The ugly finale of the Trump Presidency

Wednesday 6 January 2021 The US Capitol building in Washington DC was the site of armed insurrection, incited by the outgoing President Donald Trump. The last time this building was breached was in 1814 when British soldiers set fire to it during the brief war between The United States and the United Kingdom which at that time saw the building partially destroyed. The violent incident which occurred on Wednesday saw four people killed and both legislative chambers, The House of Representatives and the Senate had to suspend business and elected representatives were forced to take shelter whilst pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol.

DC police: 4 died as Trump supporters stormed Capitol
Pictures of rioters stirred up by Donald Trump clashing with police in the Capitol Building

This was never going to be an easy transition of power. Trump’s ego would never allow him to accept that he lost the election. Sadly, it was always likely that he would incite violence by stirring up his base with false allegations of voter fraud and a stolen election. My earlier blog post on the subject correctly predicted that Trump’s legal challenges to the election would likely fail. So too were the hopes that the Election Certification of Joe Biden’s victory would be overturned by the Senate and its chair, Vice President Mike Pence. Then to add salt to the wound, voters in Georgia ensured that Biden’s Party would have a majority in the Senate by narrowly voting for the two Democrat candidates in the traditionally Republican Party voting states runoff election.

As I outlined just before the 2020 election and earlier on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration there are significant problems with the US electoral system. Twice in the last twenty years, the candidate who won the most votes nationally failed to win the presidency through the electoral college system. Trump, both in 2016 and in 2020 failed to win the popular vote. Yesterday when speaking to his mob of supporters in Washington he claimed to have won in 2020 with a bigger majority than in 2016 and claimed the Democrats victories were “explosions of bullshit.” The only bullshit that has exploded is the lie that Trump ever had majority support in the US. Certainly, in the 2020 election, Trump not only lost but did so by 7,059,741 votes nationally in the popular vote and by 74 electoral college votes.

On Monday a recording was released of a call between Donald Trump and a Republican Party election official from the state of Georgia, where Trump demands that the official find the 11,780 votes needed to win the state. This attempt at corruption and electoral fraud by Trump makes the Nixon Watergate Scandal of 1973 seem like a minor misdemeanour in comparison. He then followed this up by encouraging his supporters to go down to the Capitol and cause disruption to the Election confirmation vote to confirm Joe Biden as the next US President. Trumps inability to accept defeat and instead to manipulate his supporters through lies and inciting violence will be his final legacy.

Unfortunately, there remain many who support the Trump presidency and continue to argue that journalists who are critical of this president are reporting fake news. A former work colleague of mine sent me a clip showing thousands of Trump supporters singing the national anthem, claiming that the media not showing this clip meant Trump and his supporters were victims of media bias. That the media did not report protesters singing probably had more to do with the fact that it was irrelevant, especially when compared with armed protesters storming the legislature, planting pipe bombs and generally using violence to try and stop lawmakers confirming the 2020 election result.

Much has been said about the response from Trump to this protest in contrast to the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the George Floyd killing in 2020. Contrast the two statements from Trump in the image below:

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says "January 6, 2021 In a video message about supporters who stormed D.C.: "I know your pain. know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us... We love you. You're very special... know how you feel, but go home and go home in peace." July 27, 2020 In a tweet amid nationwide anti-racism protests: "Anarchists, Agitators or Protestors who vandalize or damage our Federal Courthouse in Portland, or any Federal Buildings in any of our Cities or States, will be prosecuted under our recently re-enacted Statues & Monuments Act. MINIMUM TEN YEARS IN PRISON. Don't do it!""

Eventually, Vice President Mike Pence called in the National Guard and authorities took back control of the Capitol. Despite earlier praise from Pence for those Republican Senators wishing to challenge the result (most of whom backed away from this position after what happened), Pence chaired the confirmation and agreed to uphold the election result.

The ugly finale of the Trump presidency will have long term consequences. While many Republican lawmakers now distance themselves from Trump, it took them far too long. For the last five years, they have allowed Trump to create a narrative of misinformation tapping into America’s worst prejudices and fears. Trump has successfully built a following based on these lies and in the process created a political climate of hostility and fear that will inevitably now lead to further conflict and civil unrest.

Prior to the events at the Capitol on Wednesday, my take of the Georgia senate runoff was that the Democrats will have a narrow majority in both legislatures for two years, then most likely would lose one or both to the Republicans in the mid-terms. Now things are not quite so clear. Whatever the shortcomings of Biden and the Democrats in the coming months, it will shadow in comparison with the president who incited an insurrection at the Capitol and tried to intimidate an election official in Georgia to “find votes.” The Republican Party will now split between those who continue support Trump and those who would now like the GOP to return to its pre-Trump state. Further, the many new voters who turned out in 2020 to get rid of Trump, and in Georgia to elect two Democrat senators will likely not want to see Republicans regain control of either house after Wednesday’s scenes. Whilst Biden will face opposition, the 81 million who voted for him will not wish to see the events of Wednesday repeated, meaning the usual trend of voter turnout declining in the midterms may not happen next year.

The Trump presidency has laid bare the many weaknesses and deficiencies in the US political system and shown the world that it is a country rife with prejudice and division. While the US remains economically dominant (though this too is declining), it no longer has the credibility it once had on the world stage. Wednesday’s insurrection further tarnishes America’s reputation as a credible democratic nation. Significant changes will be needed before this reputation can be restored and it is hard to be optimistic that the US political system is capable of reforming itself in the way it needs to.

The hope for the future is that those who believe in democracy, both in America and throughout the world demand change. Wednesday’s events were a low point in the history of the United States. But there is still hope for change. Through continued work on voter registration and turnout that the US has a chance of turning a corner. The work done in Georgia on voter registration has shown what is possible and if this is replicated throughout the United States things may actually get better.

Trump loses the Presidency, but Trumpism lives on

Two weeks after one of the most tumultuous elections in US history it is now clear that Joe Biden has won. This was not clear on election night as much of the in-person vote favoured Trump in key swing states. But as the postal votes came in it became obvious that in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan were going with the Biden/Harris ticket. Whilst traditional swing states of Florida and Ohio went to Trump this would not be enough for him to get the required 270 electoral college votes to win.

My previous post outlined the importance to America and the world of a Trump defeat in these elections. It also outlined the many limitations the US political system put in place to make much needed political, social and economic reform in that country difficult (though not impossible). It also highlighted the absurd electoral college system that twice this century has allowed a presidential candidate who received fewer votes than their opponent to win the presidency. The 2020 election could well have been the third such election based on election night results, but postal ballots make it clear that Trump is on his way out. In an election where one of the main dividing issues now is whether or not to believe science, those worried about COVID-19 were more likely to postal vote and thus these votes were more likely to go to the Democrats.

Trump is mounting a legal challenge to the election result claiming the election was rigged. In many cases, the state authorities running the ballot system were under the control of the Republican Party. Trump is unlikely to succeed in any of his legal challenges and even if he does this will unlikely result in him gaining the required 270 points to win. There is little chance of a repeat of the 2000 Presidential election where the Supreme Court ordered the recount of votes in the State of Florida to stop, a disgraceful chapter in the history of US elections and one which exposed how flawed the US system really is.

In 2016 Donald Trump received 62,984,828 votes nationally. In 2020 his national vote increased to 71,927,381. Biden’s apparent victory was down to increased voter turnout nationally and specifically increased turnout and in the swing states listed above. When looking at the results in both Congress and Senate, the Republicans have reduced the Democrats’ majority in Congress, and the Senate is now split with Republicans only losing one senate race last week and now having a runoff election in January 2021 which will decide which party has control of the upper chamber.

No description available.
The above map gives an interesting break down of votes by demographic.

The projected ‘blue wave’ that many pundits predicted (and this author hoped for, but did not expect) did not eventuate. There are plenty of possible explanations for this but ultimately it comes down to the simple fact that support for Donald Trump and indeed for the Republican Party did not collapse in 2020. If anything, the Republican Party held the line with their base and even won some new support despite a woeful mishandling of the pandemic and having a President who was blatantly dishonest and self-serving. This is disappointing, but not at all surprising. Trumpism did not just come out of nowhere, and nor is it likely to disappear anytime soon.

The election for Congress saw the Republicans reduce the Democrats’ majority. This was probably the Democrats greatest failure this election, given they only gained control of Congress two years earlier in 2018 and already their grip on power here is slipping. This is reminiscent of 2006, where Nancy Pelosi led the Democrats to victory during the Mid-terms as President George W Bush’s popularity was waning. By 2010 the Democrats had lost control of the House in Obama’s first mid-term. Despite the loss, Pelosi remained the Democrat leader in Congress, and in 2018 became the speaker once again when Democrats capitalised on anti-Trump sentiment to gain control of The House. The issue for Pelosi and the team around her in Congress is that twice they have won during mid-terms when opposition to a Republican President is strong. Now a Democrat is President, Pelosi cannot just be an oppositional figure, she and her team need to put forward a policy agenda to address the issues facing the country. Just like when Obama was elected President in 2008, Biden’s win this year is happening in the middle of a serious economic crisis. Democrats in Congress need to be offering policy solutions to this crisis. Now maybe time for new Democratic leadership in Congress that can step up to this challenge.

Doctored Pelosi SOTU video leaves Dems furious at Facebook, Twitter -  Business Insider
Nancy Pelosi tearing up her copy of Donald Trump’s state of the union speech in February 2020.

The Senate currently hangs in the balance with Republicans holding onto more senators this month than expected. In early January 2021 a runoff election will be held for the two Senator seats in the state of Georgia. The race between Biden and Trump was very close in this state which has traditionally been safe Republican. The change in Georgia was down to voter registration and turnout campaigns led by Stacy Abrams who narrowly lost the Georgia Governor race in 2018. This campaign is one Democrats should be looking to replicate nationally as it has been widely praised as successful.

In early 2018 I wrote a blog post about hope in which I said the following about the Obama Presidency of 2009 to 2017:

Obama promised hope and intended to deliver that through the US political system. The problem is that system is flawed. He gave people hope in a political system which could not deliver on the promise.

Hope – A powerful but dangerous tool, April 2018

When trying to understand US politics we need to understand that it is indeed a flawed and inflexible system. This criticism could be made of most democratic systems, but the flaws in the US are stark and very hard to shift. In another 2018 blog, I wrote about the issue of Gun Control, a prime example of where the US system, despite public opinion has successfully blocked any form of gun control for decades.

In August this year, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article by Anthropologist Wade Davies called The Unraveling of America. I would recommend anyone who has not yet read this to do so. In this article Wade outlines how the COVID-19 pandemic has furthered the decline of the United States. Wade claims that one-fifth of all COVID-19 deaths were from that country. He highlights how the United States has lost its moral authority on the world stage, citing the below example:

Trump’s performance and America’s crisis deflected attention from China’s own mishandling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, not to mention its move to crush democracy in Hong Kong. When an American official raised the issue of human rights on Twitter, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, invoking the killing of George Floyd, responded with one short phrase, “I can’t breathe.”

The Unraveling of America  
Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era. Rolling Stone August 2020.

And indeed, the Black Lives Matter Movement has like COVID-19 shown the world that the United States Government is neither interested nor capable of looking after its own population. Given this it is little wonder many throughout the world no longer view it as a moral authority on the world stage. Wade also argues that Donald Trump is a symptom of the decline, rather than the cause of it.

On the morning of the US election results, the BBC Today Show interviewed former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He expressed concern that an uncertain result would be used by dictators in countries like China to discredit democracy. The reality is that the United States is a poor example of a functioning democracy in 2020. The country’s widespread voter suppression, its antiquated and undemocratic voting system, its cumbersome and difficult to change constitution, its poor record on climate change, its institutional and systemic racism, its increasing inequality and last but not least its shocking record on the international stage of supporting dictators like Pinochet and Suharto, discredit it as any sort of moral authority. When looking for examples of modern, functioning democracies we should look at places like Germany, Scandinavian nations like Norway or Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Even in the United Kingdom, though in recent years has faced considerable challenges in response to Brexit and a fairly ugly General Election in 2019, not to mention a voting system that does not deliver proportional outcomes, the political culture in the UK is still much healthier and far less divisive than in the US.

This is not to beat up on the United States or to say that it does not still have the potential to play a positive role in the world. The point is that for the United States to do this it needs significant reform. Biden, even if he gains a majority in the Senate will not be able to deliver this in one term. And the level of opposition this administration will face internally from Trump/Republican Party supporters is formidable. But this too can change. In 2020 increased voter turnout stopped Trump getting a second term and may still help the Democrats narrowly win a senate majority if Georgia goes their way. Hope can be dangerous if it gives people the false idea that a broken system is ok. But in understanding that there is a fundamental problem, there is then the opportunity for real change, something which would be cause for some cautious optimism. At the very least, the more people understand the problem, the greater the chance of things improving.