As I write this, the outcome of the US election is tilting towards a win for the Democrats, with 264 Electoral College votes for Joe Biden and 214 for Donald Trump – 270 such votes are needed to win. The polls which concluded that Joe Biden was going to sweep aside Trump and score a triumphant and conclusive victory have been proved wrong – as they proved wrong in 2016 when they predicted Hillary Clinton would get into the White House. The way the US state Ohio goes is normally the touchstone; since 1944, Ohio has voted for the winner in every presidential election but that of 1960 in the Nixon versus J.F. Kennedy contest. But this time Ohio, which Trump has won, appears to have called it wrong.
Trumpism will live on
Trumpism is a much bigger and deeper phenomenon than anyone liked to credit. The “venal cretin” (as the New Republic dubbed President Trump) has a tremendous popularity in the heartlands of the US despite all his dubious personal attributes. His well-documented notorious behaviour towards women (does anyone now remember Stormy Daniels?), his low payment of taxes, his graceless behaviour and obvious lack of empathy, his impeachment – the list of his alleged immoral and possibly illegal activities has obviously unaffected his popularity among millions of US voters. The mainstream mass media – which has opposed him long before he publicly humiliated Hillary Clinton – has clearly failed to represent this underswell of opinion. A survey by the Pew Research Centre in August this year found that 38% of Americans approved of Trump’s performance and that 59% disapproved. It said “an average of 87% of Republicans have approved of Trump’s handling of the job, compared with an average of just 6% of Democrats. This 81-percentage-point gap is far larger than the partisan division in average ratings for Obama (67 points) and Bush (58 points) during their presidencies”. But for all his personal peccadilloes, Trump has touched something in millions of American people. And contrariwise millions have voted for Biden but perhaps not positively but out of loathing for Trumpism.
Let the shouting commence
President Trump said in the early hours of Wednesday that he had beaten Joe Biden – a remarkably premature announcement given that millions of postal ballots had yet to be counted – and added: “We are going to the United States Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. It’s a very sad moment. And we will win this, and as far as I am concerned we already have”.
The final outcome of the election will now be determined in the courts, possibly in the Supreme Court. Back in 2000, the Supreme Court case Bush vs. Gore intervened in that presidential election and decided on a technicality – the infamous “hanging chads” – and assisted George Bush to become the winner. Does the court’s highly controversial ruling in that case have application in the Trump versus Biden election? There will be hundreds of lawyers rubbing their hands at the prospect of a drawn-out legal wrangle over this. And with the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court’s bench, Trump knows he can rely on an in-built conservative majority in the court.
Democrat voters will in any case be deeply disappointed that they have failed to wrest control of the US Senate. This means that even if Biden breaks through the wall of opposition he currently faces he will be unable to pass much of his promised legislation. Even if Trump loses, the Republican Party is thus a winner in one sense. It can block all the “liberal” and high-spending policies that Biden espouses.
Lame duck presidency
No-one wants to see a continuation of the kind of violence that has plagued parts of the US during the past 12 months. Yet serious commentators are now pondering if the US is ungovernable. It is very difficult to imagine American streets being crowded with hordes of people showing their happiness at whatever happens to resolve this election.
All that this election has firmly established is what we have long sensed – that America is a deeply divided nation, divided along racial, ideological, economic and perhaps even moral lines. However this ends, it will dissatisfy millions, and the potential for mayhem is more nakedly present than perhaps at any time since 1861. This paralysis is not just a threat to democracy; it is also a threat to the US dollar’s world dominance as the universal reserve currency. In these conditions, gold has a propensity to thrive, as American society’s fissures prove resistant to healing.