The response to the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has been part euphoria, part relief that Donald Trump has been banished from the White House but while there is great reason for Biden supporters to celebrate, there has also been the sobering realisation that without a Senate majority his reform agenda may be stymied.
Still, there are many things Biden can do without a Senate majority.
He can immediately realign American foreign policy and re-establish good relationships with America’s traditional allies, many of whom have already indicated their relief/delight at his election. He can re-shape the Executive branch, restoring credibility to the Departments of Justice and State though his Cabinet appointments. (If a Republican dominated Senate refuses to confirm these, Trump’s precedent of simply appointing ‘Acting Secretaries’, gives him a way to bypass the Senate approval process). Through executive orders President Biden can have the US rejoin the Paris Accords and the WHO; restore protections to the young, undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers; block drilling for oil and gas on federal lands; scrap Trump’s Muslim travel ban; establish a task force to reunite the over 660 children separated from their parents at the US southern border; and so much more.
But there is one pretty big thing Biden has promised that even if he wins a Senate majority via the runoff in Georgia on January 5 he cannot achieve: uniting the very disunited state of America.
‘I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify,” he said in his victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware on November 7. “Who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States. And who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people…Let us be the nation that we know we can be. A nation united, a nation strengthened, a nation healed.’
But how can Americans unify, much less ‘heal’, without a common fact-based reality and a common belief in democracy?
Trump’s voting bloc is a coalition of, among others, the traditional Republican base of tax-cut rent seekers and evangelical pro-lifers, along with QAnon conspiracy theory exotics and toxic white nationalists. These groups variously believe that it’s their right to run up the national debt to historic proportions to line their own pockets; that women will abort their babies at birth (seriously); that Donald Trump has been sent by God to save us all from a Democratic pedophile ring that, inter alia, eats children; that the white race is supreme so that the slogans and the ideology of Nazism should be resurrected to stem the encroaching power of Jews, Blacks, Muslims and women.
Not only is there a Grand Canyon-sized gulf between these views and those of the Democratic party, it’s impossible to unify with a group that is so committed to the disenfranchisement of millions of voters.
Trump is binning democracy by prematurely and incorrectly claiming victory; by seeking to delegitimise mail-in votes (which skew Democratic); by undermining the integrity of the electoral system through frivolous legal challenges over alleged voter fraud; and by quite literally calling for the counting of legally cast votes to be stopped, thereby disenfranchising millions of Americans.
Already an untold number of Americans have been disenfranchised through the undermining of the US Postal Service, with thousands of ballots, some in the battleground states of Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, arriving just yesterday, too late to be counted.
But the thing is, Trump is not acting alone. It has become clear the prosecution of these tactics is widely supported by senior Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who defends Trump’s right to pursue legal remedies.
The painful truth of this election is that it has clarified that one side of politics is simply not committed to democracy. America’s political institutions perhaps have never been committed to democracy but this election has forced us to confront this truth for the first time. America can no longer escape it. The United States has never allowed true universal suffrage. Republicans have always practised blatant voter suppression. But by refusing to accept Biden’s clear win in the polls—currently heading towards a surplus of 5 million in the popular vote—Trump and his party are taking this to a whole new level.
And this inescapable fact is perhaps going to determine the future of American politics.
However much Biden might be able to accomplish, Trump (when he is eventually pried loose from the White House) will remain a powerful force. He might revenge run again in 2024, or become kingmaker for other Republicans. Trump grew his voting base by over 8.5 million votes. While that is less than the 10.5 million Biden grew from Hillary Clinton’s popular vote majority in 2016, Trumpism represents a powerful voting bloc. Republicans are terrified of it. Already former moderates like Nikki Haley (ex Ambassador to the UN), and Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham are turning toward right-wing populism in their political posturing.
Trumpism might outlive Trump.