Although it is highly unlikely that the Trump team’s challenges to Joe Biden’s victories in key states will prevail, there is no denying its right to mount them, indeed, its obligation to the more than 70 million Americans who voted for the President, to do so. En route to a Biden presidency we were reminded, if we needed such reminder, that our election process is imperfect, subject to error, fiddling, unsettling delays. But it remains far superior to a neater system that would concentrate power in the hands of a central government with a massive incentive to produce a predictable result – incumbent wins.
Biden’s approximately 75 million votes were a record, topping Barack Obama’s 2008 total of 69.5 million. In his victory speech he continued to present himself as a unifier, but he has his work cut out. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for a list of the “Trump sycophants” who will try to “deny their complicity” and should be held “accountable” for supporting Trump. The “Trump Accountability Project” database already includes judges appointed by Trump.
Hardly the first step on the road to unifying the nation, which is divided in many ways. Very broadly, women prefer Biden, men Trump; urban dwellers prefer Democrats, rural types prefer Republicans; coastal elites are Democrats, heartland dwellers lean Republican; Jews prefer Democrats for reasons that mystify the minority of their co-religionists, while evangelical Christians prefer Trump, and secularists lean Democratic; Hispanics that have had experience with socialism – Cubans and Venezuelans – preferred Trump, other Hispanics not so much.
Unsurprising, the certain winners are the lawyers. Trump’s legal eagles, led by Rudi Giuliani, at one time in his career the hero who made New York City streets safe again and who led it through the terror assault on the Twin Towers and its aftermath, have swooped down on the courts of several states, challenging the validity of the rules set by these states and the integrity of the counting. Biden’s team is responding, so we have hundreds of lawyers in several states waging battles in their briefs, headed to the Supreme Court. Or are they? Chief Justice John Roberts, whose primary interest seems to be protecting the Court from unwanted “reforms”, might well persuade his colleagues not to pull the pin on this hand grenade – deny certiorari is the technical term – and hold that the Founding Fathers intended to leave it to the states to set the rules of the road to the White House.
Which brings us to two sets of losers: the pollsters and the mainstream media. The pollsters concluded that Biden was heading toward a handsome victory, that Democrats would win the senate and increase their margin in the House. All wrong, and not by a little. (Caveat: at this writing control of the senate has not certainly been decided.)
The media, its members’ judgements warped by severe cases of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) built on those erroneous polls to conjure a “blue wave” with which Americans would wash that man right out of their hair. And return the government to an establishment that was in thrall to coastal elites who ignored the consequences of their policies on residents of “fly over country”, known to those elites as “deplorables” (Hillary Clinton) who “cling to guns or religion” (Barack Obama) and “think they are entitled to government handouts” (Mitt Romney). The result was the destruction by China of many industries and the communities that relied on them for jobs and economic viability.
Along came Trump, promising the unheard a friendly ear, and to raise them up by Making America Great Again. He attacked cherished establishment positions such as free trade and other features of globalization, and for good measure behaved in a manner regarded by elites, and not only elites, as unpresidential.
The establishment, a resilient beast, never accepted the legitimacy of the 2016 election, and now has selected as its leader a dues-paying member in good standing for almost half-century, who will be 78 years old when sworn in, a decent, likeable, politician who, to put it politely, has lost a step since his two earlier runs for the nomination. It is painful to watch as Biden announces he is running for the senate, that he is running against George W. Bush, and confuses his wife with his sister.
The massive error by the pollsters followed by the decision of the anti-Trump media to create the blue-wave narrative had real-world consequences. Donations to the Trump campaign dried up as the big money scrambled to buy first-class tickets aboard the Biden express. Morale of Trump supporters plunged, requiring the President to revive it with a last-minute series of rallies. When the blue wave proved to be a trickle, at one point the yuan plunged and share prices soared.
The combination of a Biden presidency and a Republican-controlled senate – much will depend on Georgia’s choices to fill two senate seats in January – just might re-acquaint Americans with effective governance. President Biden will press for changes, many of which are needed in a too-unequal society, some of which might be a step too far to the left. In which case senate Republicans would have the power to hold to his “moderate” positions – moderate by the standards of today’s Democratic party. Example: Biden will have to ditch Bernie Sanders’ revolution in favour of his own evolutionary policies – fix Obamacare rather than adopt Medicare for All. Good old fashioned, dare I say it, compromises will be required.
Signs of compromise have already appeared. Mitch McConnell worked well with Biden when the latter was in the senate, and was the only senator to attend the funeral for Biden’s son. Lindsey Graham, who handily defeated Democrat Jaime Harrison in a race the pollsters predicted would be very close, would chair the senate finance committee if the Republicans hold the senate. He has announced a desire to sit down with Democrats to figure out how to attack the budget deficits. Perhaps Churchill was right in saying, if he actually did, that after exhausting every other possibility, we do the right thing – in this case hitting upon a way of governing that will carry us forward into the broad, sunny uplands of bipartisan cooperation.
Of course, this cheery scenario might be a form of whistling through the graveyard. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him,” as jails full of Turks who attempted but failed to unseat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discovered. Trumpism remains a powerful force in American politics: the President received some seven million more votes this time around than he did in 2016 – a 10% increase after four years of behaving as he did and implementing the policies he put into effect. Trump might have lost the White House, but any of the candidates for the party’s 2024 nomination will need his support, or at least must avoid antagonizing him and his millions of hard-core supporters. The “blue trickle” left Republicans in control of the state houses that will preside over congressional redistricting, Republicans picked up several seats in Nancy Pelosi’s House, even in California voters rejected referenda sponsored by the Left. Trump might not have won, but neither did the Democratic Left that saw Biden as a useful short-term bump on the road to restructuring the Supreme Court (packing), the congress (D.C. and Puerto Rico to become states), and the electoral process (eliminating the electoral college or requiring electors to cast their ballots for whichever candidate won the popular vote).
The party’s left, eager for a revolutionary march through American institutions, rather than compromise, is decidedly unhappy, one of the major losers should the Georgia senate races go the Republicans’ way. One member of that left is Biden’s vice president – Kamala Harris. She supported the Green New Deal, ending fracking, government control of the provision of health care – until she traded those positions for a place on the Biden ticket, the second woman to occupy that slot, Geraldine Ferraro being the first, in 1984. Harris will have to find a way of supporting her boss and patron while simultaneously keeping the faith with the left on which she will have to rely when Biden is no longer around to preach that moderation is the path to victory.
We will know more in two years. If the Biden-Harris administration has not aborted the V-shaped recovery – 4.5 million private sector jobs created in the past three months, the unemployment rate down to 6.9% from 14.7% in April – it inherits, Harris will be in pole position for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, assuming she has not already succeeded to the office, as eight of her elected predecessors have done – four each from assassination and natural causes. If economic growth has been replaced by a new slump, perhaps because Biden has shut down the economy, and Democrats get battered in the 2022 mid-term elections as they did in the 2010 midterms during the Obama administration, Harris will share the blame. But as things now stand, Harris has a good chance of cracking the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton blamed for her loss in 2016. At which point the media would once again pour their ink into the moat that had protected Biden from scrutiny of his health issues and his financial dealings, and do its best to protect Harris. Especially if……………
Imagine this, perhaps as light relief from the tension or tedium (it varies) of watching the vote counts. In 2024 Trump will be no older than Biden is now. He will have garnered more votes than any Republican presidential candidate ever had. His approximately 70 million voters surely contain many who believe the election was stolen, as does Trump. (As lyricist Lorenz Hart put it, there are times when self-deception believes the lie.) Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms (1885-89 and 1893-97). Why not Trump?