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Re­silience of Trump­ism and Frag­men­ta­tion of Amer­i­can Polity in Biden Pres­i­dency

November 15, 2020 | By

This was the first elec­tion since 1992 when an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent failed to win re-elec­tion for a sec­ond term. With over 75 mil­lion votes, Biden re­ceived the most votes ever cast for a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, beat­ing Barack Oba­ma’s record of 69.5 mil­lion votes from 2008.

The 2020 elec­tion saw a record num­ber of bal­lots cast early and by mail, due to many states re­lax­ing re­stric­tions on mail-in vot­ing in re­sponse to the COVID19 pan­demic. As a re­sult of a large num­ber of mail-in bal­lots, some swing states saw de­lays in vote count­ing and re­port­ing, lead­ing to ma­jor news out­lets not pro­ject­ing a win­ner un­til four days later, on 7th No­vem­ber 2020.

Most sig­nif­i­cantly, Joseph R Biden’s run­ning mate Ka­mala Har­ris be­came the first coloured women to be elected as the Vice Pres­i­dent of the United States.

Such achieve­ments notwith­stand­ing, man­date in the 59th pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was not as de­ci­sive and em­phatic as was be­ing an­tic­i­pated by poll­sters. Trump ex­panded the sup­port for his pol­icy, as re­flected in the vot­ing pat­tern be­tween 2016 and 2020. In 2016, pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Trump polled 62, 984, 828 votes, which is ap­prox­i­mately 46 % of the to­tal votes cast. In 2020, votes polled in favour of Trump in­creased to 71,098,559, which is ap­prox­i­mately 48% of the to­tal votes cast. (At the time of writ­ing ap­prox­i­mately 93 % of the votes have been counted.)

It is ap­par­ent that de­spite the elec­toral de­feat of Don­ald J Trump in the 59th pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, pop­u­lar sup­port for Trump­ism has ex­panded.

The pyrrhic vic­tory of the De­moc­rats is un­der­scored by the ex­ist­ing state of play in the US Sen­ate elec­tion 2020. The Re­pub­li­can Party won 18 seats, thus hav­ing a tally of 48 seats in the US sen­ate. The De­mo­c­ra­tic Party won 13 seats and holds 46 seats in the Sen­ate. Two seats are held by the In­de­pen­dents. Re­quir­ing 51 seats to have a ma­jor­ity, the fate of the US Sen­ate rests on the two runoff elec­tions in Geor­gia, where nei­ther party man­aged to se­cure 50% or more of the to­tal votes cast.

Me­dia an­a­lysts and poll­sters are cred­it­ing Trump’s car­ni­va­lesque cam­paign for the en­thu­si­as­tic in-per­son voter turnout on No­vem­ber 3, for pres­i­den­tial elec­tion 2020.

Trump’s suc­cess in elic­it­ing over­whelm­ing turnout of sup­port­ers is fun­da­men­tally a con­se­quence of his con­nect with a sub­ter­ranean ide­ol­ogy that has been a part of US pol­i­tics since the in­cep­tion of the US as a na­tion. That which we know as Trump­ism is an amal­ga­ma­tion of deeply con­ser­v­a­tive dis­po­si­tions, be­liefs and ideas on, in­ter alia, race, gen­der, class and sci­en­tific tem­per. This neo-con­ser­v­a­tive ecosys­tem is cer­tainly not Trump’s cre­ation, but he be­came the bridge­head for the in­tru­sion of these ideas in main­stream pol­i­tics.

The topog­ra­phy of neo-con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics is con­sti­tuted by an en­sem­ble of or­ga­ni­za­tions and groups. It will be dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish sys­tem­atic ties be­tween them; they ad­here to widely dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tional prin­ci­ples and have lit­tle in com­mon ex­cept for a fil­i­a­tion to the sub­ter­ranean ide­ol­ogy. At one end of this en­sem­ble of or­ga­ni­za­tions are amor­phous groups with no rec­og­nized leader, po­lit­i­cal cen­tre or struc­tured or­ga­ni­za­tion, QAnon is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of such groups, at the other ex­treme are the clan­des­tine, highly dis­ci­plined and hi­er­ar­chi­cally or­ga­nized groups of white su­prema­cists and right-wing mili­tias and fi­nally, there are ra­dio talk shows, ca­ble news and far-right web­sites such as Bre­it­bart News, a web­site which is the plat­form for the alt-right.

This sub­ter­ranean ide­ol­ogy and the groups af­fil­i­ated to it, even when it pro­vided a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the votes cast for the Re­pub­li­can party, is nei­ther a part of the party nor is within its con­trol. The cou­pling of alt-right with the Grand Old Party is en­tirely the hand­i­work of Trump and his acolytes.

Herein lies the ba­sis of the stran­gle­hold that Trump seems to have over the Re­pub­li­can Party. It fol­lows that elec­toral de­feat notwith­stand­ing; Trump and his trusted lieu­tenants would be firmly in the sad­dle of the party and it will be ob­lig­ated to con­tinue the col­li­sion course with the De­moc­rats and other per­ceived en­e­mies. In short, di­vi­sive pol­i­tics that was the hall­mark of the Trump pres­i­dency would per­sist even af­ter his elec­toral de­feat.

Any analy­sis of the in­creas­ing fragility of polity in the US of A will be in­com­plete with­out ac­count­ing for the sig­nif­i­cant mu­ta­tions in the for­mal po­lit­i­cal par­ties of the USA. Sig­nif­i­cant fault lines have emerged within both the Re­pub­li­can and the De­mo­c­ra­tic Party.

Since the 58th pres­i­den­tial elec­tion 2016, the es­tab­lish­ment of both the Re­pub­li­can and De­mo­c­ra­tic party is un­der the threat of be­ing swamped by a rad­i­cal wing. The De­mo­c­ra­tic party is fac­ing a mount­ing chal­lenge from the left that is grow­ing in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient with the glacial pace of so­cio-po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­forms.

Bernie Sanders and The Squad De­moc­rats (a group of four women elected in the 2018 United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives elec­tions, made up of Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York, Il­han Omar of Min­nesota, Ayanna Press­ley of Mass­a­chu­setts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michi­gan) have been ar­tic­u­lat­ing the anx­i­eties and as­pi­ra­tions of the left-wing of the De­mo­c­ra­tic party. This group has al­ready mounted two un­suc­cess­ful chal­lenges to oc­cupy Cen­ter­Stage of De­mo­c­ra­tic party. They have also been the mo­ti­vat­ing force be­hind move­ments of po­lice, med­ical and ed­u­ca­tional re­forms as well as an eq­ui­table and just wage struc­ture.

The es­tab­lish­ment in the Re­pub­li­can party has al­ready been van­quished by the alt-right chal­lenge mounted un­der the lead­er­ship of Trump and Stephen Kevin Ban­non. It is a symp­tom of this ca­pit­u­la­tion of the es­tab­lish­ment con­ser­v­a­tives that Abra­ham Lin­col­n’s party has lately be­come the ve­hi­cle for the rem­nants of con­fed­er­ate ide­ol­ogy in US pol­i­tics.

Es­tab­lish­ment in both the par­ties has dis­played in­ep­ti­tude in ad­dress­ing this chal­lenge. De­moc­rats pulled de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory in the 58th pres­i­den­tial elec­tions ow­ing to the mis­han­dling of the left-wing of their party. That the con­ser­v­a­tive es­tab­lish­ment had some role to play in Trump’s elec­toral de­feat is ev­i­dent in the vot­ing trends in the elec­tion of the Sen­ate and the Pres­i­dent in some im­por­tant swing states.

Biden’s vic­tory in Ari­zona and Mass­a­chu­setts had the weight of the Re­pub­li­can sup­port­ers -late John Mc­Cain and Mitt Rom­ney. The up­shot of this chal­lenge is that while the De­moc­rats are in­creas­ingly be­ing pushed to­wards a left-wing agenda of re­forms that alt-right is push­ing the Re­pub­li­cans to­wards a pol­i­tics of cul­tural wars.

In spite of the pi­ous enun­ci­a­tion of Biden, this grow­ing chasm in US do­mes­tic pol­i­tics will be hard to plas­ter over. In fact, the burn­ing ques­tions that evoked un­prece­dented voter turnout even in the time of pan­demic can hardly be ig­nored by the Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion. How­ever, any de­ci­sive ac­tion by the Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion on COVID19 re­lated pub­lic health mea­sures, on po­lice re­forms, es­pe­cially in the face of grow­ing sen­si­tiv­ity on dis­pro­por­tion­ate po­lice ac­tion on coloured com­mu­ni­ties, on re­lax­ations of em­i­gra­tion norms are all ca­pa­ble of ig­nit­ing pas­sions and ac­ri­mo­nious street wars.

The found­ing fa­thers of the United States may have vi­su­al­ized it as a bea­con of free­dom for the world, a shin­ing city on a hill; in the cur­rent tur­bu­lent times, it may be re­duced to a house on fire.

Should this con­cern In­dia or the South Asian sub-con­ti­nent? One must spec­u­late the im­pact of a di­vided US on its ca­pac­ity to re­gain the lead­er­ship of mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions in the face of the rise of China as a po­ten­tial hy­per­power.

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