Joe Biden has been elected as the 46th President of the United States, ending Donald Trump's four-year run of division and controversy, writes Dr Lee Duffield.
BY 5am Sydney and Melbourne time on Sunday, the traditional chief outlet for verified results, Associated Press (AP), after giving Democratic Party candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the State of Pennsylvania, posted their Electoral College vote to 290 — clear of the 270 needed to win.
Others followed. The television networks CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS, plus USA Today, had immediately joined in when the Pennsylvania result went up at 11:25am Saturday in Washington. The partisan Right-wing site, Fox News, did the same, accepting the inevitable about ten minutes after the rest.
At AP, journalists Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller were given the honour of writing the day lead, for the historical record:
‘Democrat Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States on Saturday and offered himself to the nation as a leader who “seeks not to divide, but to unify” a country gripped by a historic pandemic and a confluence of economic and social turmoil.’
His victory came after more than three days of uncertainty as election officials sorted through a surge of mail-in votes that delayed the processing of some ballots. Biden crossed 270 Electoral College votes with a win in Pennsylvania.
Trump refused to concede, threatening further legal action on ballot counting.
Biden, 77, staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanising a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy.
Also, for the record, Biden received 74,861,262 votes across the country — Trump, 70,600,513 votes.
Those numbers, on one side, showed up immediately in the form of thousands of COVID-19-wise masked revellers who began gathering in Times Square, NY, Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC and other celebrated sites.
Joe Biden has been emphasising the win in the popular vote, as support for an ambitious program of government:
- to launch a coordinated national attack on the pandemic;
- act on climate change (commencing by re-instating America’s membership of the Paris Climate Accord trashed by Trump);
- begin an economic recovery program; and
- by acting as a unifier, move to mend the destructive social and racial divisions also plaguing the United States.
Republican President Donald Trump went out to play golf, a BBC reporter noticing his motorcade skirted through a clutch of demonstrators, one of them brandishing a placard at him: ‘good riddance.’
Republican lawyers form a rearguard
Lawyers from Trump's campaign were publicly outlining plans for a rearguard action, raising the possibility of getting up a challenge to the Pennsylvania result in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The former presidential advisor (to Bill Clinton), Sidney Blumenthal, has studied the legal challenges, taking into account the presence on the Supreme Court of the “Right-wing ideologue” — Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. The latter, he says, has cited as a precedent the 2000 case that gave the presidency to the Republican George W. Bush — a judgement that explicitly precluded itself from being used in precedents. However, Blumenthal concludes the court actions in the end will not block off the Election result.
There has been loose talk about reviving the century-old practice of getting Republican state legislatures to nominate members of the Electoral College, cancelling the 2020 vote. Such direct nomination has been ended by states delegating the nominating authority to their electors and by constitutional laws, as in the case of Senate elections under the 17th Amendment.
A common interpretation of the legal campaign is that it is meant to generate belief among Trump supporters that the Election was stolen, to charge-up a social movement based on grievance.
Gearing up resistance to the Biden Administration — already
Two other fields of resistance to the outcome of the Presidential Election:
- possible violence on the extreme Right wing, a threatening reality in an armed society. Several of the black-shirts backing Trump in “free carry” states were already parading with automatic weapons during the election campaign; and
- obstruction by a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. The Election on 3 November produced disappointing results for the Democrats, with to date only 48 certain votes in the 100-member chamber. There are two seats which can be won in a “special election” in the state of Georgia, a state closely contested, as maybe the second state in the old Confederacy after Virginia to go against Trump. If the Democrats could get 50 Senators, under the Constitution, they could put through their program on the casting vote of the Senate chairperson, Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Senate Republicans have proved a reactionary group, voting virtually unanimously on decisions such as to block the impeachment of Trump.
Much, if not most of Biden’s program and important decisions like the appointment of judges, could be blocked by this group. In a climate of economic recession and hysteria generated by a radical army on the Right wing, the Democrats also might be unable to get their majority at the next opportunity, the mid-term election in 2022.
Plusses for Democrats
Meantime, the moral victories of the Biden campaign have been bolstered by some hard political facts indicating strong support.
The Election, with its high voter turn-out, has produced the largest number of votes for any incoming President — a big factor in its legitimacy.
It saw the defeat of an incumbent President for only the fourth time in history — three times a Republican, once a Democrat. Herbert Hoover was defeated in 1932 by Franklin Roosevelt, who put up a plan for dealing with the Great Depression (a scenario resembling Biden proposing a plan for the crisis of the day, the pandemic); the Democrat Jimmy Carter lost in 1980, again following a world recession among other crises; and George H. W. Bush lost in 1992, after a recession, against the Bill Clinton campaign declaring, “it’s the economy, stupid”.
The main idea of working for national unity, rallying behind the President, has wide appeal in American political culture. Trump enjoyed over 40 per cent approval throughout his four-year term — you can surmise that a quarter of that might transfer to a new President as a patriotic response.
Mark Shields, the rumpled and serious presenter of PBS News Hour, seen on SBS in Australia, gave his last pre-election assessment on 31 October, which stands up as analysis after the event:
“Donald Trump chose to make the Election about perceived grievances, his grievances, unthinkable in any national leader... Joe Biden has done America a service by not making this an ideological election.”
Shields observed that court actions by the Republicans were angled against ensuring every vote was counted, “which does not seem to be the operating principle”. He proposed it would be against judicial traditions for a court to overturn elections; it would contradict the spirit of legislation like the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 19th Amendment giving votes to women, which were for maximising citizens’ right to have their choices counted. “I hope the court will butt out,” he said.
When America votes, the world takes note, with the expectation now that the United States will return to international forums and restore damaged relations with its allies. European leaders quickly sent congratulations to Joe Biden.
It presents a dilemma on some scale to the current Australian Government because of its close partisan association with Donald Trump. Joe Hockey, as the immediate past Ambassador to Washington and former Liberal Treasurer, gave credence to claims by Trump of Democrat vote-rigging. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a great Trump favourite, was given the double-red carpet treatment when he went over to see him — big posh banquet, chummy photo opportunities, blokes parading dressed as 18th Century soldiers. But he, too, has wished the new President and Vice President success, suggesting Australia and America had a deep and enduring alliance based on shared values.
Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.
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