The year 2020 will enter the annals of American history as one of the most memorable in presidential elections.
It has been a high point in Trump’s four-year attempt to turn the country into a banana republic, a move rejected by the electorate with the democratic infrastructure (election officials and courts) proving to be robust enough to repel assaults by Trump and his minions. Trump’s antics should not have been a surprise because in 2016 when he was asked whether he would concede defeat if he lost the election, he demurred, a clear sign that he was not a fan of the democratic process. He tried to suppress early voting and voting by mail, in the middle of a pandemic that he has exacerbated, saying that they encouraged fraudulent voting without any proof, a position that numerous studies, including one his administration commissioned, show to be untrue.
He encouraged his thugs to be stationed at election sites to challenge (intimidate) voters, primarily ethnic minority citizens. After the election he dismissed the (Homeland Security Department) official responsible for safeguarding the election because that official, who he appointed, had the gall to say that it was the safest election ever; a key member of Trump’s legal team stated that the official should be shot.
The latest case is the budget for the military that he is threatening to veto, because he wants the bill to include a rider that removes protection for the tech sector and because it renames military bases that are currently named after confederate generals who fought to keep African Americans in slavery.
Has America finally banished Trump and Trumpism? The answer is no because while the Trump anomaly may have receded, with significant support and Republican leaders anchored to this (bad) joke of a president, the country is still in a troubled state and it will take some time for it to reassert its role as the beacon of democracy, science, truth and as leader of democraticstates – Trump is more comfortable and has courted authoritarian regimes. It is amazing that so many Americans could support the man who has caused so much devastation.
As we go to press 285,000 people have died from Covid19 and 15 million infected with the disease largely through his inaction, incompetence, statements, and policies. Observers are baffled because even as the economy has cratered, the country’s debt has ballooned, its national security imperiled, allies antagonized, enemies emboldened and democratic institutions impaled. Trump has still garnered a very high (74 million) level of voter support and protection from Republican politicians.
The fact that Trump, a novice in the political landscape, was able to become president demonstrates the flaws in the US electoral system which the country and world have and continue to pay a very heavy price for. The root of this fiasco can be traced to three factors, namely, the founding father’s efforts at ensuring regional representation and the major demographic and media landscape changes.
In the case of regional representation, while the electoral college system and the senate ensure representation by all states, it gives disproportionate weight to small (population-wise) states at the expense of large states in the distribution of electoral college votes and the number of senate seats; the electoral college (voters) elects the president and the senate is the powerful upper chamber of congress. The distribution of Electoral College votes is not fully aligned to the population of states and each state has two senators irrespective of its population – the powerful body that makes laws and exerts a wide range of control over the executive (president) A third factor is the dramatic change in the media landscape, notably the huge impact of right-wing dogmatic media at the expense of traditional mainstream media and, the internet, in particular, the pivotal role of social media. Americans up to the end of the last century had a common set of facts from mainstream media, which despite significant flaws reported the news in a relatively objective way. The internet and social media had yet to take off. There were partisan outlets on the left and right but they were in the minority in terms of total audience and these fringe outlets and their audiences were aware of that status. And then Fox News entered the scene, aided by Murdoch’s billions and Republican politicians, it claimed a mainstream status but with a very strong right-wing twist.
For a very high proportion of Republicans and particularly Trump supporters, their reliance on highly toxic right-wing channels and social media has cut them off from mainstream media which generally have a rigorously objective and analytical focus; hence the fact that half of Republicans believing that the election was rigged despite assurances from state authorities, many of them Republican politicians and Trump-appointed officials, including the (Trump appointed) US attorney general, entrusted with managing and securing the election. The “facts” about the election for Trump supporters are statements by Trump, Fox News, and other right-wing media and social media (i.e gossips and conspiracies from deluded friends), all of whom have rejected the results and/or that it was rigged.
A sad irony is a fact that Trump’s petulance is because he cannot accept that he lost to somebody he considers such a weak candidate, Joe Biden. This is really rich coming from a man who was the weakest among candidates of both parties in 2016 and 2020 in terms of intellect, experience, track record, and character. His niece has revealed that he had somebody take his SAT exam which got him into university. He had no experience in government before his election. His business “success” was based on a huge inheritance from his father, multiple bankruptcies, and allegations of business malpractices. He has a history of racist statements and actions and multiple cases currently in court on allegations of sexual assault against women which was partly validated in statements boasting about how his celebrity status allowed him to get away with such actions that were broadcast just before the 2016 election.
Strictly speaking, the election of Trump is not so much a flaw in America’s body politique, as the fact that the Republicans have been smarter at playing politics and Trump has been a super salesman as the two scenarios below demonstrate. Republicans and Trump have successfully convinced the electorate they are better for the economy despite the fact that Democrats have been better stewards of the economy as demonstrated in a study which showed that Democratic administrations since 1957 created more than double the number of jobs as Republican administrations. Trump is leaving office with more than double the level of unemployment and a fraction of the (annualised) economic growth rate compared to what he inherited from Obama. At a recent rally in Georgia, many, possibly the majority of attendees without masks and social distance chanted “election was stolen” and “four more years” for Trump. That same adult would put themselves at risk of a pandemic that has killed over 275,000 people, infected over 15 million people, shout (shouting increases the transmission of the disease) lies about an election process and a result that has been refuted by authorities mandated to manage elections, including Republican officials in Georgia and, call for the return of a president that has caused so much devastation to the country in terms of covid19, the economy, etc. demonstrates Trump’s superb sales skills.
Republican success with voters, including the latest congressional elections, is based on the fact that they reject the notion of a rational voter and rather go for the emotional jugular. This is why Obama’s recent statements, which have been criticised by some progressives, are so relevant, namely, the fact that Democrats can only succeed in their policy objectives if they get the messaging right. Obama noted correctly, that statements like “defund the police” may actually achieve the opposite effect. It drives away independents and moderates which results in losses for Democrats.
While these moderate and independent voters support police reforms, they are alarmed by a situation in which police forces are completely disbanded which is how they view the slogan. Democrats have to win the messaging war, to win elections, and then implement policy reforms. Biden beat Trump by a resounding margin, seven million-plus. Now he has to destroy Trumpism, which rather than making America great was on the road to turning the country into a banana republic and to do this he has to satisfy his supporters, welcome independents, and make Trump voters regain their sanity. Finally, taking a leaf from the American Revolution, blue states who account for 70% of the American economy should find a way to leverage their population and economic muscle to gain increased representation through more senate seats, Electoral College votes, and a reversal of Trump’s tax policies that penalised them.
Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO)www.oxfordmemo.co.uk