After four years of the Trump Show, I honestly expected a Biden landslide, but on election night that wasn’t to be. Of course, there are still millions of votes yet to be counted so at this stage the result hangs in the balance. This morning (New Zealand time) Biden has won Michigan and Wisconsin, but the Republicans are taking legal action so the story could play out for a long time.
I find myself asking what is it in the American psyche that leads to more than 67 million people, virtually half of all voters, to cast a ballot in favour of a narcissistic, corrupt, inarticulate liar such as Trump?
I’d always imagined that if a dictator emerged in the United States, he would be a tech billionaire, someone suave and sophisticated.
Trump is the antithesis of this, he’s boorish, completely self-absorbed and has trouble finishing his sentences, yet his supporters love him.
He has caused absolute carnage everywhere and his callous self-interest has contributed to the appalling Covid-19 statistics. He has broken every norm known in US politics and still his vote went up. Even the self-proclaimed moral majority who went apoplectic about Bill Clinton’s womanising have embraced him.
So I repeat. How does a racist, appalling con-artist garner so much support?
The answer I believe is both complex and chillingly simple. I’ll explain the complex first.
To begin with, the ‘Land of the Free’ has never lived up to that myth. It has a cleverly written piece of propaganda in the preamble of its constitution, but America was founded on slavery. Men (and women) in the US have never been truly equal. Its entire history has been one long fight by oppressed people seeking freedom, and the oppressors batting that back with new laws or other shenanigans to hold on to power. It began with the War of Independence and then carried on through the civil war and the civil rights movement and continues today.
Secondly, the judicial system is a political system. The President gets to nominate federal judges and those who sit on the Supreme Court. As we have seen this year, the picking of judiciary is partisan. In some places judges and officers of the courts and prosecution systems are chosen by election which means those officers have to consider public opinion when applying ‘justice’.
Thirdly, the entire election process and electoral system is flawed and has been corrupted. Voter suppression laws that make it more difficult to vote and the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries have made a mockery of the system. The Electoral College is a travesty that gives small rural and conservative states greater representation than more populous states.
Fourthly, the process is muddied by big business manipulation, Fox News manipulation, fake news and the complicit actions of social media firms and the mass media. On top of that are actions taken by foreign governments to influence the outcome.
Fifthly, America has lost a lot of its manufacturing base due to globalisation and that has decimated the economies of many states that traditionally vote Democratic. There, the populations are feeling vulnerable and disenfranchised.
It is easy to think this is all the fault of the Republican Party, but the Democrats are culpable as well. Their processes are not clean, and a good example of that was in the run-up to 2016 when various tactics were used to ensure Hilary Clinton became the nominee despite many delegates wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders.
In 2020, we had two septuagenarians running for President. If I had been an American citizen I would have voted for Biden, not because he was a good candidate, but because he wasn’t Trump. And this is the problem for voters. Biden was not the best candidate. He’s a decent man, but he is old, and tired, and boring and represents an old America.
He may have won the largest number of votes in US history, but he is not the future of America, he is a compromise.
All of this has lead to enormous dislocation in the US and provides much of the reason why I believe the country was split in two this year.
But as I mentioned before, there is more to it than that and it is a deeply disturbing thought.
Half of Americans voted for Trump because he represents them. He says what they say. He acts like they act or want to act.
It may be an uncomfortable thing to realise, but a sizeable chunk of the American population approves of bullying, approves of racism, approves of homophobia.
Trump is like a huge boil on the skin of America, a symptom of an infection that has long been there. He is the catalyst that has drawn the pus to the surface in a way no politician has done before. He has given a voice to the angry and the intolerant. He has dog-whistled and emboldened white supremacists. He has empowered the people who wanted to suppress voting by non-white people. He has gutted environmental laws. He has put government agencies into the hands of people determined to destroy them.
It is hard to think that 63 million people are themselves bullies and opposed to anyone who is not like them. Many of them I am sure have simply been conned, or don’t trust the Democrats. Or they simply won’t vote anything other than Republican even if their candidate isn’t really a Republican himself. But I think a very large number of them do buy into Trump’s bullying and they love him because of it. He represents the ugly side of humanity, and his supporters have shown themselves to be enamoured with it.
So this election is unprecedented in what it represents for America. I really hope Biden wins. But even if he does, there are systemic and sociological issues that need to be addressed in the United States.
I am not convinced that it can be done easily if at all, but if it does happen, it will come about because the country actually wakes up to the fundamental myth about its beginnings and its legacy.