The peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another has been considered as a core principle of the US style of democracy more than 200 years for now. Polling results based on 98 per cent votes counted indicated former Vice President Joe Bided decisively won the election with 79.8 million popular votes (51.1 per cent) with 306 electoral college votes. While Biden's victory was decisive, his opponent incumbent President Donald Trump received 73.8 million popular votes (47.2 per cent) and 232 electoral college votes. It also must be noted that voter turnout for the 2020 election was the highest since 1900 based on the eligible voters who cast ballots.
But the principle of peaceful transfer of power even with clear cut winning numbers has been thrown into uncertainty. President Donald Trump is refusing to accept his electoral defeat. In fact he is actively now engaged in a coup like attempt to nullify the election result alleging election fraud. His main strategy appears to be to maintain the full control of the Republican Party machine to ensure that they will not cooperate with the Biden transition team and keep his base continually stirred up with the claim of a stolen election.
Also, most leading Republicans refuse to acknowledge Biden's victory. Senator Lindsey Graham has urged Trump not to concede and to challenge the election. The secretary of state Mike Pompeo even said ''a smooth transition to a second Trump administration" in response to a question asked on the smooth transition of power to the Biden administration. The Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel declared that Trump was 100 per cent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his options.
Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr has authorised all US attorneys asking them to initiate investigations into vote fraud if that "could potentially impact on the outcome of a federal election". In fact, in this effort he has also benefitted from a change in political mood after exaggerated winning expectations generated by pollsters that Biden would win in a landslide which was found to be inaccurate.
Biden, in fact, won a razor-thin victory. This narrowness of Biden's margin of victory further transpired the aggressiveness of Trump and the Republican Party machine. To add to Biden's worries, the Democrats failed to win the Senate majority and lost seats in the House of Representatives. They also could not flip a single Republican state legislature.
Divisive US presidential election, though rare, is not altogether new. Tom Dunning, Professor of North American History, at the University of Tasmania pointed out that this (2020) election could be compared to one in 1800 and another in 1876 which caused turbulence in the country. In the aftermath of the 1800 election one presidential candidate was left dead, while in 1876 no victory was declared for 116 days after claims of voter fraud. He further opined that in the past divisive elections had caused civil unrest and political malevolence, which had never been resolved in the US.
Meanwhile, many US observers in the US itself also provided very critical insights into the US style of democracy in operation which Noam Chomsky described as plutocracy. It is pointed out that George Washington, the founding father of the nation won first two elections with 100 per cent votes cast. Since then US presidential elections have been quite often, if not always, marked by allegations of electoral irregularities.
Thomas Jefferson needed a deal in the Congress to be elected President in 1800. The 1876 election, 101 per cent in South Carolina voted in the presidential election. A number of US presidents including George W. Bush who lost the popular vote, won in the electoral college, at times through back room dealings. In the US, counting votes properly has nothing to do with who becomes the president. The electoral college is fundamentally a negation of the democratic principle of "one person, one vote" and thwarts the popular vote for president. There are also ways in which even the electoral college can be circumvented if the political establishment does not like the electoral outcome.
Trump also gave it a big go of the long tradition of the great game of voter suppression where eligible voters are denied to exercise their voting right. Since 2008, states across the US have passed measure to make it harder for black people, the elderly, people with disabilities and students to cast their votes. President Trump denied extra funding for the US Postal Service for likely increase in postal ballots due to the pandemic is an example of that at the federal level during the 2020 presidential election. Quite often both sides in elections also deploy methods known as "repeaters" who vote more than once at the same polling station or "floaters" who cast their votes multiple times but at different polling stations.
But it is money that plays the most crucial role in winning an electoral victory in the US and the candidate who mobilises more campaign funds is likely to win because the candidate can buy more time and space in the media outlets, especially in the tightly contested electorates. In this election Biden campaign team significantly outperformed in mobilising the campaign funds than the Trump campaign team.
However, it must be noted that the attempts to delegitimise the US presidential election outcome did not start with Trump. In fact. the Democratic party establishment also resorted to the same tactics when Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 by claiming that his election victory was made possible by the Russian involvement in engineering the election. In effect, the US style of democracy is now being ripped apart from the body politic in broad daylight.
It now appears President Trump has somewhat relented but without conceding and allowed the incoming administration access to government facilities and funds which he denied initially. On November 23, Emily Murphy the Head of General Services Administration (GSA) wrote a letter to President elect Joe Biden allowing the transition process to begin and allocated US$7.3 million in transition funds.
While President Trump had given Ms Murphy the go ahead, he at the same time reiterated his claim that the election was corrupt. He further emphasised that his team was "moving full speed ahead" with its legal challenges and "will never concede to fake ballots''. He also further tweeted " the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be''.
Now further dramatic twists and turns of events are taking place; President Trump on November 26 said that he would leave the White House if the electoral college voted for Biden while continuing with his allegations of electoral fraud. In essence he is sticking to his main line of offensive "election fraud" against President elect Joe Biden to delegitimise his election victory and keep his options open. The electoral college is due to meet on December 14.
The Democrats narrow electoral victory created consternation and the blame game started to surface. The main explanation that is being offered is that the party went too far left. At least that is the view of Corporate Democrats, the most dominant faction in the party. Now as President elect Biden is preparing to assume the reins of Presidency, he is meticulously selecting his cabinet to dispel the idea that the party has gone left and to provide cover for the new administration's actual agenda-- restoration of the status quo.
President elect Biden's nomination of Antony Blinken as the Secretary of State, Janet Yellen as the Treasury Secretary, Jake Sullivan as the White House National Security Adviser, Michele Flournoy as Defence Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas as the Secretary of Home Land Security, John Kerry as the Climate Ambassador and similar other very well known establishment figures in other major positions of power give a clear indication that the establishment is back in power again.
Many political observers point out that President elect Joe Biden has packed his cabinet with hawks, sparking fear about the intentions of his administration abroad. There is now a growing belief that under Biden further oxygen will be provided to the US' expeditionary version of militarism, continuing with wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan and energising the system that continues to feed it.
It is indeed also a return to the status quo as desired by the establishment. Joe Biden himself told his elite Wall Street campaign donors last year that in a Biden Presidency "Nothing would fundamentally change". His choice of cabinet members definitely reflects that. They have impeccable establishment background with Ivy League Schools and right political profiles. His selection of cabinet members has been hailed as a group of "crisis tested leaders". President elect Biden definitely needs such a group in view of his mental fortitude to be able to fulfil his role. And the Wall Street agreed and gave its thumps up; the Dow-Jones Industrial Average soared above 30,000 points for the first time just last week.
Trump's refusal to concede sets the stage for a post-election crisis. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University recently argued that democracies were always overthrown from the inside. In fact, Trump adopted a strategy that pinned his all comeback hopes on post-election lawsuits winding up in the Supreme court. These are actions of a political leader who is bent on defying a legitimate election.
More importantly Trump is not going anywhere, with close to 74 million voters behind him, he will continue to be a Republican power to be reckoned with. He is not alone in his endeavour, he has his Congressional allies with him along with the Republican power brokers. The Financial Times commented that "In a day of precious few certainties, all that can be said for sure is that America is not done with Mr Trump (or perhaps it is the other way round). An election that seemed set to purge him from public life as one-term aberration has given him a lasting and central role in it. Even if he cannot continue as president, he will become the voice of Republican opposition".
Sean Wilentz, Professor of History at Princeton University told an interviewer, " Trump would be trying to establish a centre of power and antagonistic to the legitimate elected national government - not formally a separate government like the Confederacy but a virtual one, operating not just out in the country but inside the government, above all the Congress".
Trump has dug in and almost looks like preparing for a siege. His actions have split the country in a way that has not been thought to be possible since the Civil War. The election has not resolved the political crisis, rather it's a warning that the US type of democracy has become incapable of sustaining the political system that has been in place over the last 233years. More dangerously the mood in the US now appears be one of political civil war.