The most exhilarating part of the US Presidential election 2020 is the fact that President Trump lost the election. It is what many observers thought would happen. They prayed for it. They wished it. In the end, that is what happened on Saturday, November 7, 2020.
The major news networks called the election and announced Joe Biden as the President-elect of the United States. Whatever level of excitement that the election may have generated however, it was after all, an American election. It was one of the closest and most fiercely contested elections in American history. Over 160 million voters participated; turn out was 66.9%. President-elect Joe Biden got over 74 million of the votes (the highest in 120 years), leading President Trump by over 4 million votes, and an impressive 290 Electoral College votes. Trump had over 70 million votes, with 214 Electoral College votes. The turn out was very much about how this was an election like no other. It was a battle for the soul of America. For many Americans, the nightmare is over. That nightmare is represented by four years of a divisive, problematic, abusive Trump Presidency. Trump talked about “America first”, a phrase that past and future American Presidents have also projected as a guiding principle. The difference with Trump is that everything got reduced to his own big ego, his rants, his abrasive, corrosive, fake, omniscient posturing. He turned Americans against Americans. He turned America against the world. He crushed established traditions. There was no one too big for him to abuse or insult. He alienated the world. He behaved very much as if the White House was an extension of the Trump Towers. Those who loved him did so passionately. Those who were opposed did so with as much fervor.
It would be wrong to assume though that he has been disgraced. Far from it. He may even in fact in the future be remembered as a great American President, depending on what the future holds. Or he may leave a legacy as one of the worst Presidents America has ever seen. The large volume of votes that he received shows he has a strong followership and a solid base whose views cannot be ignored. While Biden’s supporters and the Democrats celebrated across the United States on November 7, half of the voting population in the United States was in a sour mood. Trumpism, the ideology that has defined the US Presidency in the last four years is like an intoxicant. It turns its users into fanatics. With such persons, Trump can do no wrong. And the Trumpians are not restricted to America. They can be found as far away as Brazil where an incumbent President enjoys being described as “the Trump of the Tropics”, the UK and India whose political leaders (Boris Johnson, and Narendra Modi) admire Trump.
Here in Nigeria, the weekend before the election, a church leader, Daddy Hezekiah took to the streets of Onitsha, Anambra State to campaign for President Trump and organize prayers for his victory. Trumpians are mostly Christian evangelicals who support his pro-life, anti-gay position and conservative views (even if Trump himself cannot be exactly described as a Christian); the far-right, ultra-conservative establishment whose members lap up his “America for Americans” rhetoric like honey, even when they are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Trump did not want to see Muslims from certain countries in the United States. He would rather build a wall to keep out Mexicans. He signed off a series of Executive Orders which smacked of fascism. His failure has been attributed however to two unfortunate incidents: COVID-19 and his careless handling of it which has resulted in over 235,000 deaths. There is also the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests which further divided the United States. If there was no COVID-19, the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump would probably not lose.
Trump insists that he won the election. He accuses the media networks of declaring an election unofficially. He was still hoping that he would win. He was in fact playing golf when Joe Biden was announced winner. Trump supporters in Africa admire him in part, I suspect, because his tactics are so familiar in African politics. Incumbent first-term, democratically-elected African leaders do not readily accept defeat. The exceptions to this rule are quite few (Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, John Mahama of Ghana…). The pattern is for them to sit tight, change the Constitution and play the Messiah as we have seen in Cote d’Ivoire (Alassane Ouattara), Tanzania (John Magufuli) and Rwanda (Paul Kagame). Shortly after voting ended on November 3, President Trump had gone to Twitter, his virtual office, to announce that he had won “BIG” and “by a lot”. He didn’t wait for the counting to start or end. As counting continued and the popular and electoral votes were being announced, he and his supporters became restless. They crowded around the counting centres in Detroit, Michigan, Phoenix, Arizona and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There was unease in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona where recounts have been ordered given the closeness of the margins. When President Trump began to protest that the counting should be stopped and thieves were stealing his votes, it all looked surrealistically African. His second son, Eric was not left out. He resorted to false claims and conspiracy theories. At some point, Paula White, Trump’s Spiritual Adviser began to pray and speak in tongues. She called on “Africa Angels” to come to Trump’s rescue. Those angels could not get their visas before November 7! They were held back in their “shit-hole countries”.
Before the US elections, there had been fears that there would be a typical, Third World break out of violence over the elections. In Manhattan and Ithaca, Denver, Colorado and San Francisco, there had been violent confrontations between pro-and anti-Trump demonstrators. It looked as if the United States faced the prospect of a civil war over election results. Biden and the Democrats want all votes counted: both in-person election day votes and mail-in votes. Trump and his supporters regard the latter as “illegal votes”. But Trump is the victim of his own miscalculation. Mail-in and absentee ballots are the real angels of the US 2020 Presidential elections. Trump’s lawyers are all over the courts. There are projections of drawn-out legal battles all the way to the Federal Supreme Court. It is interesting to see a President who did his very best to compromise the Constitutional Order now looking up to the same institution to save his Presidency. Unfortunately, the horse has left the barn.
The feeling around the world is one of relief. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris captures the mood of the world in three telling words: “Welcome back, America!” World leaders have congratulated Biden and Harris, and that includes friends of Trump: British PM Boris Johnson, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian PM Narendra Modi. Inside the United States, not all Republicans share Trump’s allegations of theft and voter fraud, and his attempts to raise questions of legitimacy about the Biden victory. Even while Trump insists that there can be no transition except General Services Administration certifies the winner after the recounts and a final tally, it seems all too clear that the Presidency has slipped from his hands. Within his own close circles, the only people still standing with him are few- his wife, Melania, his son, Eric, his lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, and Senator Ted Cruz who says: “Every time they close the door and shut out the lights, they always find more Democrat votes”. What is the matter with Senator Cruz?
Republicans should accept defeat and allow America to move forward. President Trump should be advised to stop stoking the embers of hate, fear and uncertainty. The legal and Constitutional options that are available to him and the Republicans should be kept open and exhausted if they so insist. It should be noted however that if the contested ballots are not so significant, the courts will be reluctant to take any hard decisions, and in any case, re-counts do not necessarily produce huge swings. Former Republican President, George W. Bush says the election was “fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld and its outcome is clear.” That is statesmanship, which Mr. Trump may prove incapable of when he is no longer President. But will he leave the White House? He clearly has no option in the matter. He may continue to play decisive politics. He may even choose to boycott Biden’s inauguration ceremony in January. He may also leave enough entrenched marks of Trumpism behind to make the transition process difficult for the Biden administration.
These are some of the reasons why Mr. Biden and Ms Kamala Harris have their job cut out for them. Joe Biden in his first speech as President-elect says: “This is the time to heal in America” Indeed, America is in need of healing and reconciliation. The Democratic landslide that was predicted by the left did not happen. There was no Blue Wave in the election. The Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives even if they are still holding on to their majority. The Republicans seem set to retain control of the Senate, even with the run offs scheduled for January. To heal America, Biden must be the President of all Americans as he has promised. He must reach across the aisle to forge a bi-partisan relationship with Republicans, many of whom may nurse a grudge for a long time to come. President Trump has been busy playing golf, we are told. He is probably swinging out his anger on obsolete golf balls. But Republicans in the Senate could give a Biden Presidency a tough time over key economic policies, appointments and his plan to chart a new course for the United States. Mr. Biden’s maturity, experience and style should stand him in good stead. He has the additional luck of a gifted Vice President, Kamala Harris whose unique accomplishments strengthen the narratives of hope, possibilities, diversity and historicity.
Whatever may have been the uncertainties and tension arising from the US elections, it is America that has won in the end. The American dream remains strong and alive, significantly through Kamala Harris who has shattered the ceiling, standing on the shoulders of women whose heroism has made it possible for a day to come in the United States when a woman will be Vice President, a child of immigrants, an Asian-American, an African-American, whose ancestors and relations can be traced to India Tamil Nadu, and Brown’s Town in Jamaica. It is the kind of America that Trump fought against. It is the kind of America that has made America truly great. There are expectations that a Biden Presidency will be more open to the rest of the world and that there will be changes with regard to immigration, trade and aid as America re-engages with the global community. But certain things will not change. America will always be America. Biden may not build any walls of division, but it is not as if the US Mission will start giving immigrant visas automatically to anyone who applies for it. His leadership will be more nuanced, and we may not have to wake up every morning rushing to Twitter to find out whatever POTUS came up with overnight. Even the managers of Twitter are heaving a sigh of relief already.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have hit the ground running. A Transition Programme is in place. A 12-man Presidential Task Force has been announced to tackle COVID-19. Biden will not wait for six months to make key appointments or to provide clear policy directions on key issues: COVID-19, economic stimulus, healthcare, race, justice and diversity, climate change. African leaders who have been firing off congratulatory letters should also look at lessons that can be learnt from the American experience.
China is so far strategically silent. Russian President Vladmir Putin and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro are holding back on congratulating Biden. Loyalty? Friendship? Or do they know something that we do not know? What we know is that on January 20, 2021, a new US President will be inaugurated. The US military will be duty bound to hand over the nuclear codes to the new Commander-in-Chief. Trespassers will not be allowed. “Welcome back, America…” Goodbye, Mr. Trump…