Tuesday, 3 November 2020

The US election - a view from afar

I'm writing this as US voters go to the polls, with no idea of the outcome of the ballot, nor the potential outcome beyond the counting of the votes, whether the result will be accepted and we get a peaceful transfer of power if Biden wins. 

I have a few observations from this side of the pond, none of which add up to a thesis, but which I think have some resonance for the UK's and democracies across the globe.

If Trump loses, what has the last four years been about and what has it achieved? One can question Trump's initial motives to run for President, either an extension of his reality tv persona o the next level, an ego trip to become the most powerful man in the world, or the opportunity to milk the office for him and his family to make as much money as possible, but whatever they were, they don't seem very ideological. He has achieved very little in policy terms. The coal and steel industries have not returned as promised, though the economy seems to be doing better, but this is more due to where the US is in its economic cycle than anything contributed by Trump. For all his bluster, there is no wall excluding migrants from the South, trade with China is fractious but ongoing, while America First in global trade hasn't been delivered and he's only partially repealed Obama Care.

His foreign policy initiatives have been few and far between. He's favoured Russia (both in Syria and Ukraine) and Israel, but the position with North Korea is still unresolved, while he has not been able to get the rest of NATO to pay its fair share of running costs. It's quite common for oligarchies to distract their populations from the money they are raking into their own pockets with foreign policy initiatives, but Trump doesn't seem to have done that. Instead he's ridden on the wave of furious support versus opposition over issues such as Russian electoral interference, using state influence to manipulate private dealings (Ukraine), relations with porn stars, Black Lives Matter protests and COVID19 to keep people divided and off-balance. It's scrutiny, but not in the right places, or rather in so many different pockets that there was never any central laser focus to really damage Trump. And what could be more derisory than an impeachment vote that everyone knew could never get through both houses of Congress?

And this I think HAS been the point of Trump's 4 years. To sow chaos and division under the guise of draining the swamp, that brings the very fundamentals of democracy itself into question. Elections that can't be trusted, elections where the vote may not be respected out on the streets, the assault on the media despite the constitutional protection of free speech. And we have yet to see how the new Supreme Court shapes up. Trump has managed to completely warp reality so that we can't be sure of anything, not facts, not the report of our own senses. Trump can be shown in old footage to be shaking hands with someone and then 5 years later deny that he ever met that person and it's shrugged off as par for the course. Criticism is a witch hunt, evidence is fake news. In four years, his opponents have failed to land a knockout blow on Trump, despite the weight of steel available to lace their gloves with. 

Now Trump is the perfect person to sow disorder and chaos wherever he treads, but who gains by him doing so? As said, he's no ideologue, so this is not a precursor on his part to bringing in a whole raft of laws to establish some thought-through blueprint of a Trumpian democracy. However, the undermining of reality and being unable to rely on anything as true, has the hallmark of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Peter Pomerantsev has written extensively about this strategy. But the destabilising of US democracy and hallowed political institutions also has the grubby fingerprints of Steve Bannon all over it, even though he was kicked out of Trump's cabinet at an early stage. Seems like the seeds of chaos he laid down have sprouted in his absence. He hasn't so much as drained the swamp, as allowed the swamp to break its levees and cover the whole country in effluent. 

If Trump loses and even if there is no civil unrest in response, it is hard to see how Biden, a singularly unimpressive figure who once plagiarised speeches from Neil Kinnock remember, could ever heal and reunite the nation now so divided down, ironically enough, ideological lines. Anti-immigrant, America First, anti-Vaxxer, anti-lockdown, anti-science (and facts in general) are the rump of Trump's support. That is Trump's legacy, four years of no material progress for the fabric of society, only regression. Trump has had four years to make America great again, by his own boasting he shouldn't need caps proclaiming the need for four more years. One more hopeful legacy that may also arise, is that the Republican Party may be forced to embrace a greater diversity to reflect changing demographics and that it can no longer just get by largely on just the white male vote. Yet if power is peacefully transferred to Biden, then one can only celebrate the American people's mental acuity; they tried the Trump experiment, adjudged it a failure and moved to change the outcome by rejecting it and going in a different direction. Unlike us here in the UK, who after the disaster of Austerity, the looming disaster of Brexit, the cretinous mishandling of the pandemic, have continued to return Conservative government after Conservative government, with none of the litheness possibly demonstrated by the US electorate tonight. Britain has been punching itself in the face for over a decade now. I hope and pray the American public don't do the same. 

Other posts:

Letter To America - 10 days after inauguration, how to take on Trump

Fightback - cartoons for the threat of Donald J Trump