Stage set for the ‘Tragedy of American Democracy’

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

This year’s high stakes race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is projected to eclipse the voter turnout of 2016.  Predictions are that the 2020 US election could have the highest percentage of votes cast since 1908.

There are signs of an energized electorate as over 100 million citizens, either mailed in ballots, dropped in ballots or braved the coronavirus pandemic and long lines for early voting and cast their ballots before Election Day.  Fear, hate, and love are truly great motivators.   Trump’s policy initiatives, executive orders, rallies and tweets have ignited all of these motivators.

A summary of the past three plus years is necessary to understand the current state of affairs.   Trump won his early major victory when the Republican Congress, without any Democrats support, passed the Tax Act.  This Act delivered tremendous financial gains to the top one per cent. Major elements of the changes include reducing tax rates for businesses and wealthy individuals, shielding $22 million of inheritances for married couples from estate taxation and owners of “pass-through” businesses who would be able to deduct 20 per cent of their business income.

The tax cut negatively impacted middle class and poor families by:  Increasing the standard deduction and family tax credits, eliminating personal exemptions, limiting deductions for state and local income taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest deduction, reducing the alternative minimum tax for individuals, and cancelling the penalty enforcing individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Democrats accused Republicans of giving a gift to corporations and the wealthy and driving up the federal debt in the process.  Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, called the tax bill a scam, saying it “is simply theft monumental, brazen theft from the American middle class and from every person who aspires to reach it.”

Trump then used “executive power” to implement conservative policy priorities, including an immigration crackdown, his border wall, reductions in environmental protections and boosts for domestic energy production, and to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in the federal government.  Trump also successfully expanded presidential power by classifying immigration and some environmental and other issues as matters of national security.  And his latest executive order would remove job security for tens of thousands of civil servants.

Interestingly, Evangelical Christians, working class whites and uneducated white people are the backbone of Trump’s support.  Evangelical support is understandable, since many of Trump’s appointees have as their primary qualification, the fact that they are committed to a very distinct, conservative religious agenda. In addition, its religion is increasingly associated with issues such as free market capitalism, support for the state of Israel, abortion, gun ownership and religious liberty rights. 

Unfortunately, both parties have neglected the poor.  But working class and poor whites have not benefitted from Trump’s presidency, and his policies have decimated poor, white, black and brown communities.  More white Americans live in poverty (17 million vs. 9 million Black people), and a report from the Federal Reserve on Consumer finances reveal that the average American has $40,000.00 in savings, across savings accounts, checking accounts, money market accounts, call deposit accounts, and prepaid cards.  In effect, Americans are generally poor.

Justifiably, Former Vice President, Joe Biden has made the pandemic the center of his debate.  Two days before the presidential election, the coronavirus was so widespread not even American health officials are able to keep up.  At least 1,200 counties, a full third of the country, now qualify as a virus hot spot.   The virus that has left millions of people out of work and killed more than 230,000 people in the United States.

Native American communities, who have faced barriers and inconveniences in the voting process that discouraged them from voting, are also energized.  Allie Young, an activist Navajo, initiated a “ride to the polls” effort and led a group, on horseback, to cast their ballots.  Native American voters could also sway key Senate races in this election in Montana, North Carolina (NC), Arizona and Maine.  Trump and Biden have pledged to give Federal recognition to the NC, Lumbee Tribe if elected President.

Recent polls show that if Canadians and Europeans could vote in the upcoming US elections, Trump would suffer an overwhelming defeat.  Canadians must be concerned.  It shares the world’s longest undefended border with the US, their economies are highly integrated and it’s one of the US largest trading partners.  As a result, it devotes a considerable proportion of its time and resources managing relations with the US, and Prime Minister Trudeau has been careful not to overtly criticize Trump.  However, 79 per cent of Canadians prefer Joe Biden and are fearful that the chaos of the US elections could spill across the border.

As a Caribbean American, my opinion is that Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa should demand that observers monitor the US elections to ensure that it is “Free and Fair.”  Trump’s presidency has revealed that American democracy is a farce, and that the US does not have the moral or any other authority, to demand that the rest of the world accede to her demands.  

In a dialectical way, Trump’s presidency has been good for America.  It has revealed the fragility of the system and it has mobilized millions to participate in the democratic process.  Trump supporters love him and his opponents either hate or fear him. The election will determine the winner.  The country will chose to move forward and improve the lives of its citizens or it will try to go back to the Jim Crow era. 

America has used war to stop the progress of countries that refuse to follow their orders and to set them back 40 years.  This election will determine if Trump, conservatives, evangelical Christians, white supremacists and right wing extremists will voluntarily set the country back 50 years.  Or, will Biden’s right of center policies, minorities and moderates move the country forward to a more inclusive society.

Ahead of Election Day, a non-scalable fence is being constructed around the perimeter of the White House complex to protect it from possible protests and unrest, particularly if there is no clear winner by Wednesday. Tweets poking fun at the security measure included: “a wall that keeps people out also keeps you in,” and “Trump is clearly a president confident in his mandate from the American people.”  My question. Is this Trump’s Alamo?

Yesterday Trump claimed that the election was a fraud on the American public and an embarrassment to the country. He claimed he won the election and he was going to the Supreme Court.  Biden told his supporters that he believed they were on track to win the election and that he is optimistic about the outcome.

On Wednesday morning Biden had 224 and Trump had 213 Electoral College votes, and both candidates have a path to the 270 votes needed to win the Presidency.  But with much of the vote still being counted, Democrats could win four of the remaining races and the White House to take the Senate majority. 

The stage for the “Tragedy of American Democracy” is set.  The main actor is determined to break the ultimate “norm” of the election system.  He has indicated that he will not concede and that he is determined to win the election in the extremely conservative court he created.   But can the American Democracy survive?  Will the Western World leaders still genuflect to American’s power?  Will America still be the leader of the “Free World? Will China and/or  Russia fill the power void that will be created if his power grab succeeds?

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph  who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)