The (long-awaited) morning after and the need to reflect

7-11-20

Dear Partners in thought,

Election Day was not as we all thought it would be. Trump did way better than all the polls had told us making those wide pre-election gaps a worse repeat of the 2016 experience, but for the final outcome. To be fair to the pollsters, it is clear that given “Trump, the man”, many of his future voters preferred not to state publicly they would support him even though they saw him as a tool for many of their core concerns, like the change of the Supreme Court for the evangelicals. In parallel, pollsters were often seen as tools of the elite, given their backgrounds, so to be distrusted by many non-college-educated and often rural Trump supporters who found “Trump, the man” actually very appealing in his crude, so real, style as well as his populist rejection of the whole American establishment and usual standards of about anything, strengthening the feeling that “he is one of us”.

Having fuelled the American divide, Trump went out of his way to stress with obvious success law and order, the generalisation of the looting and absurdly paint Biden as a “socialist” (apparently with some success in Florida with the Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans). It is also possible that such poll gaps were an extra-mobilisation factor for those not liking the Democrats and some of their stances whatever they may be. On this last matter and while being a sensitive one, it is clear that the Democrats’ reliance on the traditional black vote and “racial injustice” all the more in active BLM times, combined with street unrest, may have mobilised many unsympathetic white voters in a country where the black vote actually only represents a small fraction of the white one. Having said this and oddly enough, Trump did quite well with some minority voters, many ethnic groups being no longer homogeneous (especially Latinos) or voting according to ethnic origin expectations, showing that stereotypes may no longer apply in the America of the 2020s. Whatever the reason, in the end the Trump campaign benefited from an unexpected mass-participation that would wipe out most of the eight to ten-point gap seen over weeks in the national polls – even if Biden always held a massive national vote support, reminiscent of Hillary Clinton in 2016, a day after the election took place. Clearly early results were very good for the Trump camp as mail in votes and urban centres, both favouring Biden, were to be counted later, thus creating unwitting suspense and disappointment on both sides at different times of the process. (For those who want to know more about what happens in a “neutral” and “calm” way, please go to the GZero newsletter SIGNAL dated 5th November and after from New-York based political risk consultancy Eurasia Group led-founded by Ian Bremmer).

As some of you who read “2027” know, I made the point in its last chapter (Lessons to be Learned) that the US Electoral College is no longer an expression of true democracy. The “one man-one vote” (and yes, “woman” too) is indeed distorted in today’s America as seen in the 2016 presidential elections where Hillary Clinton lost even as she had 2.9 million more votes nationally than Trump. Biden had more than 4 million more votes than Trump in the end and yet it was deemed to be officially a close race. It is not acceptable that a vote from America’s rural areas would command more weight than a vote from city dwelling areas – the reverse being also true. It is time for America to revisit this Electoral College, realising that the America of the 2020s is not the one the Founding Fathers lived in. America cannot just be a republic as some argue is what matters. This reliance on Founding Father holiness does not make any sense today and is a denial of democracy, which for the leading democracy in the world and the Leader of the Free World is no longer acceptable. America should wake up, regardless of vested interests which have served the Republican Party well in recent years (Note: I am a Rockefeller Republican, that is from when the party projected real American values, pre-Trump era).

He finally lost (even if no concession, recounts likely underway and a few overseas military votes still potentially coming in). He largely lost due to his personality and ways at a time when Republicans did well in congressional races, also providing some solace to their voters. It is hard to believe that Donald Trump will soon vanish from our daily lives, almost creating a psychological vacuum for many. Most if not all media and editorialists will vividly feel a void so much he was a boon in terms of reporting and analysis. Trump, if anything, had been responsible for a rebirth of newspapers like The New York Times and others which saw their subscriptions rise during his tenure. He also created Trumpism, markedly beyond his own hopes for it, which is a coalition of voters who are very different but are comprising the usual populist supporters feeling disenfranchised the Western world over (usually non-college -educated) and individuals that would never stand him as an individual but would back him to see some of their key political objectives realised, whatever the risk involved with an erratic and value-less TV reality-formatted President. One reason for hope was that the group from which Biden made gains (while not winning it) was that of non-college-educated whites, especially in Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, states that turned out for him unlike in 2016.

It is hard to believe that it almost took a deadly pandemic and its mismanagement for a majority of Americans to decide Trump’s time was up. And yet the pandemic was not a key factor in his voting booth demise, judging from his strong support from voters for whom the economy was more key (oddly as if Trump had been a creator of wealth for them). If not for Covid-19, which brought his incompetence and disastrous style to the fore even further, Trump could have been re-elected on the perception that the economy was doing fine as judged from the Dow Jones Index. Many Americans, faithful to their habits, would not have bothered to go to the polls as the customary low participation rate used to demonstrate. If not totally outrageous a statement, one could almost be forgiven to say that the Trump exit was the one positive aspect of this otherwise dreadful pandemic. It is nonetheless almost unbelievable that 70 million Americans (many of them decent individuals) – described as “patriots” by an otherwise graceful in defeat Fox News’s Laura Ingraham – supported such a flawed man and leader, vividly stressing the American divide and the renewed importance of revamping education in a general sense so people are better equipped to reach an independent judgment.

Many books will be written on his presidency and how such a flawed and incompetent individual (even in business, if looking at traditional standards of success) made it to the White House. Trump was a symptom of an America that lost itself, where individualism became exacerbated and the idea of nation had gradually been forgotten while capitalism rewarded mostly the wealthy. The social elevator (or lift) got broken in the last decades and the rise of tech and its amusement tools made many of the “have nots” and “have much less” think about other things than their true wellbeing, while empowering them to express vocally their disenfranchisements and target easy culprits via social media. America under Trump slid into the decadent Rome where “games of the circus” really mattered, founding values were for history books and perception mattered more than reality. One unwitting redeeming feature of this societal trap was that the usually low voting participation rose, even if for the wrong reasons and outcomes. While this assessment is largely based on feelings, all the much easier but perhaps more neutrally accurate as one is an observer from across the pond, the points should resonate among most decent Americans of good will across party affinities.

Joe Biden may not be the most fascinating politician but he was given a bad rap given his age and some of his more personal features, none of which rising to the bad level of a Trump. Even if having to work with a Red Senate (that to many Republican voters will provide some balance), Biden will get America back to where it was before in terms of presidential style and ways (even if we hear rightly this will not be really the same America policy-wise). Biden’s approach, unlike Trump’s, will also be a matter of traditional values that made America what it always was. Biden is likely to go back to a benevolent American leadership focused on win-win for Washington and its allies in the West and globally. This difference in style, combined with a different team around him where expertise and not only loyalty, will matter and have a deep impact on American policy-making. Results are likely to be affected positively by more sensible means that also reflect Western liberal values which have been the bedrock of America and the Western world since WW2. Dictators will no longer be supported on a misguided “enemy of my enemy is my friend” mantra even if realpolitik will understandably not disappear from American foreign policy. Rather than America on its own, the country will regain a welcome world leadership role of a Western block that needs to rise to the challenge presented by a more assertive and undemocratic China, with which a dialogue needs to be developed for the benefit of a more harmonious world. America, together with Europe, will face challenges like the India-China rivalry (that could lead to a new Cold War) or the disconnect between the West and countries directly or indirectly exploiting lone wolf Islamist terrorists that only multilateralism will help overcome through engaged and forceful dialogue.

In the short-term and while Trump lost, it is key that the transition period of the “lame duck” presidency not lead to decisions by his Administration leading to bad developments in the economic and foreign policy areas (besides the expected granting of pardons for all the individuals close to the President who were condemned by the courts). This transition period is always a murky era, all the more in the case of an unusual President whose values and style differed so greatly from his predecessors. One should hope that safeguards, institutional and otherwise, be put in place for the occasion. It is going to be interesting to hear from him over the next three months and likely thereafter (as he fights the many legal actions that will doubtless occur) about who was responsible for his demise. A good bet should be China that it might be said would have engineered Covid-19 in a lab or was purposefully slow to contain it earlier in the year when it could, this with a complicit Europe whose tourists flooded in New York City with a clear mission…It will be fascinating to hear the post-mortem offered by Trump on why he lost, all assuming he is leaving the scene gracefully and does not fight a trench war focused on the counting of “mail-in ballot frauds” and conspiracy theories.

On a personal note, this blog, which was started largely by the Trump ascent (and the self-wounding Brexit idiocy), as the President did not evolve in the role many of us had naively then hoped for, will keep focusing on who we are. Liberals in the classical political terminology (i.e. not radicals in the American sense) will need to keep developing a “muscled” message and prove great writer Adam Gopnik wrong in that “they cannot be found in bar fights”. Liberalism is not for the weak and the strong are not only found among populists. As populist movements and governments vividly show the limits of their abilities to govern sensibly, it is time for Western liberals to clearly make the points that were taken for granted for so long and that very few fought for in recent times. Desperate Measures, warts and all, will keep contributing to the decent fight.

Warmest regards,

Serge

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