Interpreting the U.S. Election Results: Preliminary Observations

9 Nov

The victory by the Biden/Harris ticket in the 2020 American National Elections are basically good news for the country and the world, although not as good as expected (by pollsters or enthusiasts) or nearly as decisive as desirable given the dreadfully regressive behavior of Trump and the Republican Party over the past four years. And there is some bad news, as well, lurking just beneath the surface. Not only the strength of Trumpism in America, but the likely drift toward the center-right of the Biden presidency

Why Good News?

Above all, Trump’s reelection would have meant a tighter embrace of an American version of fascisim with constitutionalism, the rule of law, and human rights repudiated, and an autocratic/plutocratic style of leadership consolidated around an ideology of chauvinistic or nativist nationalism. 

The vote was not as one-sided as anti-fascists might have hoped, but the Biden ticket did prevail in the popular vote by an almost 5 million margin, and won the electoral college by a comfortable margin. This achievement is even greater than the statistical results if account is taken of the various Republican voter suppression efforts.

In policy terms, the result seems clearly beneficial with respect to the short-term domestic agenda. The CORONA pandemic is likely to be immediately handled in accord with guidelines by health specialists rather than by the macho whims of the Trump White House, which means that the virus is likely to be brought under control as rapidly and humanely as possible, assuming that the inauguration of Biden occurs on January 20th. Beyond this, presuming some Congressional flexibility, a stimulus package beneficial to the poor and unemployed, as well as to small businesses is likely to be quickly forthcoming. Such policies should pave the way to a broader, more sustainable and fairer economic recovery, although the second wave COVID spike in Europe warrants caution as to what the future will bring.

Looking beyond these immediate challenges, it would seem reasonable to expect improvements in health care, public education, judicial appointments, racial and gender equality from the Biden presidency, with a realistic prospect of progress toward realizing such goals, especially if the two Georgia runoff elections on January 5th go the Democratic Party way, which seems possible, but not yet probable.

Internationally, the Biden victory will be greeted by world leaders around the world with a huge sigh of relief. It will have, additionally, some positive impacts on global problem-solving, giving rise overall to a more cooperative atmosphere. A revived posture of U.S. global activism is certain to be welcomed at first raising hopes of crafting  compromise solutions to common problems. It seems also like to produce some increased appreciation of the role of the United Nations and international law, highlighted by reactivating membership in and refunding of the WHO. This kind of participation by the United States is likely to a partial renewal of the global leadership role that the U.S. played in the decades after the end of World War II, although in a more muted manner, due to preoccupations with domestic challenges, and in a spirit more related to functional concerns, above all, climate change and health, than to ideologically adversary geopolitical relations.

Now, the Bad News

While the referendum on Trump as leader and fascism as ideology were formally repudiated, the threats posed remain existentially viral, likely to become entrenched in some kind of organizational Trumpist format that will stalk the future of governance and quality of political life in the United States during the years ahead. It is chastening to acknowledge that if the pandemic had not struck the country so hard or Trump had handled it more prudently, he likely would have been reelected. The stock market would have attained a record high, while unemployment would have remained at record lows. As it was, as Republicans gleefully point out, their party won the 2020 elections except for the presidency—so far holding their Senate majority, even picking up several seats in the House of Representatives, gaining in Federal contexts, meaning greater influence among the legislatures and leadership in the 50 states. I can only imagine the dire morning after had there been no health crisis, no economic downturn, and no crazy leader in the White House!

Less obvious, but no less serious, the Biden victory is also a victory for the American deep state, which has presided over the implementation of an evolving bipartisan consensus that has shaped American foreign policy ever since the wartime unity governments of 1941-1945. This foreign policy consensus can be identified with four overlapping dimensions: (1) a global military security system consisting of hundreds of overseas military bases, all-oceans naval presences, operational intelligence capabilities in every strategically important country in the world, and a hegemonic control of nuclear weaponry; (2) a string of formal and informal alliances and special relationships that connect U.S. diplomacy and geopolitical muscle with strategic priorities such as the defense of Europe, Taiwan, and Israel; (3) a shifting continuing need to identify sufficient global security threats and interest to satisfy private sector arms sales interests and to ensure Congressional support for high defense budgets; the promotion of such goals tend to magnify security threats and induce geopolitical confrontations; (4) a support structure for a market-driven world economy premised on ‘Neoliberal Globalization,’ premised on facilitating transnational capital investments and beneficial trading frameworks, and backed up by international economic institutions (World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organization), and supplemented as necessary by various hostile responses by the U.S. Government in reaction to displays of foreign economic nationalism, including reliance on sanctions, covert interventions, and coercive diplomacy.

It is notable that the bureaucratic managers of the deep state, retirees from the CIA and Pentagon, were not comfortable with the Trump presidency because its leadership lacked a disciplined adherence to these four dimensions of the deep state consensus that had managed the transitions from World War II to the Cold War, from the Cold War to the War of Terror, and hopes perhaps for a new transition that generates tensions with Russia and/or China. It is not that Trump defied the consensus at the level of policy, but that he led with an unsteady hand less responsive to the nuances of geopolitical management of an increasingly complex global setting. With Biden the deep state has a reliable veteran adherent of the deep state consensus, someone who can be trusted to follow its signals as to policy initiatives, especially in the domains of foreign economic and security policy. In the present setting, Biden has almost total freedom to opt for the center-right on foreign policy as the political mood is currently dominated by how he delivers on the home front.

Finally, on the domestic scene, there is now a probable surfacing of post-Trump strife among the Democratic winners in the recent elections. The issue is one of policy influence as reflected by high profile appointments, policy priorities, and presidential tone. Will the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that preferred Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden as the anti-Trump candidate be given its due or will it be boxed in by the center-right leadership that blames the center-left for its setbacks in the 2020 elections? These self-styled Democratic moderates insist that progressive advocacy of the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, debt forgiveness for student loans were ‘socialist’ or hard left proposals that drove many Independents to vote Republican except for Biden/Harris. It seems doubtful that ‘the center will hold’ as Democrats on the left and right vie for influence, and it is quite possible that The Squad will go it alone, championing movement politics, while almost giving up on the two-party approach to American politics. We already finding the two wings each claiming credit for the Biden victory. The center-right contending that only a candidate of Biden’s conservative record could have won, and all other Democrat alternatives would have gone down to defeat. The center-left counters with the claim that without the progressive ground game and mobilization of voter turnout among minorities and youth, Biden/Harris would have been beaten by Trump/Pence.

Leading Where?

Too many uncertainties exist to support any confident assessment as to how these clashing tendencies will play out. What seems clear is that there were two outcomes of the American elections: Trump was beaten, but Trumpism was not, garnering the support under the most unfavorable circumstances of over 70 million voters and a heightened sense of militancy under circumstances of higher political stakess. Will Trumpists, and the Republican leadership, interpret the election as a defeat because Trump lost or as a mandate because Republican conservative policy positions despite the adverse presidential tide made gains at the Congressional and federal levels of government. 

One unknowable issue is whether Trumpism can flourish without Trump in the White House, and closely related, whether Trump after returning to private life will seek to lead the movement he inspired or resume his life as freewheeling business magnate.

Another area of uncertainty is whether the deep state will opt for a geopolitical confrontation with China or will be content to promote economic growth and political stability at least for an interim period during which the U.S. recovers its geopolitical composure. It seems safe to assume that Biden will govern in light of a new articulation of a deep state consensus responsive to its reading of the global scene, but how that will be weighted is far from clear at this time. 

Biden’s clarion call has been to bring civility, if not a spirit of unity, back to the ebb and flow of American politics. This is an understandable response to the slash and burn presidency of Trump, but if it persists, it could lead to some discrediting compromises, with respect to stimulus, health care, immigration, unlikely to appease Trumpists or even non-Trump Republicans, and foster an image of the Biden presidency as out of touch with the harsh realities of American politics in their present configuration. Obama made this mistake, and was outmaneuvered by Republicans who took all they could get without giving away anything in return. It will be important to watch closely Biden’s attempts to induce a more cooperative atmosphere and, especially, how he handles a non-responsive Republican Senate. Indications remain strong that the last thing Trump-oriented Republicans want is compromise. Forgetting that it takes two to tango could quickly alter the welcome image of Biden the unifier into that of Biden the dangerous fool who fails to understand the ethics and politics of polarization. Unless a presently unseen and almost unimaginable will emerges on the political right to seek some level of reconciliation with the Democratic establishment, wasting energy on finding common ground is like looking for sunlight deep inside a cave.    

15 Responses to “Interpreting the U.S. Election Results: Preliminary Observations”

  1. Charlie Kaften November 9, 2020 at 5:38 am #

    Thank you (as always) for your insightful, on-target analysis of what the Biden victory means, particularly in terms of foreign policy. It is very likely that there will be plenty of women and some of color in his “defense” team, like Michele Flournoy, Susan Rice and Tammie Duckworth. All war hawks, all ready to continue the endless wars, all beholden to Saudi Arabia and Israel, all committed to continue Cold War II against Russia and China. It is almost hard to imagine a day when a US President will actually stand up to the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex and turn off the spigot. Many more billions will be piling in to the corporate vultures. Eisenhower’s warning still remains unanswered.

    • Richard Falk November 10, 2020 at 2:32 am #

      I fear your pessimistic assessment will be vindicated. The countervailing forces
      seem too weak, too focused on the domestic agenda, and oblivious to Biden’s comfort
      zone in foreign policy coinciding with the bipartisan consensus of the militarized corporatized deep state.

  2. Ray Joseph Cormier November 9, 2020 at 7:06 am #

    Thank you once again, Richard, for such astute analysis and insights of the possibilities in the Larger World facing us.

    I’ve been watching US Politics since Eisenhower, and especially more so since reaching a high position of visibility at the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City chronicled by The Kansas City Times.

    The 2016 Election was the 1st one, watching from CanaDa, when I saw the only choices offered the American People was BAD or WORSE.
    Sadly, I saw the 2020 Election offered the same choices.

    Listening to Biden speak Saturday, I am cautiously optimistic he MAY, just MAY, try to not Judge only for hire or profit, but for Justice and Truth?
    It’s a positive, if VP-Elect Harris follows through on her stated intention, she and Biden will restore the funding to Palestinians, Trump, in service to Israel, cut off, to force them through even more Economic hardship, to accept Kushner’s Peace Deal.

    My comment in The Washington Post Yesterday on Biden’s Policy Option/Possibilities on China.

    As has happened with all Imperial-Hegemonic Superpower Nations in Human History, the Signs are clear, the Sun is setting on the American Empire, as the Sun set on the British Empire before it. It will be the shortest Empire of them all in Human History.

    That unfolding Reality is as terrifying to US Power, like it must appear to Trump, after the American People told him, “You’re Fired!”
    Such an Irony, and Poetic sense of Justice!

    China didn’t come to the US 30 years ago, and steal American jobs. US Capitalists went to China, where Labour costs were so much less, and abandoned US Workers who got those US Corporation started.

    China didn’t steal US Technology. With a Market of 1,500,000,000 People, as is China’s Sovereign Right, required Foreign Companies to have a Chinese Partner Company, or don’t come to China.

    The problem for America, is the Chinese learned to play the Capitalist game better than America with the Made in China, hybrid State Capitalism-Communism system. The Chinese System has lifted over 800,000,000 of it’s People out of Poverty in the last 30 years.
    Poverty, Homelessness and Sickness is on the rise in the HQ of Capitalism.

    The US, as Leader of the World, has ruled by Economic Sanction and Military threat, being the one and only Nation to use Nukes to let the World know who’s the New Boss at the End of WWII.
    Just the size of the US Defence Budget at $735,000,000,000 this year alone is evidence of that, being bigger than that of Russia, Iran, China, North Korea and several other Nations combined.

    The US Military-Industrial Complex with all it’s multiple tentacles in the US Economy, and being totally addicted to Taxpayer Dollars to survive, needs a BIGGER FIX every Year, and the Politicians they support, gives the increase year after year.

    Dr. King said, “A Nation that continues year after year to spend more money on War than on programs of Social uplift is approaching Spiritual Death.”

    Most Christian America is Blind and Oblivious to this one line, but a most important one in their Bibles. They support to Status Quo of the Pyramid System we have over us, with the Billionaires at the pinnacle getting richer, and the Masses of poor at the bottom getting poorer.
    ‘Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.
    We know what happens to all Pyramid systems, when the pretense of trickle down Economics is inverse to the Reality of the flood of cash flowing up to the Rich Minority at the Top.

    Reading this article moved me to revisit for the 1st Time this re-post of something Chris Hedges wrote.I changed his title to this:

    https://rayjc.com/2012/09/10/quo-vadis/

    • Richard Falk November 10, 2020 at 2:29 am #

      Thanks, Ray, for this wise and perceptive essay worthy of widespread reflection
      and endorsement, including the precariousness of all pyramids, whether of
      mythic, material, or ideational character.

  3. Paul Wapner November 9, 2020 at 7:24 am #

    Strange: during the last four years, I was grateful for the deep state.

    I don’t disagree with your analysis but am too busy exhaling at the moment. While the election was not a repudiation of Trumpism—disappointingly far from it—it has awakened many of us to the importance of presidential personality. Elections do matter. It feels good to welcome a sense of empathetic humanity—if even the veneer of it—back into our collective lives. In itself such humanity will not bridge the polarized divide or ensure an ability to address the severe challenges ahead. But, it offers a modicum of trust and even hope after years of corrosive, persistent, responsible cynicism.

    In short, I’m digging the moment—however short lived it may be. Hope is not a fleeting emotion. It has been lurking under the surface these last dark years. It feels good to touch into it yet again.

    Thanks for holding the flame of conscience these last years, Richard. Your blogs have offered steady insight amidst the dizzying darkness.

    • Richard Falk November 10, 2020 at 2:24 am #

      I am so glad that we all had this chance to dig the moment, and hope that
      hope will flourish as long as possible. But hope in the present atmosphere
      to remain authentic must not become ‘false hope.’ I worry even now about Biden’s
      repeated mantra that we are all Americans, governing as much for the benefit of those
      who voted against me as those who voted for me. This kind of piety is okay as rhetoric
      but if taken too seriously it leads to dangerous miscalculations that erode his support
      without elicit compromises from his adveraries. The Trumpists among us are not seeking
      compromise but dominion, and to not understand this is to invite frustration and failure.

      Maybe I am wrong, even hopefully I am wrong, but I would commend awaiting evidence before
      crossing such a raging river of radical discontent. Perhaps, my view from Turkey is dimmed
      by distance. Don’t hesitate to prescribe optic surgery!

      • Ray Joseph Cormier November 10, 2020 at 8:15 am #

        The Apostle Paul’s record on Faith, Hope, and Love.

        Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
        And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Love, I am nothing.
        And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Love, it profits me nothing.

        Love suffers long, and is kind; Love envies not; charity vaunts not itself, is not puffed up,
        Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;
        Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the Truth;
        Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

        Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
        For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
        But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

        When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
        For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

        And now abides Faith, Hope, Lharity, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.

      • Ray Joseph Cormier November 10, 2020 at 8:16 am #

        And now abides Faith, Hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.

  4. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka November 9, 2020 at 8:00 am #

    Dear Richard,

    So, the American people gave you the best possible gift for the upcoming big nine-zero. Thank you for the gift of perspective you’ve given all of us, in the form of this essay. I’ve read nothing remotely as lucid, though I confess to remaining in a romantic haze about the US election; a Cloud 9 on which I shall determinedly dwell at least while the Covid 19 lasts. May I make a suggestion? The democratic Left, founded by Bernie and led today by AOC and The Squad, would be greatly helped, I believe, by a targeted perspectival intervention by you in the form of an article in a newspaper or a ‘Global Justice’ post such as this. The progressive and left wing of the US Democratic Party is probably the most radiant phenomenon in world politics today and they need the guidance of your wisdom and experience.

    • Richard Falk November 9, 2020 at 11:04 pm #

      Dear Dayan:

      As always, grateful for your support. I shared the joy of contemplating a post-Trump
      world, but I fear the disruptive transition period of the weeks ahead, which may show
      the world why ‘the gun culture’ of America remains part of the challenge of its commitment
      to global militarism. Disarming America may be as problematic as demilitarizing Western
      geopolitics. The COVID-19 response will go smoothly assuming that the positive news about
      the vaccine holds up, but ‘then what?’ I fear Biden will persist in seeking Republican
      cooperation when the evidence suggests that the post-Trump realties in Washington will be
      as destructive as were the pre-Trump anti-Obama efforts of McConnell, inc.. The Republicans
      believe they won an electoral mandate for their platform and values despite losing the presidency,
      and even there, refuse to respect the outcome.

      Hoping for the best, fearing the worst. Two contexts: Trump antics during the ‘lame duck’ interval
      ending on Jan. 20th; Biden’s agenda priorities and approach, starting with whether health imperatives
      require a lockdown approach if the vaccine is not widely available by February.

      Warm greetings.

  5. A Giannantonio November 9, 2020 at 8:04 am #

    excellent analysis of the post-election situation

  6. myintzan November 9, 2020 at 11:04 am #

    Thanks Richard for your (as usual indeed as always) perceptive comments. As a non-American in my recent posts on Facebook I have consistently called him ‘despicably evil’ and I refused to call him ‘man’ in later posts.

    (1) So far I have refrained from using the word ‘Fascists’ or Fascism but I had said to some friends that especially IF Trump had won the presidency and even now somehow he may STILL be able to cling to the Presidency based on the following unlikely scenarios) the United States (and not only the despicable, evil man presidency) would be almost ‘on the Road to Fascism.

    (2) I had stated the evil despicable would be able to cling to the Presidency. Since I am a ‘worrier’ and a pessimist the following scenarios may seem far fetched but they cannot I think be entirely dismissed

    (a) Cheating by the Courts (most of the Federal circuit judges being appointed by the despicable, evil and the Supreme Court if it reaches there, AND IF it reaches there as surely as if one hits the ground with one’s hand it would hit it as the Burmese saying goes at a minimum Kavanaugh, Alito, Barrett and Thomas WILL SIDE WIth the despicable evil whatever the legal issues are

    (b) Even if the courts and Supreme Court does not have the opportunity to cheat son of despicable evil (almost as bad as ‘Son of Sam’) has urged the state legislatures to choose their own electors which are favorable to the despicable, evil, I do not know enough of US Constitutional law whether this can be done or not so I request your comment on the legal position. The legal position may say this is impossible but the political (almost Fascist like actions) may prevail.

    (c) Even if these scenarios do not occur the fact that on or about 5 January 2021 the Senate has to confirm the elector list. I recall that in early January 2002 Vice President Al Gore as President of the Senate consistently denied a few democrats position or objection not to recognise so to speakl. But Gore is an incomparably decent person in contrast to the despicable evil and his henchmen Vice President Pence President of the Senate and Mitch McConnell who as of 5 January 2021 would still be Senate majority hands. The equally despicable evil Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz (at least from what I read in Facebook posts) have already indicated in so many words not to accept the election results and WHAT IF they prevented the electoral votes from being counted

    Richard Nixon WAS a decent man compared to this despicable evil He conceded the 1960 election to John F Kennedy when he was losing by only around 115000 votes and there was some evidence that in Cook County where cheating of ballots took place where in 2020 no substance in the despicable evil claims and notwithstanding the possiblity cheating Nixon not only conceded within hours,. Moreover in 2016 Hillary Clinton did not challenge the count when he lost Michigan by only about 11000 votes. Compared to this despicable evil forget Al Gore, Hilllary Clinton, John McCain Nixon WAS 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 times and more decent person compared to this despicable evil.

    Please feel free to comments on my anxiousness and concerns regarding the above since forget ‘ a week, 42 days to the scheduled Biden inauguration is indeed a very long one.

  7. Beau Oolayforos November 9, 2020 at 4:01 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    When you say that “In the present setting, Biden has almost total freedom to opt for the center-right on foreign policy…”…I’m hoping that this also means that he is free to go elsewhere.

    He was rational in saying that he would “follow the science” on the pandemic. I wish he would also follow the advice of experts on human rights, international law (he needs at least a lunch with you), climate policy, disarmament, and the rest. Time to fire some of those deep-state holdovers.

    • Richard Falk November 9, 2020 at 9:50 pm #

      I wish, but his past 47 years in government, identity him as a reliable
      exponent of the deep state policy outlook. Is he ‘young’ enough to learn
      new ways? We’ll see. But the unity message worries me as it leads to an
      unconscious embrace of the ‘bipartisan consensus,’ which Trump appeared
      to rupture (although actually crudely followed).

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