America's post-election stress

America's post-election stress

Bruce Golding

Sunday, November 22, 2020

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The 2020 elections in the United States are over. Joe Biden won with almost six million votes more than Donald Trump and secured 306 Electoral College votes to Trump's 232. That result is “decidedly decisive”.

It is the same Electoral College count by which Trump won the presidency in 2016 and which he described as a “landslide” although he lost the popular vote to Hilary Clinton by almost three million. Yet, he stubbornly refuses to concede defeat. He is doing everything possible to impede the smooth transition of power that is a hallowed tradition in American politics.

Trump has filed a slew of lawsuits claiming electoral fraud. At last count, 27 of them have been thrown out by the courts because he was unable to provide a shred of evidence. Instead, he offered an assortment of conspiracy theories, including links to the late Hugo Chavez — an illustration of the “truth decay” from which, according to Barack Obama, he suffers.

The claim of electoral fraud defies logic. The Democrats clearly underperformed in the overall elections. Gaining control of the Senate where the majority of the contested seats were held by Republicans was one of their critical objectives in order to ensure that the Biden Administration was not frustrated by obstructiveness from the likes of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham. They failed to do so. They suffered a net loss of nine seats in the House, reducing their majority there from 29 to 11. They lost control of the New Hampshire state legislature and the governorship of Montana to the Republicans.

If Biden's victory is the result of massive fraud as Trump insists, how come the Democrats neglected to perpetrate that fraud in the other crucial races which were all included on the same ballot paper?

Trump's determination to hold on to the White House knows no bounds and is devoid of shame. After reportedly receiving a telephone call from him, his surrogates on the Election Board in Wayne County, Michigan, voted not to certify the election results which showed Biden winning with a two-thirds majority. Trump tweeted that this move was “a beautiful thing”.

The strategy, although built on shaky legal grounds, was that if the county failed to certify the results, the matter could end up in the hands of the Republican-controlled state legislature that is responsible for naming the “electors” who will formally choose the president on December 14. In fact, one of Trump's lawyers, Jenna Ellis, hastily (and foolishly) tweeted: “If the state board follows suit, the Republican state legislature will select the electors. Huge win for @realDonaldTrump.” A similar strategy may well have been contemplated for Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the state legislatures are all controlled by the Republicans.

The Wayne County Election Board eventually relented after intense public outrage and agreed to certify the results. But Trump fights on. He has now summoned the Republican leaders of the Michigan state legislature to the White House. It is hardly likely that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the impact of climate change.

The American Constitution gives individual states considerable power in regulating elections. This is why the process differs from one state to another. The saving grace in this instance is that federal law does not permit the rules governing the selection of electors in any state to be changed after election day. Michigan is one of 29 states that legally bind their Electoral College electors to vote in accordance with the election results. Trump's efforts are therefore doomed to fail.

All this is happening at the worst possible time. The novel coronavirus pandemic in America is out of control. Over the last 14 days, the rate of infection has risen by over 75 per cent and the daily death toll by more than 50 per cent. Hospitals are being overwhelmed with many having run out of intensive care unit (ICU) space.

The arrival of effective vaccines appears to be imminent and Trump deserves credit for having pumped more than US$10 billion (largely pre-purchase of specified number of doses) into their development. But, as Biden's designated chief of staff, Ron Klain, pointed out, vaccines don't cure people; vaccinations do.

The speed with which these vaccines can be distributed and made easily available is what will determine how many lives are saved or lost. That is a huge administrative challenge, responsibility for which will be that of Biden — not Trump. Yet, Trump refuses to allow Biden's transition team to be familiarised with the plans and logistics being developed to carry this out. This “dog in the manger” behaviour is recklessness and callousness of the highest order.

Trump continues to do serious damage to America's democracy. We in Jamaica should be proud of the fact that we have matured far beyond that kind of behaviour as was shown in 2007 and 2016 when the election results here were extremely close. The confusion in Washington will end on January 20 when Biden is sworn into office, whether Trump likes it or not, but the damage to America's politics, its image and reputation and the upending of traditional American values will persist for much longer.

The complicity or silence on the part of Republican leaders shows the dangerous stranglehold that Trump has on the party and the pernicious influence he exerts on the thought processes of its members. A number of polls conducted since the elections indicate that between 50 and 70 per cent of Republican voters believe that the election was stolen. That is a significant portion of America's population that will perhaps never recognise Biden's presidency as legitimate. Americans have long been losing faith in how Washington operates. When they begin to lose faith in how people are selected to go to Washington it is cause for alarm.

America makes it its business to insist that political parties in other countries respect the democratic process and abide by the will of the people. In the recent elections in Guyana, it applied pressure on the Granger Government, including the revocation of US visas, for it to concede defeat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that it was “long past due for a peaceful transition of power”. With what credibility or moral authority will the US issue such an admonition the next time an incumbent in any country refuses, without justifiable reasons, to accept defeat?

— Bruce Golding is a former prime minister of Jamaica


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