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It was not a blue political Tsunami giving the Democrats control of both houses of Congress with large majorities along with the US Presidency with a decisive popular and electoral college mandate. It was not even a large blue wave as the Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives, and, pending the outcome of two run-off elections in Georgia, the Republicans may maintain control of the Senate. But the blue wave was more than a ripple, elevating Democratic candidate Joe Biden to the Presidency and thereby preserving US democracy.
As in 2016, the polls predicting a large Democratic victory were wrong, although, with votes still being counted, Biden was leading Trump by more than four million votes in the popular vote contest, a million more votes than Hilary Clinton had beaten Trump by in 2016. Perhaps the Biden campaign’s most significant achievement was to win back the so-called "Rust Belt’ states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as his image as a moderate withstood the Trump campaign’s assertions that Biden was a Socialist. By contrast, these charges seemed to have more resonance in Florida, where refugees from Cuba and Venezuela appeared to take to heart Trump’s accusations that Biden would turn the US into a Socialist replica of the countries they had fled from. Also helping Trump in Florida, if the exit polls are to be believed, were the votes of older Jews who appreciated all that Trump had done for Israel while in office.
Most Jews, however, according to the National Jewish Survey, ranked Israel much lower in their list of priorities, placing the Covid-19 Virus (and Trump’s mishandling of it), climate change and health care at the top of their priority list. Only within America’s Orthodox Jewish Community were concerns about Israel ranked highly, second only to the economy, which topped the Orthodox priority list. According to the Associated Press voter survey, the end result was that an estimated 68 per cent of American Jews voted for Biden and only 30 percent for Trump. Given the importance of the Jewish vote in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Jewish vote (along with the Black vote) turned out to be a significant factor in the 2020 election.
In a state like Michigan, so, too, was the Arab vote (divided between Moslems and Catholics); Arabs form 5 per cent of the population of Michigan, and they voted 64 per cent to 35 per cent in favour of Biden. Like the Jews, issues relating to Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict were low on their priority list. Only 5 percent of the Arabs polled listed the conflict as an issue of primary importance. Topping the Arab-American priority list was racial discrimination (40 per cent). Indeed, Trump’s anti-Moslem immigration policies, as well as his anti-Semitic rhetoric after the Neo-Nazi protest march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 (see below), may well have cost him the state of Michigan.
The two communities with the strongest vote for a candidate were the Blacks, who voted 90 per cent for Biden and the Evangelical Christians who voted 80 per cent for Trump. The Catholic and Latino voters were more evenly divided. The Catholic vote split almost 50–50 per cent, despite Biden being a practicing Catholic. This was due, in part, to his political stand favouring a woman’s right to choose—a central tenet of the Democratic Party, but one opposed by the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, the attempt by right-wing Catholics to delegitimize Biden because of his position on abortion did not seem to work too well, and he will be the second Catholic (after John F Kennedy) to become President.
Mapping the Latino vote is a more difficult challenge because Latinos are split into several groups, from those having their origins in Cuba and Venezuela to those who came from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In Florida, as noted above, many voted for Trump, while in Arizona, the predominantly Mexican-American vote, reacting to discriminatory state legislation, supported Biden and helped the Democrats win two Senate seats. In Georgia, like Arizona, another state that appears to have shifted from Red to Blue (depending on final vote tallies), the Latinos, along with the Blacks, were instrumental in giving Biden his narrow lead. Given the fact that Latinos are now America’s second-largest voting bloc and gave Trump almost one-third of its vote—helping him win both Florida and Texas—despite his anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant rhetoric; one can be sure that before the 2024 elections, both Republicans and Democrats will rethink their strategies as to how to win over this diverse group of voters.
While in many ways, the 2020 election was one of the most significant in US history in view of both the record voter turn-out and ethnic and religious voting patterns, its importance in stopping America’s slide into authoritarianism was perhaps its most important result. This is because Donald Trump not only displayed a preference for such authoritarian leaders as Viktor Orban of Hungary, Recep Erdogan of Turkey, Jair Bolsinaro of Brazil and, above all, Vladimir Putin of Russia but also because, in his tweets, public comments and actions Trump posed a real threat to American democracy. From the beginning of his Presidency, he attacked the US Court system and the media. He told one lie after another throughout his Presidency, exceeding some 20,000 according to The Washington Post. He also called on US troops to disperse peaceful protesters (Defense Secretary Mark Esper prevented this from happening and was fired after the election for his opposition), interfered with the Post Office to prevent mail ballots from arriving in time for the election and even demanded that his Attorney General indict his election opponent, Joe Biden. When he had clearly lost the election, he claimed voter fraud and sought to overturn the results.
Literally, from his first day in office, Trump began to undermine American democracy. After claiming his inauguration had more people attending than Barack Obama’s, his statement was shown to be false by the media. Rather than admitting his error, Trump attacked the press, which reported it, and his attacks on the press were to intensify during his Presidency. When he called the press "the enemy of the people", he was attacking the very foundation of American democracy, which requires a free press to keep government officials honest. His enemies were The Washington Post and The New York Times, along with CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC and MSNBC. In attacking the press, Trump sought to delegitimate their criticism of his Presidency and fire up his political base only to follow the news on FOX, which during the Trump years, especially in its commentaries, came close to being the Trump Administration’s house organ. In addition, when US courts found his ban on Muslim immigration to be illegal, he sought to delegitimate the courts as well, calling them "Democratic Courts", as if they were controlled by the Democratic Party.
In addition to seeking to delegitimize the vast balk of the news media and the US Court system—institutions that criticized his comments and policies—Trump further undermined democracy by embracing the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, as well the QAnon conspiracy theory, which attacked his enemies. In Charlottesville, Virginia, there were clashes between a group of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists who had come to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee and counter-demonstrators, which led to the death of a counter-protestor. During the demonstration, far-right protestors carried torches in a neo-Nazi like parade, shouting "Jews will not replace us". Nonetheless, Trump’s comment about the incident that "There were very fine people on both sides" seemed to indicate his support for the far right-wing protestors. Ironically, it was these comments of Trump that reportedly persuaded Joe Biden to enter the 2020 Presidential campaign. In yet another effort to gain the support of the far-right in the US, Trump, when given the opportunity to denounce the QAnon conspiracy theory that states that a group of Satan-worshipping paedophiles was running a global sex trafficking ring which was plotting against him, Trump merely said that all he knew about them was that they liked him very much and he appreciated it.
Trump’s next anti-democratic move was using the police and security officials to clear peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square (which is across the street from the White House). The demonstrators were protesting the killing by police of an African-American, George Floyd. The square was cleared through the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and police mounted on horses so that Trump could walk across the square to St. Johns Church to hold up a Bible. This was a deliberate effort to show that he was a "Law and Order" President, a theme Trump would continue during the rest of the election campaign as demonstrations over Floyd’s death continued to take place throughout the US.
Perhaps the most egregious attack Trump made on American democracy was his effort to delegitimate and weaken the election system; elections are the bedrock of democracy, and Trump’s efforts to interfere in them are inexcusable. First, as the polls showed Biden was well in the lead, and that Americans, because of the Covid-19 virus preferred to vote by mail rather than in a polling place on election day, Trump sought to delegitimate mail-in ballots. He urged his followers to go to the polls on election day rather than mail in their ballots, and most did. The end result was that the vast majority of mail-in voters were Democrats who, sensibly, wanted to avoid exposing themselves to the virus in a polling site. Trump then claimed that mail-in ballots were full of fraud and asserted that they should not be counted. To make mail-in balloting more difficult, Trump’s new Post-Master, Louis De Joy, allegedly to "save Money", ended overtime and changed other postal procedures to make on-time mail delivery more difficult and, thereby, prevent the votes of Democrats from arriving on election day. This was too much even for Trump’s Republican allies, however, and De Joy was forced to restore the old postal procedures, and the vast majority of votes arrived on time.
Finally, as election day neared, Trump called on his Attorney General William Barr, to indict his election opponent, Joe Biden, for alleged crimes. This is something that might happen in a Third World dictatorship, but until now, not in the United States. To his credit, Barr, who hitherto had seemed to act more as Trump’s personal lawyer than as Attorney General of the US, refused.
In sum, the 2020 US Presidential election will go down in history as one of the nation’s most important, primarily because it stopped Donald Trump’s efforts to destroy US democracy.
As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy