Perspectives | Politics

How will Americans survive their growing pains?

By - 04.11.2020

The U.S. presidential election is a power struggle for the future.

As of Wednesday (November 4) afternoon, the U.S. presidential election count has still not been called. Democratic candidate former Vice President Joseph P. Biden is slightly ahead in the Electoral College count, as well as in the popular vote. But in an extremely tight race, the final tally could easily go either way.

With the huge amount of absentee or mail-in votes due to the pandemic, as well as the huge voter turnout — over 100 million people voted in advance of Election Day — delays in the count were expected. 

Usually, U.S. presidential elections have a clear expected winner by the end of Election Day, so what is actually announced through the media are projections of who that winner will be. However, when the vote is extremely close, then we have to wait to count all of the votes, particularly mail-in votes or absentee votes that have to be counted by hand. 

Despite this, President Donald Trump has already come out and claimed to be ahead and “winning,” including several false statements claiming that the delay is because of fraud. He has said that he will demand a “stop to voting” — there is no more voting, but Trump wants to stop the counting of votes — and take his case to the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, this election is about power. Who will have it in the future? And what was it in the past?

His remarks are extremely incendiary and demonstrably false, and they have stirred reactions on both the left and right. His insistence, with no evidence, that there is fraud and about the election being stolen only seeks to tear the United States further apart.

Whoever wins the election, though, a general expectation is that there will be a howl of rage from one side or the other, including the possibility of potential violence and a non-peaceful transition of power. This election, largely perceived as the most divisive ever, has shaken many Americans’ perception of themselves and their country to the core and perhaps, forced them to reimagine what their country was, is now and will be.

Contrary to what most people believe — both in the U.S. and outside of it — a Trump loss would never be the end. He was never the beginning. Instead he was the culmination of many forces in American history. 

Ultimately though, this election is about power. Who will have it in the future? And what was it in the past? 

What America was and what it is now

America is changing quickly. 

When people used to think of an average American, they generally thought of a white, protestant, christian man or woman. Nowadays, the average American actually looks more like me, a Black or brown woman. In some areas, California and New York especially, this is more true than not. In others, less so. 

But white, protestant, christian Americans are now a minority. This change has frightened and upset many white Americans, who see their cultural and social dominance weakened. 

Black Americans especially have borne the brunt of these issues. This is one time we can say there are in fact “ancient hatreds.” Or at least old ones. 

Blacks were enslaved in the United States since the early 17th century. When freed in 1863, they lived under segregation not only in the South, but were also brutalized in the North for another 150 years; in many states they were denied the right to vote. 

The Voting Rights Act that guaranteed everyone aged 18 and over the right to vote was passed in 1965. But, it was rolled back by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Trump took the southern strategy to its logical conclusion and has now articulated divisions in such a way that one wonders how you put that genie back in the bottle.

The Supreme Court pointed out that since nowadays, for example, voting registration was higher among Blacks than whites in some areas, the additional measures the 1965 act provided to guarantee non-disenfranchisement were no longer needed. The Court decision freed from Federal oversight nine states and various municipalities and counties across the country. This meant the states and areas covered by the act were allowed to bring in additional voter measures, like identification laws

Purportedly these laws stop fraud, but critics pointed out this also disenfranchised people who could not afford to pay for state identification or obtain it for other reasons. In the U.S., state identification is not generally required. Laws like these disproportionately affect minority and poor voters who have difficulty obtaining certain types of identification, such as driver’s licenses.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously wrote in her dissent to the 2013 ruling that this gutting of the act was like throwing away your umbrella because you were not getting wet.

Trump is the Republican legacy

Trump was the beneficiary of the Republican party’s southern strategy initiated by President Richard Nixon in 1968 to position the Republican party as the champion of the white vote and standard bearer for evangelical and fundamentalist christians, particularly those who lived in the South. These people are now — even in the bedrock southern states — being slowly displaced by birth, immigration and population mixing.

Trump took the southern strategy to its logical conclusion and has now articulated divisions in such a way that one wonders how you put that genie back in the bottle. 

How do you come back from a president who openly saluted white supremacists in a debate? Who refused to acknowledge that a neo-Nazi killed a woman in Charlottesville until it was far too late? Whose administration wants restrictive abortion laws but allegedly forcibly sterilized immigrant women in detention camps? Who separated 545 immigrant children from their parents who are now lost forever and who kept those children and many others behind bars? Who through their own incompetence and refusal to listen to science allowed COVID-19 to kill over 200,000 Americans — and that number keeps growing?

Trump became president in 2016 despite losing the popular vote by 3 million.

The biggest protest movement of all has been the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement and movements like it existed before Trump. Police violence has always haunted Blacks in particular; Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Eleanor Bumpers, the names stretch back years. But with the advent of smartphones and cameras on police officers, now people cannot deny it happens; what rarely was believed even by the media is now accepted as not an aberration, but a daily fact of life.

The Black Lives Matter movement lit up the summer with daily protest against police brutality that often resulted in confrontations with far-right militias and the police. For the first time, Americans watched journalists being arrested on their own streets and being attacked by the police. Many average Americans of all ethnic groups were caught up in the violence themselves, even in their own homes.

The possibility that the vote will be contested this time around has driven Americans to buy weapons and to board up stores and government buildings in case of riots. Because now Trump has let violence and instability tear the U.S. apart openly in ways it never has before.

Trump has largely played a divisive role in all of this, fueling tensions rather than uniting the country. By and large, this has been his dominant approach to governing. And that is why it is  important to remember that Trump cannot win the popular vote in America. Too many people, for a variety of reasons, will not vote for him. 

His win in 2016 was thanks to the Electoral College, through which Trump won not on the popular vote but on individual states’ allocated votes. Trump became president four years ago despite losing the popular vote by 3 million. 

The memories of 2000 and the Florida disputed vote count have also haunted this election. 

Thousands of votes were recounted when the Electoral College count was essentially tied in the presidential vote between Al Gore and George W. Bush. It was considered one of the closest U.S. elections in history and eventually came down to one state, Florida. Gore requested hand recounts in four counties. The Bush campaign brought the case to the Supreme Court and the decision — more than a month after Election Day — was in Bush’s favor.

Trump has shown us in his administration how the mediocre and talentless get by — through loyalty, whiteness, inherited wealth and nepotism.

Trump’s freeing of the political and civil discourse, making it permissible to attack non-whites and women, the disabled and anyone who does not fit the white, heterosexual, christian ideal is what has allowed these forces to bubble, boil and permeate mainstream culture. What would have been thought of as rude, hostile, false and discriminatory or kept behind closed doors is now openly celebrated in some quarters. 

Trump forever

America’s fight is within itself and is developed out of its uniqueness, but the disease is spreading. 

The spread of QAnon, a false antisemitic conspiracy theory that uses the old blood libel trope and its adherents who worship Trump, has now come to Europe and Australia. Populist politicians in Trump’s image openly turn their back on science and allow the COVID-19 virus to spread and kill their constituents. Racist policies against migrants continue across the world. 

But for Americans the change is seismic, and we will never go back. The societal politeness that hid its racist underpinnings is gone now. But one lesson that Trump has perhaps inadvertently left us with is this:

Usually when we discuss racism or sexism or any oppression people come up with, it is usually blamed on ignorance. However, I think the motivation is actually fear, because if the playing field was level and whiteness or heterosexuality or maleness gave you no advantage then you would have no automatic place or assumed power. You’d be just like everybody else. 

Trump has shown us in his administration how the mediocre and talentless get by — through loyalty, whiteness, inherited wealth and nepotism. Instead of holding them accountable we let them land high profile jobs and give them CNN punditry contracts. But most of those people deserve our opprobrium. 

Americans have a chance to seize this moment now. It may not be too late but these things can’t be forgotten. Including the path that brought us here. 

Regardless of who ultimately runs out as the winner of this election, Trump will be with us forever. But through resistance movements, protests, activism and continuing to hold power to account, we can be a country that accepts and celebrates everyone, of all ethnicities, sexualities, gender expressions in a multitude of languages. Or a country run by those who just want power for themselves with their foot on our necks.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

  • 05 Nov 2020 - 19:53 | Roberta M Baldini:

    Hi Brownyn: Thank you for your well considered and precise articulation of the situation here in the US. RMB