When British monarch Charles I (beheaded by parliamentarians in 1649 at the end of England’s Civil War) met his end, his studied dignity evoked that Shakespearian Macbeth line: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it” – today in the United States, Donald Trump continues to resist any such epitaph to his presidency. Crying fraud on the basis of branding some 65 million postal ballots as “illegal” finds no echo beyond ultra-partisan circles – those were the natural consequence of the coronavirus pandemic which Trump mishandled to the degree of extending US supremacy to where he least sought it, the grim data of Covid-19 deaths and contagion. No US president until now has sunk into deeper disgrace than Richard Nixon, yet when he lost to John Kennedy 60 Novembers ago due to highly suspect results from Illinois and Texas (with none of the elaborate verification making this year’s vote-counting so exasperatingly slow but absolutely inevitable with that scale of mail-in ballots), he declined to contest the verdict on the grounds that “US democracy is more important than an election” – does Trump really want to go down in history as worse than Nixon?
Quite apart from the requirements of common human decency, Trump has open to him an exit strategy which would be perfectly compatible with his huge self-esteem while containing a grain of truth, if all highly debatable. He could claim: “I was a fantastic president, I made America great again, I got the economy booming but one tiny invisible Kung Flu bug ruined everything,” and then depart gracefully, cursing his luck rather than his country’s future government. Yet instead of using the pandemic as the perfect excuse, his paranoid mind has converted it into the spearhead created by a vast global conspiracy against him to restore globalisation far transcending mundane voting fraud, a conspiracy obviously including China and the pharmaceutical giants but also the mass media, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, miscellaneous “special interests” and indeed almost everybody except the common man – supposedly this billionaire’s only friend.
What does he fear? The political wilderness? Or being on the other end of his multiple lawsuits in the form of the corruption probes which some Democrats are already threatening? But before entering into parallels with Argentina and the corruption charges haunting previous presidencies here, any such probe would be superfluous – tax evasion would likely be enough to bring The Donald down, just like Al Capone.
Before moving from the loser to the winner, it is necessary to recap the election results because these will condition the Joe Biden administration beyond Trump’s onslaught. Incredibly enough, these results were still incomplete 10 days after the vote with counting continuing in every state. Biden’s clearest mandate is the biggest vote in US history of at least 78 million – over 5.3 million ahead of Trump (who in turn comfortably outpolled not only himself but also popular vote winner Hillary Clinton from 2016). For the exact numbers in the 538-strong electoral college, best wait a month until it sessions on December 14, but Biden’s majority is safe enough. Yet these factors serve to name the president rather than define his presidency in this multi-dimensional election.
With the separation of powers in better health than in Argentina, we need to look at Congress and the Supreme Court. Not much joy for Biden here where only in the House of Representatives does he command an overall (but reduced) majority – both here last year and in the United States this month, the winners tried to sneak in their extreme wing under the umbrella of a moderate presidential candidate (especially ultra-Kirchnerite mayoral candidates in some major cities and US Congress seats, respectively) and the move backfired in both cases. The Senate is at least half Republican while the Supreme Court now has a two-thirds conservative majority with the last-minute addition of Amy Coney Barrett – problems for Obamacare or a Green New Deal. Since the Senate has to approve the new Cabinet, it stands to be a rehash of the Bill Clinton presidency to the frustration of the many Democrats who only voted for Biden to stop Trump. Kamala Harris is not Cristina Fernández de Kirchner but Biden will still need to look over his shoulder.
No room left for where this leaves Argentina but no real matter either. With the pandemic ravaging a divided country, the oldest US president ever may find it hard to pay much attention to the world at large, never mind Argentina.