Nathan Yang looks back on a tumultuous 2020 US Election in the wake of a global pandemic. With Joe Biden winning his 3rd attempt at running for US President against rival President Donald Trump, the legitimacy of the US political system on a domestic and international stage is questioned. What can we learn from this election in the competitors’ campaigns, debates and discourses, and agendas for the future of the United States of America?
First thing’s first, congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and running mate Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for winning the 2020 US Election.
Congratulations to Kamala Harris for being elected the first Female Vice-President, the first Black Vice-President, and the first South Asian Vice-President of the United States.
This year has proved its worth at being amongst the most difficult on record; there have been widespread protests against brutality and prejudice in the Black Lives Matter movements, a global pandemic caused by the outbreak of Covid-19, and environmental absurdities displaying the wrath of mother nature through fires and other extreme climactic events. However, there was one thing that would still continue forward through such global angst: the 2020 US Election. This election saw Democratic candidate Joe Biden go up against President Donald Trump in a race which put to question the legitimacy of democracy and how the US portrayed it on a domestic and international scale. This article will take a look at the race as it played out in the wake of the pandemic, how this less than straight forward election has put to question democratic process, and the reality of a divided nation.
In American politics today, both the Democratic and Republican sides doubt that abiding by loss is the surest path back to power. Yet, the issue presents itself: the election is much more than a choice of who is in charge – it is politics – it is increasingly defined by a fight over what the rules of the “game” should be. The “game” that is being played on the side of both the present Republican Party with Donald Trump at the helm in attempt to retain power and a Democratic Party looking to reset that control, returning more equal processes of democracy, whether or not Joe Biden is at the helm.
‘A party that wins power even as it fails to win over voters will quickly turn against democracy itself.’– Ezra Klein, Vox Founder/Policy Analyst (source)
Also, when looking through an ageing political system using the Electoral College, democrats are watching a political system that is increasingly swayed against them. The Electoral College is a group of electors designated from each state depending on the size of each state’s population. Generally, states award all their electoral college votes to depending on the winner of the popular vote in a state in a first-past-the-post system. It was chosen in 1787 when the US Constitution was being written as a method of better communication for voting from individual states over such large geographical distances. Smaller states favoured the system as it gave them more of a voice than a national popular vote would however, some argued that there is bias towards larger states as states like California with fifty five electoral votes would grant all the votes to a single candidate even if the populous vote was narrowly split.
Yet, the key issue today lies within that split in swing states. The swing states of the 2020 election including Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania have large mixes of voters between the two parties. Republicans in the 2016 election were able to gain those votes from swing states to ultimately outnumber that of democratic votes; a majority of republican votes come from in-person ballots. Republicans can lose voters, but still win power.
However, 2020 saw a change to that pattern. With the increased use and dependence of mail-in ballots as well as extended early voter periods due to the Covid-19 pandemic limiting the infrastructure of in-person voting locations, a record 150+ million Americans voted. According to polls leading up to the election, Democrats were three to four times more likely to vote by mail than Republicans. Therefore, Republican officials in power sought to diminish and disqualify election ballots through the mail. Early on in his campaign, Trump claimed of mass amounts of voter fraud and ensued that he would pursue legal action if he lost the election due to mail-in voting (which he has followed through with). He also threatened to defund the United States Postal Service (USPS) to slow mail-in votes and pursue legal action in states with differently defined policies for reception and count of votes.
Due to the pandemic, states such as Pennsylvania changed policies stating that voters could mail or in-person vote before and up to election day with any mail-in ballots arriving after November 3rd but postmarked on or before then to be valid. However, the counting process for mail in ballots could not take place until after in-person votes had been counted. Meanwhile, other states had policies of counting all votes before, on, and after election day. Its is in states like Pennsylvania where Republicans are attempting to have a slowed USPS deliver mail-in ballots after election day and call those ballots invalid. Today, Republican lawyers have filed lawsuits in several US states in hopes of throwing out ballots and reverse the results in their favour.
This then brings to question the extent that democracy should be upheld. The premise of a democratically chosen president and officials is to have the voice and opinions of the people heard and translated to decisions in government. Therefore, the most significant medium is through voting. If not every ballot of the 150+ million is counted (or attempted to be counted), then is the choice made truly the voice of the American people? Arguably, mail-in voting does have its liabilities to having many more fraudulent ballots, but what other solutions are there? Security problems lay within online voting through personal devices and electronic voter machines have been known to produce errors.
Furthermore, the Trump Administration’s has been attempting to implement measures to combat democracy including adding a citizenship question to the census, with the explicit intention of scaring off Hispanic populations counts giving Republicans a bigger electoral advantage and pushing policies of voter ID laws, voter roll purges, and shutting down polling locations in lower-income communities that would disproportionately disenfranchise low-income minorities. While these measures never took action, the concept of not allowing for certain types of voters to have a certain liberties and the Trump Administration’s intent to do so is enough for the undermining of democratic processes.
This election can also provide lessons in development of political systems around the world. If other countries are looking to the American system of democracy as the image or representation of how democracy operates, the US is likely no longer the set standard that it once was. The Electoral College system is seemingly out of date; it makes for adrenaline pumping, sports-game like action in the news and media however it is not as representative of the population as it once was 244 years ago. The battle between the two-party system is too broad reaching and not indicative enough of the different views of 330 million Americans. Thus, the status quo in political systems not only in the US but everywhere must be challenged.
Looking forward, the Biden presidency will not be a straight forward one. Firstly, Trump is still reluctant to concede the presidency and handover processes may extend with delays due to the Republican lawsuits over fraudulent ballots across the country. Additionally, Trump’s personnel changes throughout the US government may prove hinderances to the shift in executive power. And if these issues pass smoothly, the likely remaining Republican majority US Senate will complicate bureaucratic processes. The “Trump” Republican Party will continue to find methods of slowing Biden’s agendas.
Most importantly, it is critical to acknowledge the fact that President Biden may not be the “executive” leader that US citizens hoped for. Through the democratic primaries, it became clear that Biden was neither the strongest nor the weakest candidate. His agendas for things like climate were among the lowest regarded among the front runners. What President Biden is providing is another chance for democracy as we understand it to live. In the book ‘The Great Democracy,’ author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman argues that democracy is in a time of instability; ‘an era of permanent escalation in which politics spins out of control.’ Democrats are in a fight to “Make America a Democracy Again” – one that gets away from the political system that the current Republican Party is attempting to reform to gain more power. In that, the Republican Party will need to reform itself into a party that is capable to win majorities outright.
‘He can stay, he can go. He can be impeached, or voted out in 2020. But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced him; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalization that drummed his army; nor the racism he amplified and reanimated.’– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district (source)
In review of this agonizingly long election year, one thing is clear: the US is a highly divided nation with a flawed democratic system. On the surface, this election appeared as one of dispute and disagreement, with the Democratic Party and its followers looking to dethrone a seemingly incompetent Republican President and his party; however, this election was a fight for the system of democracy. Both the Democratic and Republican parties fear that if they lose their stance, the other will change the political system in a way that they can never win again. Thus, this election result has reinvigorated the stance of the US as a global example of the complicated nature of the democratic process. Still, after four years of turmoil, manipulation, misinformation, and division, a new president offers fresh promise for democracy, progress and for huge challenges like the climate emergency, Covid-19, inequality, and racial injustice. Also, thank you to Covid-19 for revealing and extenuating this situation. Without it, where would this election be today?