The US election is a signal that the world has not reached a dead end or impasse with no other options.
The US election results open up a space for sinking liberals, democrats and the left across the world, even if the results have widened the republican base in many of the American states. That Donald Trump couldn’t muster a convincing mandate for himself even when the Republicans have performed well across the states is a great respite to the leftists, liberals and democrats in the world.
Trump is the first in a league of the major Trumpian leaders of the 21st century who has failed to stage a convincing return to power, even though he was the last such to come to power. Putin of Russia, Erdogan of Turkey, Abe of Japan, the Tories in the UK and Modi of India were already in power when Trump entered the White House 4 years ago. They or their party is still in power in the respective countries, with increased control over the state apparatus and, in many cases, decimation of the organized political opposition in these countries. Donald Trump expected a repeat of this phenomenon for himself in the 2020 US election. Rejection of his expectations by the US voters is significant in itself.
By all counts, in the aggregate, it’s a vote against President Trump. In 2020, the oldest democracy was not only polarized on ‘Trump or No-Trump’ but was clearly divided between ‘anyone but Trump’ and ‘anything but Democrats.’ In such a divided and polarized society, the Republicans have retained the majority in the senate while the democrats have struggled to maintain control over the House of Representatives. At the lower level, the Republicans have further tightened their grip on as many as 29 states for a period during which gerrymandering will take place in the US. It means the Republicans would recreate constituencies in those states to ensure their easy victories at least till 2030. This Republican consolidation is also evident in the amount of votes President Trump received. And yet Joe Biden has registered his name in the history books as the candidate to receive the maximum number of votes in the history of US presidential election.
It is not the Democratic party’s reach, nor the persona of Biden, that amassed this many votes. A broad anti-Trump coalition is forcing out the incumbent from the White House. The fear of Trump’s return to power automatically resulted in a surge of votes for Biden. Ironically, Trump once said that he believes in ruling by the power of fear rather than the power of love. Accordingly, he used power to instill fear in the minds of many, which is now haunting his dream of re-election. Trump, still, is trying to hold on to power by fear tactics. This is a cause for alarm for the democratic countries whose leadership practices politics similar to that of the electorally ousted US President.
The challenge for the Democrats in the US is to consolidate and maintain the unity of a broad, incoherent and inequal coalition that has emerged against the authoritarian elected leader. There are elites and there are marginalized in this coalition. There are blacks and there are whites who have voted for Biden against Trump. There are farmers affected by Chinese tariffs and there are workers rendered jobless by the pandemic who are pushing back against the might of Trump. The Democrats have to build the dams and the canals to bring together all the streams seeking a change in US society and make them flow in a coordinated manner. Else, Trumpian politics will prevail, irrespective of whether Donald Trump continues in the White House or not. That will be a recipe for a great disaster 4 years from now. While Plan A for the Republicans seems to be to retain the presidency by hook or by crook, Plan B will certainly be to stage a massive come back in 2024.
To deny their rivals such opportunity in the next presidential elections, the Democrats have to work on two essential fronts – jobs and increase in household incomes. Trump surprised the world in 2016 mostly because of the American voters’ dissatisfaction with the Obama regime due to less jobs and almost no increase in wages. Now, Trump was in for a surprise as many blue-collar workers and entrepreneurs suffered during the pandemic and saw no hope in his chaotic leadership. The prospective Biden administration has to work on these essentials in the backdrop of the economic havoc caused by the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has amply proved that the so-called strong leaders around the world do falter and founder in such an extra-ordinary situation, with Trump leading the pack. Their bravery and astuteness are meant for normal times and against the weak or known enemies. Trump is the first one from the Trumpian group of leaders to face the election and he failed in the test. The big question is how will the next US president tackle the situation?
Even if the new US government does well on the employment and wages front, a minimum of three more challenges await its response. The first is a rejuvenated China, a resurgent Russia and their collaboration in Asia. The second is that of the undocumented migrants, and visas for skilled and semi-skilled people from other countries. The third is tackling extremism, particularly the racial violence in the country and attacks by the Islamic fundamentalist organizations within or outside the US. These issues enormously helped Trump in 2016, when he painted the Democratic government’s policies as insufficient and compromising the US national interest. Trump, however, overplayed his hand in dealing with these issues in last four years causing panic and fear for many. Ultimately, he has paid for it in the 2020 election. The challenge before the prospective Biden government is not to appease the Republicans while, at the same time, not providing them the opportunity to go gaga on these issues. If the Biden administration does not act smartly and creatively, the Republicans will be on the offensive. If the new administration acts under pressure from Trumpian politics, the Republicans will be boosted with fresh confidence. In both these events, the Democrats could end up squandering away the gains of the broad anti-Trump coalition that has emerged in this election. While the Democrats may work on solidifying the anti-Trump coalition, elsewhere in the world the left-liberal-democrats need to ponder upon their inability to construct an electoral anti-authoritarian platform. The US election is a signal that the world has not reached a dead end or impasse with no other options.
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
7th November 2020