The Elizabethans defined tragedy as a story that ended badly, and comedy as one that ended well. Marx, comparing the later, incompetent Emperor Napoleon III, Louis Napoleon, with his uncle, the real thing, Napoleon I Bonaparte, famously observed that “History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”. Reversing the aphorism, what began in 2016 as comedy, Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, may end in 2020 as tragedy, if juridical flaws are proven yet Joe Biden’s disputed electoral victory is sustained.
Donald J. Trump is certainly an imperfect leader, yet if he does definitively lose the knife-edge decision to Biden it will be due not to personal, but to impersonal factors. A concatenation of socio-political factors, driven by extreme partisanship and rancor, will bring him down.
Clearly a principal element is the Covid-19 virus, causing the collapse of Trump’s ”economic miracle”. Weaponized politically, fear of the virus was used to justify the unprecedented adoption of an electoral-Constitutional novelty, millions of readily available, irregularly distributed, and (critics claim) easily manipulable mailed write-in ballots.
Secondly, in the print, electronic and social media and at large were motivated by a radical and in part oddly irrational hatred of the “orange man”, as a brusque, abrasive, and sometimes vulgar political upstart out to “drain the DC swamp”. This led — even before he was inaugurated — to various campaigns to delegitimize and destroy him politically.
These unending cabals, some led by the FBI and intelligence agencies, included the Russia collusion, Ukraine phone call, impeachment, ”tell-all” insider leaks, and books by “Resistance” figures (some even inside his Administration). And, came the accusation, as viral infections and deaths rose exponentially, that he was personally responsible for a kind of “genocide” through supposedly incompetent handling of Covid-19.
The major print and electronic backed up by Facebook, Twitter and other social media. have, for four years, abandoned any pretense of objectivity and informed truth-telling. The most obvious rules of journalistic inquiry and public trust have been ignored and flouted. A no-holds-barred telescoping of reporting and indicting marked a media which baldly and repeatedly accused Trump of lying, while itself bombarded the public with shameless falsehoods, devoid of any opposing views or fact-checking.
Shrill, unsupported accusations of Russian collusion (against a sitting President!), based upon the phony Steele dossier and misrepresented FISA court warrants, were hurled at the President on the nightly news and in the halls of Congress. And when, after three years, the Mueller Star Chamber prosecution finally and ignominiously collapsed, with a whimper and not a bang and without a shred of real evidence, not a word of contrition or apology for the witch-hunt was forthcoming..
Instead, the media sailed off into its next attempted political assassination, this time adopting “evidence” from Ukraine-related phone calls and an anonymous “whistle blower” to support indictment for impeachment. Again, lurid accusations were broadcast through dramatic Congressional hearings (this while Covid-19, largely unnoticed and unaddressed by Congress, infiltrated into the U.S.).
If anything, Trump after an entirely understandable initial confusion and indecision (which marked almost all similarly afflicted heads of state) acted earlier and has done better in dealing with the utterly unexpected and novel disease virus than most of his European counterparts.
Yet even as he revved up Operation Warp-Speed rapidly to achieve an effective vaccine, what might be termed, using an awkward locution, the Democratic-Media-High-Tech-Big Money Complex (DMHTBMC) turned the virus into a political weapon. Alongside its unending and dishonest personal invective about Trump’s supposed “white racism”, “Nazi-authoritarian” tendencies, and — truly grotesque, given his pro-Israel policies and family connections — antisemitism, there arose an unseemly new meme. Liberal media spinners and politicized academic specialists, invoking supposedly definitive “Data” and an unchanging “Science”, made assertions of Doom into an election issue.
(If for his acolytes Obama had been The One who would stem the tides and turn back rising Ocean; Trump for his enemies now became the Pale Rider, the “orange”-haired apocalyptic Angel of Death.)
Across the post-November 3rd period Democrats continued to conjure up new “dumps” and “batches” of mail-in votes (several, running into the scores of thousands, said to consist mysteriously entirely of pro-Biden ballots). Trump’s legal team, despite the media’s proclamation of Biden’s victory, continues to claim irregularities and demand recounts in in Arizona (Phoenix), Nevada (Las Vegas), Georgia (Atlanta), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)—all, oddly, cities run by Democratic political machines–and also in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Indeed, legal challenges may well continue all the way to the Supreme Court (now, perhaps providentially for Trump, back to its nine-Justice complement with Amy Cony Barrett’s confirmation). Justice Samuel Alito has already queried the Constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s elected [Democratic] State Supreme Court in authorizing counting of late-submitted ballots. A definitive election decision may have to wait until well into December, when the Constitution’s looming January 20th Inaugural deadline will force it. (Recall that the 2000 Bush-Gore election, which was decided by the adjudication of only one issue, “hanging chads”, in one state (Florida) involving only a few hundred votes, took thirty-seven days).
The election dynamics and divide clearly indicate several important things that will be ongoing despite whomever is, finally, the winner. First, the country is clearly divided, on an almost 50-50 basis. It is increasingly split between wealthy educated urban-suburban elites and rural-suburban town and village working people. The Democrats are becoming what the Republicans were, the party of the educated and well-to-do, while the Republicans under the populist Trump are increasingly becoming what the Democrats were, the party of ordinary working-class people.
The once-assertedly inevitable growth and dominance of the Democratic Party has been called into doubt. Some commentators, and not necessarily facetiously, have begun referring to the “Republican Workers Party”.
Secondly, the much-hyped Democratic “Blue Wave”, which network commentators and pollsters claimed would submerge the Republicans, never emerged. Despite the historically immense sums spent on supporting key Democratic candidates (over 2/3 of the record $16 billion spent), Republicans (assuming they can win at least one of the January Georgia run-off races), will hold on to their Senate majority and have even more surprisingly made significant inroads in the House of Representatives.
(And even if he loses the Georgia seats, Biden may still face insuperable hurdles. Obama in his first term dominated both Houses, had 60 Senators, and a far less radical program, yet still could not get his major legislation passed.)
Still, fears of a one-party liberal-progressive hegemony based on control of all three governmental branches have been attenuated. A President Biden will be unable to impose his “Green Revolution”- based plans and tax hikes on the nation. Nor will the Democrats be able to legislate Constitutional changes, like packing the Supreme Court, making Puerto Rico and DC into states, or lowering the voting age.
Third, even if Trump is narrowly denied a second term, the down-to-the-last-vote squeaker of an election has taken any blush off Biden’s rose. Trump will surely remain as titular head of his party. Whatever one thinks of his style, he has been a remarkably effective and energetic President. American civil society and economy are fundamentally sound, a “V”-shaped revival has already begun, his foreign policy especially in the Middle East and in relation to Iran, has been remarkably effective.
And despite unjustified attacks, in part reflecting election-related politics, he has — taking due account of America’s size and the fact that the federal system gives states key public-health responsibilities and powers — done better than most of his European colleagues.
Whatever one thinks of his style, under his aegis, the Republican Party has been reborn, and connected to demographically growing sectors of the population. (This is evident in his enlarged support from black, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish people (the latter reflecting his remarkable pro-Israel policies: he polled 31% of that stubbornly liberal Democratic sub-group, the largest since George H.W. Bush’s 35% in 1988).
Biden, on the other hand, and especially if he winds up losing, is at age 78 an already spent force. A stop-gap candidate he was, despite his lackluster primary performance, chosen to block the radical Bernie Sanders. Biden’s problems reflect an inevitable, built-in Democratic tension between a still-large and relatively moderate Party “base” and the Sanders – Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez-led, progressive-socialist wing.
So, Biden’s ability to make good on a platform tilted left to placate his radical-wing supporters, may be blocked not only by McConnell, but by divisions within his own caucus. Kamala Harris, voted most “liberal” Senator, may be America’s first female black-Indian Vice-President, but she is not a “natural” complement or successor to Biden. Not only is she not someone able to bind up a divided Party (let alone nation) should Biden falter, but she could well become a focus of radical opposition to him.
The prospect of achieving power has temporarily papered over this tension. But the deep, related issues facing the nation, Covid-19 and economic revival, will make for a short post-election honeymoon. The Blue Party, despite Biden’s post-“victory” rhetoric about unity and mutual respect, may well develop its own internal cracks and chasms.
Republicans, presumably led by Trump inside or outside government, will be looking forward to the traditional opposition “bump” in the 2022 Congressional elections. Them, should he wish to run again (Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland are different, yet not dissimilar, precedents), a renewed Trump Presidential candidacy in 2024 is only a few years away.
Finally, the viciously partisan election has demonstrated the power and anti-democratic tendencies of the DMHTBMC. News media pushed the earlier Russia hoax and impeachment campaigns, and wholly ignored the influence-peddling implications of the Hunter Biden computer scandal. They have abused their journalistic trust, and unconscionably favored the Biden-Harris ticket.
They widely broadcasted wildly exaggerated polls in order, evidently, to create a false sense of momentum. Facebook and Twitter, founded as free-expression sites, arrogated censorship prerogatives to themselves, blocking (like the major networks recently) even the President. And the cancel-culture universities, disregarding freedom of expression and producing the “woke” cadres staffing the DMHTBMC, have played a key role in all of this.
Trump’s remarkably strong electoral performance and the Republicans’ probable maintenance of Senate control, have avoided, or at least significantly attenuated, the possible emergence of a liberal- authoritarian de facto one-party state. His election to a second consecutive term, through a late-breaking swing-state surprise or Supreme Court legal intervention, would block it decisively.
It is past time that defence of constitutional rights and obligations, and of electoral due process, be observed and enforced. Neither national media nor often-politicized state courts can decide who wins American elections. The Constitution (Art.1) must rule: Congress, repository of the people’s sovereignty, is the ultimate arbiter should, the Supreme Court having given its interpretation of disputed issues, the Electoral College be indecisive. Due electoral process means verifiable impartiality, and benefits not one Party or another, neither Biden nor Trump, but protects the well-being and freedom of the American people from abuse of its rights.
Compromising elections threatens democracy. Nothing less than the integrity of American democracy and its Constitutional underpinnings is at stake. We should remember Benjamin Franklin’s observation in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: answering a shouted query, “What have we got?”, he replied “A republic, if you can keep it”.
(Prof. Frederick Krantz, an historian, is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, in Montreal, and Editor of Its Isranet Daily Briefing journal.)