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The disunited states of America

County View

County View
John Healy

The US elections will, the world hopes, mean the return of civility and decency to the White House. After four years of partisanship and division, from an incumbent who wielded racial incitement as an instrument of power politics, the time is ripe for a new beginning.
Donald Trump was repudiated by the electorate; only once before in the past 40 years has a sitting president been denied a second term. He lost the electoral college vote, and he also lost the popular vote.
And yet, over 70 million people voted for his re-election. He won more votes than he did in 2016.
Those on the outside will ask themselves how, in spite of the loutishness, the gratuitous abusiveness, the coarseness, the lack of grace, 70 million people still cast their votes in his favour. In 2016, it could be argued, the electorate did not fully know what it was getting. This time, there could have been no such excuse: this time, his support base signalled loud and clear that it liked what it got, and it wanted more of the same. Voters who, it might have been expected, would normally be turned off by his oafish behaviour in office, in fact gave him a free pass. Or maybe it was a case that he was voted by people who disliked him, but who disliked the alternative even more.
President elect Biden will take office with a difficult task on his hands. The workings of the system require that a President needs the support of Congress to implement the policies he is committed to. In Biden’s case, he faces Senate gridlock, and at a time when cross party relations are so poisonous that his every move will be obstructed, for no better reason than he is who he is. It will test to the limits all his acknowledged skills as a bridge builder and peace maker to ensure that the US government does not grind to a halt, as it has done many times in the recent past. He will by contrast, have a more free hand in repairing fractured alliances with America’s international partners, by rejoining the global community of nations and - by happy coincidence - giving Ireland’s leverage a welcome and timely boost.
As ever, a staggering feature of the US elections is the obscene amount of spending on the competing campaigns. To spend $14 billion on electing a president is, at best, a negation of democracy; at worst, it is a chilling reflection of priorities in a country where millions rely on food stamp handouts to survive. In South Carolina, over $100 million was spent on a failed attempt to unseat Senator Lindsey Graham, prompting the incumbent to wryly remark that it was the worst return on investment in the history of American politics.
Nor will the pollsters have much to celebrate. Their predictions of a commanding lead for Joe Biden fell foul of the millions of silent Trumpists who thought it best to keep their intentions to themselves.
And in a classic example of Stockholm Syndrome, immigrant groups - the most despised of all Trump’s hate targets - found themselves voting for their tormentor, as if aligning themselves with him might make their status a little more secure and their Americanisation a little more credible.
For now, the dust is still settling. Trump may be gone, but Trumpism in all its ugliness lives on. Whether he will be back in four years time is a question nobody wants to answer, because in the Trump universe, anything is possible. And the world would be wary of getting his prospects wrong a second time.