Never had so many Americans turned out to vote and rarely had the ballot count kept so many people on tenterhooks about the future. We had some precedents, like the 2000 election, when the feud lasted 36 days. But that was focused on one single state, Florida, where the notorious butterfly ballots handed the presidency to George W. Bush by only 537 votes. His Democrat opponent at the time graciously conceded defeat, thus putting an end to his political career. Do not expect that now.
This time the ballot count lasted from Tuesday until Saturday and the incumbent president is sticking to a script that has been deliberately prepared for months to try and cast doubt on the credibility of the election result and delegitimise Biden’s win.
Months ago Trump began posting Twitter messages claiming that the elections would not be impeccable and early on Wednesday morning he was already using the word “fraud”. In fact, he complained about cheating and mentioned filing lawsuits —which are unlikely to lead anywhere— right from the start of the ballot tally, which added uncertainty and unease. Trump has tried to hold on to the White House with his early morning tweeting and his untimely words on media, but he has lost the elections and the USA will have to show what is left of their best tradition, the kind that is able to bring together dissenting views and survive a megalomaniac.
The question is this: what sort of price is Trump willing to have America pay in terms of democratic credibility and social peace? We will have an answer in the coming days, but the precedents set by the bitter, divisive rhetoric of his term in office does not leave much room for optimism. Still, Donald Trump has lost the elections and he did not expect many Republicans to keep quiet while the votes were being tallied and to refrain from joining his conspiracy theory. Nor did he expect Fox News, the reptile and his master’s voice for the last four years, to stick to the facts about the election result. Joe Biden’s victory anticipates several important home and foreign policy changes, in form and content. Biden is a centrist who has spoken with restraint when referring to his political rivals, a candidate picked so that moderate Republicans wouldn’t be put off. He is a Democrat whose long political record shows a willingness to dialogue and, with Kamala Harris, he went about the campaign trail in a calm, rational, pragmatic manner that has presented them with the chance to turn a new leaf following one of the most indecent periods in American politics.
TRUMPISM ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE
However, Biden’s win does not mark the end of Trumpism. The good results scored by this sort of chaotic, system-challenging, human cannonball that is Donald Trump suggest that he would have been re-elected, were it not for the pandemic.
Trump took the world by surprise in 2016, but this time he nearly won again after four years demolishing, like a wrecking ball, the institutions and conventions that have built the nation politically. Four years stoking the fire of polarisation and fracture, violence and racism, all peppered with lies, have not prevented a good result for Donald Trump.
The political transition will not be easy at all. Trump has until January 20 to insist on his bad behaviour and it is not impossible for him to shred documents, take last-minute military or political decisions, grant official pardons or decide to favour his own business interests.
Why did Trump hold his ground in this election? The economy and a 3 per cent unemployment rate likely played a key role, as well as his lies about a hypothetical lockdown if the Democrats won, the powers of seduction so typical of strongly charismatic individuals like him, and his success at stoking hatred and racism in a shaken society. To quote Thomas Friedman writing for the NYT, “in the 2040s whites will make up 49 per cent of the American people, whereas black, hispanic and mixed-race communities will account for 51 per cent”. The nation is changing and part of the white majority is afraid of the demographic shift, after the economic and industrial changes that Trump has managed to capitalise on.
Trump’s confrontational, divisive stance, combined with his authoritarian personality, seem to provide control when, in fact, they bring chaos. So far his ability to undermine the democratic values from within the White House appears to have run its course, but the human cannonball will keep firing to fulfil his ambition of regaining power for himself —or his family— in order to evade justice. In the meantime, the work to rebuild the nation has begun and Biden will be accompanied by the true change, VP Kamala Harris. I trust her to prove that political decency is possible, that policies hinged on a positive transformation of society are possible, and that lying and showing no scruples isn’t always the answer.
Biden and Harris are seasoned politicians, the exact opposite of Trump’s boastful ignorance. Half the nation and half the world look forward to returning to multilateral action in the struggle against climate change and bringing back decency and integrity as the values to pass on to future generations. In short, to being able to breathe.