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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 06-11-2020 00:13

A far from convincing victory

Biden had just about everything going for him. He could blame Trump for mishandling a pandemic and enjoyed the enthusiastic support of much of the media. Despite it all, he will only manage to stagger over the finishing line.

The latest US presidential election bears an eerie similarity to the previous one, with the main difference being that this time round Donald Trump did not get quite enough votes in the “battleground states” to defeat his opponent. As happened in 2016, until the numbers started coming in it was widely assumed that the Democrat candidate would win by a ridiculous margin. Instead, he barely scraped home, which, given what has happened in the United States since the coronavirus went on its deadly rampage, ought to provide him and his backers with plenty to think about.

For several months, the opinion polls had shown Joe Biden to be leading by between eight and ten percentage points. Delving deeper, experts assured us that Trump was fast losing the support of the white women who, for inscrutable reasons, had preferred the promiscuous sexist to Hillary Clinton and that, being a notorious racist, he was heartily detested by all “people of colour,” a category which apparently includes, “Hispanics.”

However, to their discomfort it seems that on this occasion Trump did rather better than four years ago among white women and ethnic minorities, among them blacks and people of Mexican origin, but failed to hold on to the votes of all those white working class “deplorables” who had carried him to victory back in 2016.

Another disquieting similarity is the evident reluctance of the loser to admit defeat. Four years ago, Hillary and her supporters did their best to convince themselves that they had been victims of a sinister Russian plot, that somehow or other that arch-fiend Vladimir Putin had contrived to steal an election they thought they had in the bag. 

Now, Trump makes out that, thanks to the opportunities offered by postal voting, the Democrats have managed to do much the same to him so he has no choice but to fight them in the courts. Though his chances of overturning any results must be vanishingly slim, there will be many out there who feel Biden has no right to move into the White House, just as there were who saw Trump as an uncouth con-man in Putin’s pocket who deserved to be impeached.

As things stand, Biden has not been the beneficiary of anything approaching the tsunami-like “blue wave” his keenest supporters had predicted but of some slight changes in voting patterns. This should disturb both him and the many North Americans, including some Republicans, who think Trump’s persistently outrageous behaviour, bizarre Tweets and many personal failings made him unworthy of holding high office.

After all, Biden had just about everything going for him. He could blame Trump for mishandling a pandemic which so far has taken a quarter of a million US lives and say he has a “plan” to stop it in its tracks. The economy, which until the coronavirus arrived, had been Trump’s strongest card, was in disarray with huge numbers of people falling into poverty. Biden also enjoyed the enthusiastic support of much of the media, with The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and the rest of them making no attempt to appear impartial, On the contrary, when required they covered up for their man. 

Despite all this, Biden only managed to stagger over the finishing line.

Was this merely because “sleepy Joe,” an elderly politico many regard as corrupt, whose “cognitive abilities” are highly questionable and has a tendency to forget where he was and often muddles his words, was a strikingly weak candidate? His unprepossessing image certainly did not help him. Neither did the evident contrast between his own lacklustre appearances in public, with few people turning up to listen to his platitudinous policy statements, and the hyperkinetic exuberance of Trump who, after shaking off the coronavirus, held rallies in state after state which attracted tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters. 

However, after the primaries made it clear that the Democrats would find it hard to find a plausible candidate, they chose Biden, a man with a creepy penchant for sniffing the hair of any woman within arm’s reach, because to the party bosses he seemed a safe middle-of-the-road fellow and, in any event, he was not Donald Trump.

The contest which has presumably come to an end was between the representatives of two mutually exclusive views of what the United States should be. Those who voted for Trump, without necessarily liking him that much or approving of his conduct, did so because they detest almost everything that has to do with the “progressive” technocratic elites whose members think that, thanks to their superior knowledge, what they call “the science,” they and only they are entitled to rule. By and large, those who decided Biden was their man despise the people who prefer Trump, regarding them as ignorant yokels, dyed-in-the-wool racists and xenophobes whose views are not worth taking into consideration.

This phenomenon is not limited to the US. In the United Kingdom and most of the countries which make up the European Union, left-leaning political organisations have been taken over by well-heeled professionals who look down on the “proletarians” their predecessors had championed until their realised they were uninterested in revolutions, multiculturalism, gender fluidity, identity politics and all the other issues that obsess what the British once called “the chattering classes.”

As a result, we have a curious inversion of roles, with the self-styled left favouring hierarchical arrangements in which the plebs are supposed to know their place and allegedly right-wing conservatives standing up for those nearer the bottom, who share with them a fondness for patriotism and feel an unapologetic pride in their country’s achievements. 

The cause of which Trump is the improbable leader has received some hard knocks, but it is far from out. The much derided “non-college-educated white voters” – who according to experts give him his “base” – will continue to have more than enough to complain about unless the US economy recovers fully very soon, and it could well grow much bigger as more young people reach the conclusion that many of the degrees currently on offer for those willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars are worse than useless in the real world.

Unless the Democrats take their interests into account, new leaders, more polished than Trump and far less easy to criticise, are likely to take his place. Trump understood that millions of North Americans felt abandoned by members of the self-satisfied credentialed elites who sneered at them and treated them like trash, as in “trailer trash” and “white trash.” Such men and women needed someone to speak on their behalf. By doing so, Trump filled a gaping hole in the US political order. Even if he calls it quits and returns to the business world from which he emerged half a decade ago to set off a political earthquake that rattled the entire world, it will not remain empty for long.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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