Written by Toby Blewett
After four long, grueling days of counting, Joe Biden has been confirmed the winner of the 2020 US presidential election. The mood amongst Democrats is jubilant; Biden looks set to break the 300 mark, he has unseated a sitting president for the first time in over 25 years, and he has won the trust of states long thought to be red safe-havens. Trump is yet to concede and will challenge the results to his last breath, but his path back to power now is non-existent.
Around the world and across the country, the exiles, the tired and tempest-tost, those trodden on for four long years by shameless partisan humiliation, now finally, breathe free. But the celebrations must be short, and the sobering must come swiftly.
The Democrats entered this election challenging the most divisive president to date since 1945. Whose tangible successes are few and far between; and whose shortcomings are too extensive to list. In the past 12 months alone, Trump has been impeached, refused to condemn white supremacy, and has willfully allowed Covid-19 to devastate both the US economy and its population, leaving nearly 250,000 people dead.
2020 presented the Democrats with the opportunity to bury the GOP and its ideology for good. To crush their opponents so overwhelmingly that the party would be forced to either abandon the elitist, minority interests it has come to serve, or face total political extinction.
Instead, Trump came within a whisker of winning re-election. Biden, long thought to be due an electoral landslide, has snatched victory with the whites of his fingernails. Presently, barring an exceptional result in the upcoming Georgia senate races, faces the prospect of entering the White House with neither a senate majority, nor a strong backing in the House of Representatives. Trump may have lost this election, but Biden has not really won.
None of this should be surprising. Joe Biden is an exceptionally accomplished American hero, but he is a man of the past. Obliterated in the calamitous Iowa caucus, Biden initially looked set to drop out before the real race had even started. Compared to his contemporaries, Biden looked old, tired and low on ideas. For all his favorable media treatment and Obama-era goodwill, Biden had virtually no ground-game.
A ruthless, last minute intervention by the DNC to create a direct run-off between him and Bernie Sanders eventually granted him the nomination, but it was clear enough that Biden was no one’s first choice.
Stuttering and stumbling his way through a mercifully short run of public appearances, and clutching a White-House agenda with all of the color and enthusiasm of wet cardboard, Biden’s total absence of vision and energy once again made it easy for the GOP to project a much louder, bolder message.
Whilst Biden was busy rubbing shoulders with Wall Street Billionaires, Republicans busied themselves surrounding Trump with the fervent imagery of the good ol’ days; buildin’ up the forces, securin’ the border n’ givin’ the commie-lovin’ liberals a taste of merican’ might.
For the second time in a decade, the Democrats found themselves riding headlong into battle against nationalist populism, armed only with complementary biros – courtesy of America’s favorite investment banks, and free ‘Love Wins’ stickers.
Had the Coronavirus, and it’s ensuing economic and humanitarian toll never happened, had Trump somehow found the strength to, just for a moment, give the impression that he didn’t whole-heartedly embrace racism, or had he managed to restrain himself from denouncing military servicemen as ‘suckers’ or evangelicals as ‘losers’, Trump would be sat at the presidential desk for the next four years.
Far from a denunciation of Trump’s nativist, insular and degenerative politics, this result reflects merely disapproval of Trump’s behavior. Trump’s personal obnoxiousness and the current global uncertainty combined to foster just enough of a sense of fatigue that voters were willing to lend the Democrats their vote. Biden clawed his way over the line; a clumsy, fumbled ball into the back of the net in injury time.
Whatever the result, Republicans perceive Trump as an overwhelming success. Trump delivered four years of the most hardline conservative politics witnessed in over 7o years. No president in living memory has done so much to shore up the interests of the elite and to entrench systemic Republican advantage within Americas’ democratic system. Against all the odds, Trump took on the political establishment, and nearly won a full eight years. Whoever runs in 2024, will unquestionably do so only with his approval.
The Democrats on the other hand, must now re-build a broken, divided country. The jeers of their opponents louder, and the mood of the public less forgiving than ever, there can be no room for malarkey. However much some may want it, a return to ‘normal’ is not on the cards.
‘Normal’ is what delivered Trump to begin with; the casual neglect of working Americans – the ever-expanding reach of American interests, coupled with its ever collapsing interior. A return to normal will go hand in hand with a return of Trumpism to the White House in four to eight years’ time. Instead, Democrats must learn to expand their appeal beyond white collar executives in Darien and Short Hills, and instead to the other 99% of the electorate. There is a reason why Florida voted overwhelmingly to enforce a mandatory $15 wage statewide, and yet still stayed red; Americans, like everyone else, are tired of the normal.
To his credit, Biden is not without hope.
His sobered maturity and calming demeanor have been missed all around, and while his policy plan certainly leaves a lot to be desired, it is unquestionably more substantial than that offered by Clinton four years ago. Biden has expressed a recognition of the desire for change felt by the bulk of Americans, and in places, has signaled a willingness to adopt a somewhat more ambitious stance than originally expected.
But the gravity of the situation cannot be ignored. Trump is out of the white house, but he remains deeply rooted in American politics, his ideology still as strong as ever. One term of Trumpism has left America fractured—it does not bear thinking what another would do.
Toby Blewett is a final year student of International Relations with particular interest in environmental politics, human rights, migration and the politics of the developing world. He is also the secretary of University of Leicester Plan-it Change society.