The 2020 US presidential election was some sort of a sign of the US society’s intense partisanship and bipolarization which seem to deepen, come Biden’s administration. The 75 million people who voted for Trump have starkly different demands than those who voted for Biden, an issue that can ramp up tensions and confrontation in some parts of America which have a more conservative view, viewing the “American great past” at risk of extinction. By the way, the democratic and republican contentious bipartisanship on the American political stage can make things more difficult for Biden. The republican party fears it may not enter the White House in the near future after Trump’s defeat; therefore, it seems the GOP approach in the next four years will be to back Trump and obstruct Biden’s actions.
The 2016 and 2020 elections have a common element to them, the most important of which is the democratic and republican parties eroding and Trump playing a pivotal role as a person outside the political establishment. Although Trump lost the election, it does not seem that he and his political views will be leaving the American political stage any time soon. Trump does not intend to concede defeat in the election and it is said that intends to declare his candidacy for the 2024 election on January 20, the day Joe Biden is to be sworn in. The GOP support, especially the republican members of Congress for Trump in the “stolen election” narrative form suggests that the party sees its political future in keeping Trump at any cost. At present, the GOP party has lost its control over the White House and the house of representatives, and in case it loses another couple of Senate seats in Georgia in the January 5 runoffs, it will have no effective control over the American political structure. This is a nightmare many outstanding GOP figures have feared from a long time ago, and have decided to blindly back trump. The republican members of Congress are well aware of the American constitution and political structure and alongside Trump have questioned the US electoral system while few of them have conceded the election results. This can be a double edged sword for the party. On one hand, by support from Trump they can hope to keep their seats, but on the other hand, Trump’s actions and statements after presidency may weak the party more than ever; because Trump sees the whole American political system corrupt and questions principles that are the fundamentals of the constitution of the country. This could alienate some moderate and progressive parts of the GOP voter base. The reality that defeat in the Georgia runoffs could make the republican status more fragile is one of the reasons pushing them toward Trump in not accepting Biden as the next US president; therefore, at least until January 6 that Senate declares the electoral college results there could be no GOP change of behavior in sight. Nevertheless, the mere two seats in the Georgia runoff races do not justify the republicans’ behavior and support for Trump in promoting the “stolen election” narrative. In this regard, one should have a more profound look.
American Society’s Crises
The controversial 2020 election was unprecedented in its type in the American history and rare after world war two. However, the 2020 election bears similarities with the 2016’s, which stem from the American society’s crises. Indeed, the American presidential elections, at least the two most recent ones, have seen the forgotten classes rise, which is in response to the increase of inequality and economic recession after several decades. The rift between wealthy elites and ordinary people has deepened over the past two generations. Event Trump’s 4-year term did not heal the inequality, but widened the American society’s divides, and in practice drove the country toward discord and bipartisanship never seen before. Trump came to power in 2016 while the country was suffering from emerging domestic crises. In this regard, Trump is a telltale sign of crisis in America, but not a solution nor a recipe for resolving the crisis. On the other side, Trump and Trumpism should not be analyzed through the narrow lens of “populism”, but the American society needs a deeper look.
The historical trends of the capitalistic systems show that these systems face periodic crises over the course of their lives and after several years need effective change to exit the crisis. In America, the capitalist system is faced with a crisis that Obama or Trump could not tackle.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the problem in America was solved by forming a welfare state. Under the auspices of the welfare state the country guaranteed such things as unemployment insurance, minimum wage, access to health and so on, and managed the crisis in the midterm. The situation continued for half a century. In the 1970s, another crisis emerged, in response to which Reaganism was offered as a solution to the crises, which meant an end to welfare state, governments becoming smaller, privatization, deregulation, and embarking on the mechanisms of the market. Policies adopted by the various administrations coming after Reagan addressed the American society’s crises to some extent, but the 2008 economic crisis had with it signs of a new and serious crisis.
With Obama coming into power, there came the hope and euphoria that he could find a way out of the crisis, but in practice after years at the helm, Obama failed to contain the implications. During his leadership, despite GDP growth and job creation, many people’s wages remained the same and in some way the American society’s inequality worsened.
The new crisis in the capitalist system, especially evident in America, has been branded the” Inequality Crisis” and addressed in detail in Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century” published in 2013. In his book, he foresees the capitalist system’s crisis and names it the “Inequality Crisis” in which the interest rate on capital exceeds the general GDP, a thing leading to accumulation of wealth, and nurturing instability in the long term. He maintains if the capitalistic system is not corrected, the democratic order of society will be challenged, a prediction now materializing for America.
The emergence of Trump is, indeed, a sign of the protests of the forgotten areas of the American society. Although Trump failed during his 4-year term to effect change in the interest of the working class, in fact, he produced no acceptable economic results for this class, he still enjoys a high rate of favorability. In the 2016 presidential elections, Trump managed to gain 46.1% of the general popular vote. In 2020, in spite of the mainstream media hammering him constantly, his popular vote not only did not decrease but also increased to some extent. In the recent elections, Trump won 46.9% of the popular vote, amounting to about 75 million votes.
Perhaps the most reason for his favorability is his reliance on the American conservative values staunchly held by those white people who lack university degrees. Culturally, Trump made inroads into those Americans who see their values and traditions threatened. Staunch supporters of trump see their past way of life under threat. And strongly maintain only Trump can deliver them. From the standpoint of a considerable portion of the American population, Trump has kept his presidential election promises that even the American political structure was opposed to. To some experts, it was his norm-breaking behavior that made many people vote for him.
In this context, even the attraction that his racially charged statements drew can be understood. The increasing immigrant population and the key positions they have occupied mean casting away the American values, something unacceptable by Trump supporters. In addition to aligning with Trump for the sake of the American values, his values, too, on hot topics like homosexuality and abortion have brought him zealous fans among the evangelists.
In contrast, such tendencies are intolerable for the liberal camp. Trump’s racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant statements and his ridiculing of all the achievements of former presidents led to voters leaning more toward Biden in the 2020 election, and Biden winning the election by the unprecedented 81 million votes. Now the question is whether Biden can heal the current deep crisis in the American structure. It has to be said that he has so far ignored a considerable part of the crisis from which Trump arose. In his proposed list of picks for key positions, there is a range of people from the ethnic Latin minority, African-Americans, and even American natives, signifying further confrontation in the bipolarized American society; and in case Biden fails to respond to the demands of a large part of the American people, liberal democracy will be faced with a grave danger, a thing the hurt it causes to the American political and social structure is no less than that of Trump.
Democratic and Republican Parties’ Developments
The US political structure has chiefly been based on the two big democratic and republican parties. A look at the past practices of the republican party shows that this party is a coalition of trade elites and social conservatives who are fans of conservative values, free market, free trade, and immigration policies. They are typically for reducing tax on the wealthy, undermining labor unions, and reducing social services. Such an agenda is in stark contrast to the interests of the working class.
In contrast, traditionally the democratic party has been a champion for the working class. However, since the 1980s, it has mainly drawn support from women, blacks, urban youth, homosexuals, and environmentalists and has failed to connect with the white working class. This issue led to the American lower classes defying the Obamacare to support health expenses; because, in the opinion of the impoverished white classes, the Obamacare was more to the advantage of the minorities than them.
However, the two parties had no solution for the needs of the American society and the capitalist system’s crisis. In a situation where some classes felt that they had been victimized by the policies of the corrupt governmental system, and the main American parties had no plan to tackle the crisis, the statements of Trump who does not considered himself a career politician and used simple words and sentences in his jargon drew much attention.
Generally, Trump’s viewpoints do not dovetail with those of the republican party, but in no time, he managed to gain the GOP leadership and win the 2016 presidential election as a republican candidate. Trump came to power while both parties had been grappling with existential crises. However, the case with the republican party is assessed worse than that of the democratic party. The party has from long ago been concerned about defeat and losing political power in Congress and the White House, and for this reason, Trump and his supporters were considered a new opportunity. However, Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, once again brought confusion and mayhem to the republican camp.
Three weeks has passed since Biden winning the November 3 election, but few of 249 GOP members of Congress have accepted Biden as president. It seems, the republican party and the GOP members of Congress have linked their political life to supporting Trump at any cost. They are well aware that Trump with his zealous fans is able to destroy their political future. Therefore, it seems, in the coming years, Trump will be playing a pivotal role in the American political equations and is headed for taking over the GOP leadership.
The 2020 US presidential election was some sort of a sign of the US society’s intense partisanship and bipolarization which seem to deepen, come Biden’s administration. The 75 million people who voted for Trump have starkly different demands than those who voted for Biden, an issue that can ramp up tensions and confrontation in some parts of America which have a more conservative view, viewing the “American great past” at risk of extinction. By the way, the democratic and republican contentious bipartisanship on the American political stage can make things more difficult for Biden. The republican party fears it may not enter the White House in the near future after Trump’s defeat; therefore, it seems the GOP approach in the next four years will be to back Trump and obstruct Biden’s actions. The influential members of Congress talk of Trump’s shadow state. On the other hand, the “stolen election” narrative was a test of loyalty to Trump in the republican party and a pretext for watering down the party’s defeat in the 2020 election. At state level, the “stolen election” will pave the way for enacting strict laws that will lead to voter suppression. these laws will restrict registration and participation in the elections as well as bar postal ballots and early voting. The laws will be anti-African-American, anti-Latino, anti-native, anti-youth, anti-students and counter to anybody likely to vote democrat. Generally, it has to be noted that Biden is coping with harsh conditions in the American political structure and does not seem capable of mitigating or reducing the American society’s crises.
Afsaneh Ahadi, Expert at Foreign Ministry
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)