports alleging currency manipulation and triggered a trade war with China. As defence is a major cost on financial resources, he asked NATO allies to contribute by spending 4% of their GDP on defence. It is not sure whether the US will revisit these stances and acquis.
However, his more contested policies such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Iran nuclear deal or his controversial stance on Palestine territories, etc., are expected to be reviewed by the Joe Biden Administration.
The divisions in the US have been deep and bitter. It is time to come together and heal in America. Joe Biden has the persona and the will to trigger this essential process of unifying and bonding America around the ideals, values and founding principles of the United States when he takes office on 20 January 2021. America must be United again for above all, its people.
* Published in print edition on 10 November 2020