The United States is still a world leader – albeit a bruised one – with the results of the November elections shaping the rest of the world in more ways that you can imagine.
By Nikos Papanikolaou
The elections were indeed the most critical in recent history, not only for the United States but for the whole planet. They came at a time when countries all over the world are struggling with different crises, including the rise of racism and populism, the strengthening of Far Right movements, climate change, the pandemic, and the financial crises that will follow.
Donald Trump led the country by doubting science and spreading fake news and division. He studied the environment in which was elected well: he knew his voters and understood the reasons they voted for him. And he never disappointed them.
Even in the very end, when Trump’s supporters invaded the Capitol, Trump refused to back down. He went down as a martyr, after creating a cult of 70 million voters. Election polls predicted a win for Joe Biden – but it came with a considerable cost, not only for the Democrats but for the entire country.
Biden and Harris have been in the White House for a couple of weeks now. They have four years to change – or at least improve – some of the issues the country is facing.
Can the election’s results predict the next four years?
Peter Laugharne, a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at London Metropolitan University, thought the race would be tighter than some pollsters were expecting, as he was expected many Republicans to vote on the day. Two-thirds of Trump voters say they voted in person, compared with 42% of Biden voters, according to Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank.
“It was going to be a high turnout because both parties were mobilizing their bees. This was a real watershed election. Trump was going to be just a four-year blip, and then there would be a return to normal US politics. On the contrary, two terms of Trump could have done harm, and create serious inroads into traditional US foreign policy,” Laugharne says.
However, the election’s results have shown that the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden will not be easy. The newly-elected President talked about unity, promising to be a president for all. But the reality will probably be completely different.
Trump managed to create a core of supporters who blindly supported him. From the Proud Boys to the Capitol mob, they were ready to do anything for their leader. There was only one thing that mattered to them: Trump.
The numbers don’t lie. The results have shown what most people expected: that the country is on the verge of a severe democratic crisis, similar to the one before the election of 1860, which started the American Civil War.
Last summer, people witnessed the country burning, as Black communities marched on the streets to protest against police brutality and racial injustice, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Simultaneously, the government’s pandemic response was poor since Donald Trump was not convinced about the severity of the virus.
“I hope that we’re not going to have another Civil War. We survived last summer with an administration which was fanning the flames. Hopefully, we will have a much more considered and thoughtful response to whatever happens from now on. The more immense fear will be the violence from the other side. It was a very difficult summer, and I hope that we’ve seen the worst. I hope that the American institutions, the law enforcement, the National Guard, and the US military will be all approaching things from a different perspective,” says Margo Miller, a former elected chair of Democrats Abroad UK, an official overseas arm of the US Democratic Party.
Trump left, but what about Trumpism?
The Capitol riots may have been Donald Trump’s last act as President, but not the least. Trump has created a wave of voters – not necessarily Republicans – many of whom were on the streets during Black Lives Matter protests, armed and ready to shoot. Brainwashed with conspiracy theories such as QAnon, they refuse to wear masks and believe that COVID-19 is a hoax.
But as mentioned before, the numbers don’t lie. The number of people who don’t believe in the virus is helping spread COVID-19, as witnessed by the number of deaths and rising infections in the States.
So, how can President Biden change the scenery, when Trumpism is still alive and kicking?
“Donald Trump is a global political figure, and he is very determined. He may stand as a candidate in 2024. He got the largest number of votes received by any other Republican candidate in US presidential history. Trumpism is far from over. I think there is going to be a very sizable ongoing base of Trump’s supporters. That isn’t going to go away anytime soon,” Laugharne points out.
“Trump, in the context of the US political history, is an outlier. He’s on the extreme end of American politics; he’s not a career politician. The other non-career politician was Dwight D. Eisenhower, and he was a military hero. Trump was the first celebrity president. He mobilized people who would never vote, and the traditional Republicans went along with him whilst he was winning, and they turned on him when he lost,” Laugharne continues.
Trump tried to use the Black Lives Matter protests for his own benefit. He called the protesters “thugs” and threatened to shoot them. In the first presidential debate, he was asked to denounce the white supremacists and right-wing armed groups. Trump failed to do it. After all, the ones who were taking the law on their hands, were the ones who would vote for Trump.
“A lot of change is happening. There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the economic plight, with the increased diversity in America, gender diversity, racial, ethnic diversity, and a large swathe that doesn’t like change. They want to go back to something that was never there before,” says Miller.
“We’re seeing it across the world. We’re seeing the rise of fascism across Europe. We’re seeing the left version of it in Latin America. There is a reason that certain people are drawn towards that kind of figures when they are not comfortable with their lives, even if that is an economic discomfort or social discomfort.”
It is unlikely that we have seen the last of Trump in politics. Even if the Republican party kept a distance from Trump’s actions – especially after he lost – his supporters’ core is still strong. But can Trumpism survive without Trump in the White House?
President Biden has taken a different approach from Trump on many issues, such as climate change, COVID-19, and foreign affairs. Trump is still facing criminal and civil liability on taxes, bank fraud and sexual harassment. Even if he could pardon himself, he chose not to, mainly because he wanted to go down as a martyr, as a hero.
In his voters’ minds, it’s Trump against the establishment, against the world. Most probably, Trump will try to keep that alive as much as he can. It will be interesting to see how he will achieve that without Twitter, his favourite medium, and if he will become the star of Fox News – or start his own network.