By Rajan Philips –
Four years ago, a minority of American voters unwittingly perpetrated a fraud on their country. In November this year, the American people will have the opportunity to vote wisely and retake their country. In 2016, a technically ill equipped and morally debased candidate won the presidential election thanks to the chicanery of an electoral college system against an eminently qualified but cruelly maligned candidate. Hillary Clinton who lost the election to Donald Trump, would have made history as the first female American President if she had prevailed in the electoral college vote just as she won the popular vote. But having a woman succeed an African American President was too much for America’s mastodons. Pundits blamed it on the Clinton baggage that the American right and the national media had piled on her and her erratic genius of a husband over forty years of their conjugal public life. This time there is no excuse for a repeat blunder. The Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris carry no baggage. The only darts that can be flung at them are – he is too old, and she is too bi-racial. There is no other political stump for Donald Trump to stand on. Except fraud.
And fraud is what Trump seems to be banking on for this election. If it was covert and indirect fraud in 2016, Trump is now ready for direct and blatant fraud. From the time he became candidate for the 2016 election, Trump has been calling the American electoral system a fraud and basing it on the canard that the voting system is manipulated in favour of minorities and illegal immigrants. The reverse is, in fact, the case. What is fraudulent about the American electoral system is the systemic voter suppression targeting minorities and marginalized communities through any and all means possible. But that is not Trump’s concern. His reason for crying fraud is to prepare his base to reject the November election results which he fears will go against him. Every day he is pulling a new trick from outside the rule book to subvert the system and extend his stay in office even after an electoral defeat.
In his latest detour last Thursday, he was reaching out to a new ally in the right wingnut organization called QAnon. This organization operates on the theory that “there is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world,” and that these Satan-worshippers have infiltrated the American “deep-state” and are plotting against their President Donald Trump and his supporters. Even as Trump was signalling this organization to rile up his base, Facebook was taking down thousands of groups and accounts sharing QAnon messages on its platforms. In another poetic setback, Steve Bannon, the creator of far-right Breitbart News who went on to become the CEO of Trump’s 2016 campaign down its home stretch, and later White House Chief of Staff for political strategy, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly defrauding “We Build the Wall” campaign that was set up to raise private funding and build sections of Trump’s border wall against Mexico.
Trump will dismiss every indictment as a deep state ploy against him, and use it to reinforce his core white American support and retrace his 2016 victory path. His difficulty this year is that he has to defend his record in office, especially his terrible failure to contain the new coronavirus and stem the catastrophic economic fallout. In 2016, in contrast, he had the advantage of projecting himself as an outsider marching on Washington to take down the establishment. To ‘drain the swamp in Washington,’ was his clarion call in the last election. Now, the Trump swamp stretches all over America and spills over beyond its borders.
There is no certainty of a Democratic victory given the electoral college system which can thwart the verdict of the popular vote as it did in 2016. If the Democrats were to falter again similarly, it would be the third time this century that they would have won the popular vote but lost the election. Trump’s popularity and approval ratings are at historically low 30-40% range, but they are disturbingly high compared to other western democracies where governments and leaders with similar performance would hardly have their popularity upwards of 20%. Trump’s 30-40% ratings are indicative of the deep divisions in American politics, which Trump irresponsibly aggravates at every opportunity.
However, these numbers might also be deceptive to Trump the same way they were deceptive to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hillary Clinton’s consistent but narrow leads in national poling concealed her vulnerability in the handful of swing states which she eventually lost by small margins. Only a few pollsters, perhaps only one among them as far I know, consistently commented on this vulnerability. In 2020, Trump’s national polling between 30-40% is concealing his vulnerability in the swing same states that he snatched from the Democrats in the last election. Biden is currently leading Trump in these states by healthy margins. But no one is making any final prediction for sure. Adding to the shock of the last election is the uncertainty of Covid-19, and no one is rushing to predict the outcome.
Demographically, going by Pew Research Centre’s comparison of voting patterns from 1972 (when Richard Nixon won his short second term), Republicans have always obtained the majority support of white voters, while Black and Hispanic voters have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic party. There was no gender gap until the 1988 election, and only in 1992 (with Bill Clinton’s first win) women’s vote started breaking decisively for the Democrats while Men’s vote stayed with the Republicans. Until this century, the more educated sections voted Republican while those with less education supported the Democrats. Traditionally, potential Democratic voters did not show up to vote in sufficient numbers except in the four elections won by Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996) and Barak Obama (2008 and 2012). Bill Clinton in his two wins and Obama in his first made significant inroads into white voters, while Obama won 90% of the black vote and in large numbers in his two victories.
Hillary Clinton maintained the same voter demographic profile as Obama but with a slightly lower voter turnout. Her vote tally of 65,850,000 is second only to Obama’s 69,500,000 (2008) and 65,915,000 (2012) in American history. More significantly, the racial, gender and educational, as well as regional, gaps between the voting bases of the two parties widened the most in 2016 unlike in any previous election. More non-white, female, educated and urban Americans voted Democrat, while their white, male, less educated and rural counterparts voted Republican. Inasmuch as the turnover of the swing states was seen as being due to white working-class votes moving from Democrats to Trump, winning them back became the immediate strategy of Democrats for the 2020 election.
This was also the premise on which Joe Biden launched his presidential bid based on his working class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the state Democrats lost to Trump in 2016. He projected himself as a moderate candidate. After awkward stumbles in the early primaries, Biden’s campaign took off taking advantage of his strong support among African Americans. With Bernie Sanders, unable to regenerate the enthusiasm he achieved against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries, Biden easily sealed the Democratic Party nomination weeks before the pandemic hit America. He would have run a cautious campaign focused on winning back the lost white working class votes in Midwestern States, but for Trump’s disastrous handling of the pandemic, and the public outrage at the slow killing of George Floyd, on May 25, in broad daylight, under a police knee on a public road in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
There is nothing cautious now about the Democratic 2020 campaign. Democrats have turned the campaign into a referendum on Trump and they are betting on the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket as an appealing restorative alternative to America’s Trump sickness. The Party’s convention held last week was historic not so much because it was the first virtual political convention ever, but really because it was the first convention when a sitting President was roundly condemned by the opposing Party as being crass, callow, lazy, incompetent, unempathetic and immoral.
Michelle Obama, the former First Lady, led off on the first day with a blistering attack on Trump for his incompetence. Second day, Bill Clinton blasted Trump for spending time watching TV and tweeting while America with 4% of the world’s population amassed 25% of the world’s Covid-19 cases and deaths. The third day belonged to what the western media has called “boundary breakers” – Hillary Clinton, the first female Presidential candidate; Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House; Barak Obama, the first African American President; and Kamala Harris, the first woman of colour to be nominated as Vice Presidential candidate.
Obama’s convention speech was hugely unconventional. Speaking live from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia with the words of the American Constitution inscribed on the walls behind him, Obama tore into Trump and his record in office, showing anger, scorn and even fear – fear for American democracy should Trump win a second term. Incumbent American Presidents are never publicly criticized by their predecessors. Obama’s scathing rebuke of Trump is a speech for history and perhaps a more consequential speech than his no less historic speech on race he delivered in 2008 as a first-time presidential candidate. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” said Obama disdainfully, and appealed to the American voters to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and stop Trump from winning a second term.
Joe Biden was Obama’s Vice President for two terms over eight years (2008-2015), and sat out the 2016 election when Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming favourite to carry the Democratic torch. Before becoming Vice-President, Biden was the US Senator from Delaware for 36 years, and made quite a few unsuccessful attempts to win nomination as the Party’s presidential candidate. Now Biden has a good shot at defeating Trump and continuing Obama’s legacy as President. His selection of Kamala Harris is as historic, as it is a repetition of the Obama-Biden ticket, for Kamala Harris with her Jamaican-African and South Indian ancestries is often touted as America’s female Obama.
In her acceptance speech as Vice-Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris recalled the first time she uttered the words “Kamala Harris for the people”, as a young Prosecutor in San Francisco. She went on to become the District Attorney in San Francisco, Attorney General for the State of California, and US Senator from California. Now she is making the case for the American people against the Trump presidency. “It is an open and shut case”, she has asserted. Biden and Harris have 72 days to convince the jury.