The surprise in the US Presidential election is not that Donald Trump is losing to Joe Biden, but that the President’s voter base is intact despite the best efforts of the Democrats to demonise him, change voting rules, and a partisan media that went hammer and tongs against Trump.
Not only that, the alleged unpopularity of Trump is supposed to have helped the Democrats regain control of the Senate easily, but that does not seem to be happening. Quite likely, states which voted for Trump helped Senate candidates retain their seats, with Republicans losing only marginally.
So, when we take a final tally on who won and who lost – at the time of writing some states were still too difficult to call but Biden was just 17 electoral votes short of the required 270 – we find the following.
One, Joe Biden has won, but he and Kamala Harris did not defeat the Trump constituency. It is intact.
Two, the pollsters have lost, having got their predictions wrong – again. They went horribly wrong in 2016, when they predicted a Hillary Clinton victory. This time, despite rejigs to their methodology, Biden’s win is nowhere as comprehensive as the pollsters predicted.
Nate Silver’s www.fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregates various polls into one predictive number based on various scenarios, gave Biden a 10-point lead and a 90 per cent chance of winning, but Silver hedged his bets by saying that even Trump’s 10 per cent chance of winning cannot be taken lightly. This is a pollster saying he can’t defend his own conclusions.
Three, whichever way you look at it, the US electoral system is broken, and not merely because of the big money candidates are raising and spending to get themselves elected. The US is a true federation, but its inability to get a unified system even to elect the President is galling. If every state follows its own laws on which votes are to be counted and when, we are not talking of all votes being equal.
It is worth noting that Biden won because absentee voters and mail-in votes – more than half the total – went overwhelmingly to him in most states. This is not to suggest fraud, but it is far from clear that the system is geared to check whether those who voted by mail were all legit voters. America needs to fix its voting system, as of yesterday.
Four, America is certainly a loser, as the country is polarised around two different ideas of the nation. The Left-liberal global elite now knows that it cannot wish away the isolationist and protectionist view – which is at the core of the Trump phenomenon – when the ordinary white American has to lose out to both China and technology.
The broad tent called the American Right, which could include everyone from born-again Christians to free enterprisers to protectionists to anti-immigration activists, knows that when it comes to the vote, it is only the electoral college that can deliver it victory. It does not have a majority of total votes. This is what makes the polarisation worse.
If neither side can wish the other away, and if one side knows that only gerrymandering and electoral college votes will give it a shot at power, there is a need to cater to more narrow interests in smaller states. This polarisation comes at a time when China is flexing its muscles under Xi Jinping, willing to alienate the whole world and eager to surpass America in gross domestic product (GDP) before the end of the next decade. America is turning inward precisely when it cannot afford to.
Biden or Trump, America loses unless it can seal the cracks and find a more comfortable middle ground in politics. That does not seem like happening, thanks to this election.
Five, for India, Trump or Biden, it’s even stevens. Both the Republicans and the Democrats now realise that China cannot be countered without India. Also, under Biden, the economy and Covid-19 will receive top billings, which is good for Indian exporters and the global part of the Indian economy, especially IT services.
Under Trump, India had to sacrifice some trade interests to gain political advantage. Under Biden, India will do better on trade but will find the holier-than-thou Democrats irritating as they take the side of Islamists. Pakistan may also be back in the reckoning, as Biden’s core staff includes many Pakistani and Islamist sympathisers.
If one party will want India to open up for evangelists, the other will want us to go easy on our own Islamic separatists in Kashmir Valley. We just have to ignore the irritants and concentrate on strategic interests.
Six, under Biden, America’s allies will be more comfortable, especially Europe and Japan, but geopolitically, both Europe and Japan know that America cannot help them contain Chinese aggression. They may have America’s sympathy and some intelligence and logistical support, but they have to fend for themselves against both Russia and China. Taiwan will be particularly wary of China, and so will India. We have to fight our own battles.
Trump has changed the world. He may have lost the presidency (assuming the courts throw out his legal gambits to delay the results), but his constituency remains.
The 2020 election is less than a win for Joe Biden, and less than a loss for Trump.
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