US elections: What surprises will November bring?
Saeed Okasha, , Thursday 29 Oct 2020
Could the democratic system in the US be the biggest loser after Americans go to the polls on Tuesday


In just a few days, the results of the US presidential and congressional elections will be revealed. The gap betweenTrump and Biden in opinion polls is not as big as it was when Trump was running against Hillary Clinton. Opinion pollsin 2016 predicted that Clinton would win, and today they predict Biden will win. It would be a surpriseif opinion polls were not mistaken. Biden’s victory would be a surprise all by itself. But if Trump comes out on top thiswould deal a blow to the industry of polling in the future. No one would be surprised with this result because it hashappened in the past.

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Biden made mistakes in recent days during this critical time that could cost him the race if voters focus on hisstatements about his plan for protecting the environment, redistributing taxes, anti-oil industry statements andpromises to heavily invest in renewable energy. These statements threaten the oil mining and trade industry, whichmakes the oil barons and workers oppose Biden and campaign against him.

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In her bookWhat Happened, Clintonacknowledged that she made a mistake when she said during her campaign that she intends to shut down manycoal mines across the US to protect the environment, and ignored the fact that many US towns rely on this industry.Thus, placating environmentalists at the expense of coal mine owners and workers did not work out in her favour.

It appears that Biden did not learn from Clinton’s mistakes, which she admitted to herself. Meanwhile, there is concernamong many circles in the US that redistributing taxes could impact both citizens as well as business and financialentrepreneurs. Biden looked bored or tense, or both, during the second debate with Trump, and glanced at his watch.Some remembered this also happened during the 1992 elections between George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton when theformer did the same thing as Biden. It is said that this gesture impacted Bush’s chances because he appearedimpatient and unable to engage in debate.

Will voters feel the same way this time around, especially as Biden’s old age and health condition could be thecause? Or will it play out differently? In all circumstances, no one can deny that Biden’s health andinability to concentrate for long periods of time remains a factor against Biden,demonstrated during the second debate.

Two issues remain that could make the result a surprise. First, predictions that voters will choose the same party for boththe presidency and Congress. This is rare in US politics, since power is usually divided between the two majorparties to prevent a concentration in the hands of one party. What would be the impact of sole Republican or Democratic control of power in all branches?

In general, there are real concerns that this could happen due to sharp divisions in US society, which have deepenedand widened during Trump’s tenure. Excluding Republicans or Democrats from sharing power could intersect withTrump’s threat that he cannot guarantee that his supporters will remain calm if he loses. This will put US democracyon the line.

Strangely, Biden has seriously discussed what would happen if Trump refuses to leave the White House ifhe loses, and even the possibility of a coup by Trump.Newsweekreported that Biden said: “He’s the only presidentthat I know that six of his generals who worked directly for him said he’s unfit to be president and commander-in-chief,”said Biden.

“So, I’m not worried about any coup here.”
Biden’s statements are similar to those of leaders in despotic or fragile states when there is a power struggle: Who willthe army support? The answer to that question decides who will come to power. Biden tried to walk back on hisstatement, saying: “You know, I’m not really saying there’s going to be a coup, but let’s think about everything that’sbeen said.”

Biden’s denial of a possible coup does not erase his unfortunate reference to six “generals” who served under Trump.Biden insulted the US political system because he inferred that military leaders, not democracy, wouldprevent a military coup. It is as if he is saying that the US army and military institution will not allow Trump to carry outa coup, even if he wanted.

What remains of the US’s bright image of democracy if a nominee such as Bidenparticipates in a seemingly serious conversation about what if the US reaches a point when the transfer of power isnot peaceful? And that the army, not the democratic system itself, is the guarantor of the democratic process.

The question to Biden is whether he is confident matters will proceed on course if Trump loses and refuses to acceptdefeat, even if he leaves the White House but continues to tell his supporters the electronic voting conspiracy andoverreaction to the Covid-19 outbreak caused his downfall.

Trump’s loss of the election will not end divisions that have spread in US society, and perhaps could deepen themfurther. Just as Trump’s supporters will be angry at his loss, Democratic supporters did not accept Trump’s victory in2016 and battled to prevent him from taking the oath. They also encouraged protests to continue across the US,objecting to his victory.

While action against Trump among Democratic supporters remained within the law, it signalleda fracture in the credibility of the political and electoral system because supporters of the defeated candidate refusedto accept the results of the elections.

The fissure is growing bigger every day and threatens the peaceful transfer ofpower, a key criteria for democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly

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