US elections 2020: massive social divide
The world watches with bated breath as the US Presidential election sits at a dead heat. It’s going down to the wire and nobody knows who is going to emerge victor yet. Polls have shown a comfortable Joe Biden victory, however, Donald Trump has again come out far stronger than expected and thus both parties are now chasing down every vote in crucial swing states to surpass the electoral college tally of 270.
The President has already declared victory for himself, and has threatened court action should things go against him with longstanding objections to mail-in ballots. His defiance means that should he technically lose, a contested result is inevitable.
Audiences around the world are either way aghast. What they see does not fill them with confidence. In other western countries, the thought of enduring four more years of Trump or for that matter, that he’s still performing far better than expected despite everything, makes little sense.
Even if Biden wins, such a tight and deadlocked outcome ultimately makes him unconvincing, revealing a sharply divided country which at large cannot find faith in an alternative to a Trumpism, which beyond its borders is widely derided as woeful.
Public opinion in the United States and among its allies in Europe could not be further apart. When polled on their preferences for this election, the outcome was a no brainer for EU citizens who favoured Biden by margins as high as 80%. In their minds, Trump was so awful and so damaging to America’s standing in the world that for him to go forward again could not be contemplated.
Many in the world were not quite prepared for the fact that Trump’s support would in fact hold up, and like in 2016 confound opinion pollsters. How could such a “safe hands alternative” as Biden have to fight a walking disaster to the knife edge? To many average Americans Trumpism isn’t a pathology, it isn’t a mistake, and it isn’t a bad smell that can be simply vanquished – it’s a new normal and a product of massive social divides in the United States which spells widespread dissatisfaction with the political system, policing, security, liberty and “peaceful” violence and rioting, COVID lockdowns versus reopening dilemma. Trump’s pleas to bring back jobs to America, to restore national glory and emphasize identity have widespread appeal even if we can point out their damaging consequences.
The Black Lives Matter protests which played out over the summer were hugely controversial, and irrespective of how you judge the situation, served in fact to further consolidate the polarization of rival camps and entrench identities.
The enormous acceleration in turnout illustrates that to many the stakes of this election were huge. In essence, it is a clash between two very different and antagonistic visions ofAmerica. Those who hate Trump may have turned out, but as have those who see the President as defending a way of life which they feel is slipping away.
Such polarization means “the other half” is likely to express dismay and in the case of Trump losing, he’s going to incite chaos in contesting the result and will ultimately exacerbate the very identity conflict which has made him so influential to begin with.
Again to the wider world, this holds negative connotations for America’s credibility and political system, it does not radiate exceptionalism or grandeur in its democracy as many politicians like to claim, but chaos, uncertainty and a prevailing sense of injustice.
As we eagerly await the outcome, those who predicted Trump was doomed to certain failure were wrong, yet again. He could yet go down, but not without a wholly damaging fight with massive implications for the legitimacy of his successor, and vice versa. If anything, this has shown us that problems in American politics and society continue to abound in ways outside observers just don’t understand and have produced a bitterly divided country whereby multiple visions of its identity are competing, and neither is prepared to give up the fight so easily.