Nov 10th 2020

These Things Are Clear

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of the Arab American Institute

 

As I sit to write this piece four days after the election, Joe Biden is leading in enough states to make it clear that he will win enough electoral college votes to become the 46th President of the United States. What was also clear is that Republicans will likely retain control of the Senate and the Democrats​, while still the majority in the House​, have lost some of the seats they had picked up in 2018. We are a deeply divided country. That much should be clear.

If this were a normal election year, that might be the end of the story. Alas, it is not. In 2020, nothing is normal and this crazy election is not going to be over for a while.

Donald Trump is not now nor has he ever been psychologically able to accept the reality of losing or being second best. Even when he doesn’t win or isn’t the best, he has been prone to create “an alternate reality” in which he convinces himself: that he really has won; that he was a victim of someone else’s cheating; that someone else is responsible for the setback; or that he is the victim of a conspiracy. 

In a very real sense, Donald Trump has been preparing the ground for contesting a loss ever since he was first elected president in 2016. Not able to accept that Hillary Clinton had won more popular votes, he charged that millions of his opponent’s votes were fraudulent. He even appointed a partisan presidential commission to validate his claim. Despite the fact that the commission was comprised of his supporters, it disbanded after several months unable to prove any widespread cheating. Nevertheless, Trump has continued to make this same charge about fraudulent 2016 votes.

For the past three months Trump has been claiming that Democrats were going to try to steal this year’s election. He made the groundless accusation that hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes were going be used to “stuff ballot boxes” or that votes for him were going to be tossed out in order to elect his opponent.

Recognizing the danger posed by the growing pandemic, legislatures in several states, with bipartisan support had, approved plans to provide voters with a mail-in option. Polls show that Democrats, apparently more concerned with the health risks of in-person voting, took advantage of this option. At the same time, a sizable majority of Republican voters waited until election day to cast their ballots. Because the in-person votes were counted first, on election night, as expected, Trump was in the lead. But as the mail-in votes were slowly counted, Biden’s totals eventually eclipsed Trump’s putting Biden in the lead.

In response, Trump angrily tweeted “STOP THE COUNT” and in some cities his supporters stormed polling places echoing this demand. The president’s lawyers filed numbers of lawsuits demanding​, among other things​, that many legally cast mail-in votes be disqualified. And on Thursday, Trump delivered shocking remarks from the White House calling into question the integrity of the entire election. A number of Republican governors and senators were so stunned that they felt compelled to quickly reject the president’s behavior.   

What’s clear is that President Trump will not accept losing, will not concede, and will use every available path to challenge the outcome. He and his supporters are continuing to call the election fraudulent and calling on supporters to “go to war” to protest the vote. The misinformation they are spreading on social media is flagrantly false. It is designed cast doubt on the entire process and to incite anger – causing confusion and unrest, with the possibility of violence. The uncertainty created by all of this will only lead to deeper division, casting a pall, not only over this election, but the very foundations of our democracy. We will in all likelihood not see a peaceful transition of power. That much is clear.

What is also clear is that when Joe Biden is sworn in as President​, he will inherit this division and the dysfunctional political system that has spawned it. Gone are the days when despite differences Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve pressing problems facing the nation.  
 
When Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, he ushered in an era of hyper-partisanship that worked to stymie then President Bill Clinton’s every move. When Barack Obama was elected president, then​-Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. After McConnell became Majority Leader, Republicans routinely blocked Obama’s appointments and refused to pass compromise legislation.

At the ceremony announcing his last Supreme Court nominee, Trump noted that it is the responsibility of a president to fill vacancies to the federal courts. He chided Obama for being irresponsible noting that when he entered the Oval Office in 2017. there were over 100 court vacancies. What Trump didn’t acknowledge was that the reason for these unfilled judgeships wasn’t because Obama hadn’t named replacements, but because McConnell wouldn’t let the Senate approve them. What’s clear is that unless Democrats can win the few Senate seats that remain to be contested in January 2021, Biden will confront the same obstructionism.

To succeed, Biden may have to play by the rules Republicans have created. To get things done, he will be forced to issue Executive Orders by-passing the Senate where it is possible to do so. This was what Obama was forced to do. He will also need to use Executive Orders to undo the damage to our regulatory ​and immigration systems by President Trump’s excessive use of Executive Orders.  

At the same time, not only President Biden and Democrats, but Republicans as well, will need to deal with the reality that Trumpism will remain a potent force in American politics. When the GOP funded and organized the Birther Movement and the Tea Party to counter Obama’s appeal, they ushered in a wave of race-based populism. This may have served the Republican’s short​-term goal of taking control of Congress in 2010, but the angry beast they created back then, devoured them first. Across the country, fearful of alienating this base, more traditional conservative Republicans felt forced to take increasing hardline uncompromising stances.

When Donald Trump first entered the 2016 presidential contest, the GOP establishment dismissed his candidacy certain that a more traditional Mitt Romney-style conservative Republican would win the nomination. They were wrong. And despite their initial disgust for Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry, crude and vulgar language, and his shocking incitement to violence, they eventually fell in line, once again fearful of angering his supporters - the very base they had helped to create.    

As a result of their complicity, new and more virulent movements have taken root in this base - from the QAnon conspiracy cult, to the xenophobic and racist Christian Patriot churches, and militant groups like the Proud Boys, the bogaloo bois, and a host of armed militias that have sprung up nationwide. All of which have received varying degrees of endorsement from the president. 

The fact that Donald Trump won the votes of over 70 million Americans means that while he has lost the election, his appeal will remain. Republicans will either make a concerted effort to tame this phenomenon or they will see not only the continued drift of their party toward extremism, but the danger of violence in cities across the US. This too is clear.

It seems clear that, as Donald Trump said a few weeks ago “This will not end well.” Far from being over, this election may very well continue to play out for weeks to come. Trump and the GOP have been telegraphing their strategy for over a month now. They will continue to challenge to validity of the vote in court. They will demand recounts. They will incite their followers to demonstrate at vote-counting facilities. In the end, many Americans will lose faith in the electoral process and America’s democracy will be tarnished in the eyes of the world. That much is clear. 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "What our polling tells us is that what the peoples of Middle East want is regional unity and investment in the future that can bring peace and prosperity. They’ve had enough of war and want​stable employment, education, health care, and better future for their children. It’s time we start listening to them."
Jan 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Trump intentionally and directly incited the insurrection of January 6. But he does not bear sole responsibility. Every one of his enablers, and the enablers of his enablers, is guilty. Fox Corp’s hidden backers, especially those who are so fond of touting their piety, must now ask themselves, as the Gospel of Mark instructs: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? "
Jan 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "What’s astonishing is that the bottom 50% reduced their borrowing over roughly the same period, but their debt servicing costs increased. Over this time, smaller corporations saw their profit margins dip consistently into negative territory. The decades-long fall in interest rates appears to be the only thing that has kept smaller corporations afloat. Smaller corporations thus appear to be caught in a vicious circle. The fact that their debt-servicing burdens have increased sharply despite deleveraging and falling interest rates points toward rapidly deteriorating financial fortunes. This is reaffirmed by the severe losses registered in their negative profit margins."
Jan 11th 2021
EXTRACT: " The answer can’t be to pretend that the crisis is now over or to believe that the way forward can be found by simply impeaching the President or using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. That will not do. January 6th had antecedents. And more than one man has responsibility for what happened."
Jan 10th 2021
EXTRACTS: ”Not everyone who mobbed the Capitol on 1/6 was a terrorist, but there were many terrorists among them. Some people came armed, or with ties for taking congressional representatives and senators hostage. Some were desperately looking for Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi in order to assassinate them….” …… ”Although the Capitol police had a major failure when they did not stop the breach of the building by the mob, they were remarkably successful at spiriting the politicians down to the basement and its tunnels that led to nearby offices.” ….. “The goal of the Trump-inspired insurrection was to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president. Trump moved on several levels to accomplish that goal. He conspired with senators to have them object to the Arizona and Pennsylvania vote counts. In fact, he was trying to convince senators to join this effort by telephone even after the Capitol had been breached and senators were being escorted to the basement, according to Mike Lee. He also tried to disrupt the proceedings by encouraging the breach of the Capitol by a flashmob and by cadres. He may have stopped security forces from being deployed, as part of his coup, to ensure that the insurrection was not stopped prematurely.” …… “Significant blows have been dealt to the Trump terrorist network in the past two days, but the vast well of support it has built up among less violent supporters, and among media enablers like Fox, Breitbart and Newsmax, will make it very difficult to root out.”
Jan 10th 2021
EXTRACTS:"Trumpism may survive under a different leader. This is what a politician like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is hoping. His attempt to pander to Trump’s voter base by sabotaging President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is a play for a future presidential run. But Cruz lacks the vulgar charisma of Trump. He is a highly-educated cynic, a ruthless political operator, but not someone who can easily inspire the masses."....... "More than most of his colleagues in the demagogue business, Trump is a creature of show business. His great success was not in real estate; he was in fact a terrible businessman, blundering from one failure to another. What made him was a television show. That is what boosted his brand, which he has used with a truly mammoth talent for self-promotion. Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, or Marco Rubio – all Republican senators with ambitions to follow in Trump’s footsteps – don’t even come close." ........ "And Trump’s followers will lose their messiah. Without Trump’s bizarre but effective grip on the party, Republicans may well face a period of vicious infighting, which could conceivably tear their party apart. If so, they richly deserve it."
Jan 9th 2021
EXTRACTS: "The world needs an America it can believe in. America needs to invest real time, energy, and resources in re-establishing the pre-eminence of truth and trust. It took generations to build it but just four years to destroy it." ..... "If it can happen in America, it can certainly happen anywhere else. America must now prove to the world that it can pick itself up, dust itself off, and get and stay on a path so many people in the world aspire to be. It will take a Herculean effort on the part of Mr. Biden and the Democrats to do so. If they fail to do so, it is arguable whether America can ever again claim to be exceptional."
Jan 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Congress has a right, but not a duty, to impeach. Sometimes, lawmakers might simply tolerate certain presidential misdeeds, having concluded that the costs of pursuing further action would outweigh the benefits. But this is not one of those times. ... Just as the act of punishing a public official sends a message about a polity’s moral commitments, so, too, does a failure to punish when it is warranted. By voting to acquit Trump last year, after the House of Representatives impeached him over the Ukraine scandal, Senate Republicans signaled that they were sticking with a career criminal, come what may. Trump enablers like Senator Susan Collins of Maine hoped that those proceedings would teach Trump a lesson. And so they did: Trump learned that there were no consequences for illegally coercing others into doing him favors and rigging elections on his behalf. ............ Plenty, like Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, have bet their political fortunes on genuflecting to America’s burgeoning far-right movement. But others might now be looking for a way out of the Trumpian maw. The storming of the Capitol demonstrated that you cannot have QAnon à la carte; neither Trump nor his Republican collaborators can control the forces they have unleashed. The revolution always devours its own children, and sometimes their fathers, too. If Republicans fail to de-Trumpify fully and immediately, they will learn that for themselves – but not before things get much, much worse."
Jan 2nd 2021
EXTRACTS: "Barack Obama had his flaws as a president, but he always exuded an air of dignity and refinement. Few presidents in history have his gift for English prose. Obama is not only a stylish writer, but a discerning reader. His behavior in office was always impeccable, and he and his wife, Michelle, are the model of a highly civilized couple .... And that is precisely what some of his opponents could never abide. Racists hated the very idea of being governed by a black man. But the fact that he was such a well-educated and cultivated black man made his ascent to the highest office even more intolerable ........ Trump had to erase the image of high civilization that Obama represented. He had to drag it down to his own level. "
Dec 29th 2020
EXTRACTS: "American capitalism is not serving most Americans. While educated elites live longer and more prosperous lives, less-educated Americans – two-thirds of the population – are dying younger and struggling physically, economically, and socially. This growing divide between those with a four-year college degree and those without one is at the heart of our recent book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. The rise in deaths that we describe is concentrated almost entirely among those without a bachelor’s degree, a qualification that also tends to divide people in terms of employment, remuneration, morbidity, marriage, and social esteem – all keys to a good life ....... The US economy has long been experiencing large-scale disruption, owing to changes in production techniques (especially automation) and, to a lesser extent, globalization. The inevitable disturbances to employment, especially among less-educated workers who are most vulnerable to them, have been made vastly worse by the inadequacy of social safety nets and an absurdly expensive health-care system. Because that system is financed largely by employer-based insurance, which varies little with earnings, it places the greatest burden on the least skilled, who are priced out of good jobs."
Dec 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "For the sake of comparison, it is worth remembering just how disastrous the 2000-15 period was for US incomes. Whereas the median real (inflation-adjusted) household income in 2000 was $62,500, in 2011 it was a mere $57,000. Only in 2016, President Barack Obama’s last year in office, did the median real household income clear its 2000 peak. And only during the first three years of the Trump presidency did incomes continue growing strongly enough to surpass the previous high tide. In 2019, the median household income was closing in on $69,000, more than 20% above the post-Great Recession nadir, and 10% above the previous Clinton-era peak ............What explains these trends? For starters, between 2001 and 2016, the US government did not emphasize the need to achieve a high-pressure economy that eliminates the economy’s demand shortfall, which is what it takes to deliver large wage increases for typical workers. In 2010, when the Obama administration began its pivot to austerity, it de-prioritized restoring employment to normal levels in the interest of pursuing spending cuts and fiscal consolidation ...........the siren song of austerity can today be heard once again. A growing chorus of commentators is insisting that near-zero interest rates are unnatural, and that the deficit needs to be cut substantially ...........Back in 2012, Lawrence H. Summers, fresh from a stint as Director of the US National Economic Council, and I tried to warn policymakers about the error of this line of thinking. We failed, ........ "
Dec 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "The longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 cycle are likely to be more severe. While mass vaccination points to an end to the pandemic itself (one hopes by late 2021), it does not provide immunity against lasting economic damage. Recent research on the impact of 19 major pandemics dating back to the fourteenth century – each with death counts in excess of 100,000 – highlights the long shadow of the economic carnage. Real rates of return on “safe” European assets – a measure of the interplay between aggregate supply and demand – were found to be depressed for several decades following these earlier horrific outbreaks."
Dec 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "US President-elect Joe Biden’s economic-policy agenda differs markedly from that of President Donald Trump. But Biden’s ability to enact his proposals will depend on three factors: the final composition of the Senate; his ability to learn from past successes and failures (not least the historically anemic Obama-era recovery); and whether the US economy can avoid a growth-sapping shock."
Dec 17th 2020
EXTRACTS: "As is evident by Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council, many of America’s allies now question some fundamental tenets of American commitment and leadership. China’s willingness and ability to step in and take up some of the slack that has resulted says as much about Washington’s self-imposed weakness as it does about Beijing’s fundamental strength..........Regardless of what overtures the Biden administration makes and which objecrtives it is able to achieve in its first year, the carnage left in the wake of Trump’s exit will take many years – perhaps decades – to reverse..........Many of the world’s people never believed that the outrages that occurred during Trump’s tenure were even possible in America. Trump has proven that it is not only possible, but that it could happen again, as it is widely presumed that Trump will run again in 2024 and again win the Republican nomination for president. That is, perhaps, the most enduring legacy of the Trump era, which makes the debate about whether the world is better off with American or Chinese leadership less easily dismissed."
Dec 15th 2020
EXTRACT: ".....strikingly, exit polls suggest that Trump actually gained support from all of the demographic groups that he had maligned, insulted, and harmed, garnering more black, Hispanic, and Muslim votes than he did in 2016. Asian-Americans also pivoted to Trump, voting for him by a larger margin than they did for him in 2016. And Trump won around 55% of white women in 2020. In two consecutive elections, the majority of white women chose a blatant misogynist over a female presidential or vice-presidential candidate........ Trump’s trade war with China, moreover, had a devastating impact on rural America. But that didn’t stop him from winning Iowa and other farm states by a healthy margin. Likewise, some first-generation Chinese immigrants (with PhDs and Ivy League credentials) are fervent Trump supporters, despite his malicious labeling of COVID-19 as the “China virus.”......... The common foundation supporting this vast Trumpian tent of rural whites, Latinos in Texas, Chinese-American entrepreneurs, white suburban women, and a small but growing share of black men is a deep-seated notion of authority – a more primordial disposition than ethnic tribalism, religious affiliation, and sexual identity. These voters worship power and the powerful, and identify with all exercises of power by their chosen leader."
Dec 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "In 2014, almost one-half of Iranians felt their country “should have the right to a nuclear weapon because it is a major nation.” After the framework agreement was announced in 2015 support for that proposition dropped to 20%. Following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal, the percentage of Iranians who felt they had a right to a nuclear weapon because they are a major nation rose again to 40%. "
Dec 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "The European Union is facing an existential threat, and yet the EU’s leadership is responding with a compromise that appears to reflect a belief that the threat can simply be wished away. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s kleptocratic regime in Hungary and, to a lesser extent, the illiberal Law and Justice (PiS) government in Poland, are brazenly challenging the values on which the European Union has been built. Treating their challenge as a legitimate political stance deserving of recognition and a compromise solution will only add – massively – to the risks that the EU now faces."
Dec 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Increased government spending during the pandemic is essential for managing public health, supporting households that have lost income, and preserving businesses that otherwise may fail and thus cause longer-term damage to output and employment. Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has urgedpolicymakers to “spend but keep the receipts.” Likewise, World Bank Chief Economist Carmen M. Reinhart reminds us that, “first you worry about fighting the war, then you figure out how to pay for it.” "
Dec 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "In the trade war with the US, China has given little ground ....... And in November, China mounted something of a geopolitical coup with the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a new trade agreement that will put it at the center of the world’s largest free-trade area. The RCEP will connect China’s huge market to those of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – from Indonesia and Singapore to Vietnam – and will include important US allies such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. For the time being, India is not participating, but it might join later. The only regional player to be left out of the RCEP is America. The creation of a new, China-centered economic bloc illustrates the difference between reality and reality TV. When Trump arrived in the White House in January 2017, one of his first official acts was to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama that would have created something like the RCEP, only with America at the center and China left out. Witnessing this US act of self-harm, China’s leaders presumably couldn’t believe their luck, and Xi’s government has been working hard to exploit Trump’s generous gift ever since."
Nov 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much puzzlement that the world’s stock markets haven’t collapsed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially in the United States, which has recently been setting record highs for new cases. But maybe it isn’t such a puzzle."