A transformational US election

After a few nail-biting days, it has finally been announced that Joe Biden, at the head of the Democratic ticket, has won the US Presidency. After spending a whopping US$14B during a campaign that began on projections and expectations that they would overwhelmingly thump incumbent President Donald Trump and his Republican Party, the elections were still poised on a knife’s edge to the end.
The perceived wisdom among Democrats was that they would do very well if the number of voters increased. But while this was achieved, Trump and the Republicans were remarkably able to actually increase their total votes in comparison with 2016. No one can accuse them of being an “unpopular” or “discredited” party in America, going forward. They retained their majority in the Senate, and whittled away the Democratic majority in the House. This would ensure that a Biden administration would still have to negotiate with the former to pass spending and other bills.
What was most phenomenal, however, was the sterling performance of the Republicans in demographics that were assumed to be completely alienated from them: Blacks and Latinos. They increased their share of votes in these two key groups, compared to 2016. Republicans are now beginning to label their party as “multi-racial and working class” to combat the stereotype of them being a “rich white-man’s party”.
What the election has also demonstrated is that Trump’s populist approach will not be a flash in the pan; we can only expect more of the same, whether or not he returns to the hustings in 2024. Trump was able to identify and tap into a huge swathe of American voters who were very uncomfortable with the perception that America was losing its primacy in the world. For many of those supporters, whether White ethnics who were not college educated, or even African- and Hispanic-Americans who were able to have a modicum of self-pride by identifying with a powerful America, Trump’s message of “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) resonated.
While some rail at the “polarisation” of American politics, what we are witnessing is a dissipation of the liberal hegemonic premises of an elite that has governed America after WWII. That elite, starting with Eisenhower and Kennedy, opposed the other hegemonic power, the USSR, in a Cold War that became very “hot” in the rest of the world, especially the “Third World”, including Guyana. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the success of Japan and the Far Eastern “Flying Geese”, combined with the rise of China as an economic and political powerhouse, created new challenges for the American ruling elite, especially its political directorate.
Ronald Reagan’s ascension to the American presidency in 1980, along with Margaret Thatcher’s assumption of the Prime Ministership of Britain, ushered in the neo-liberal response to those challenges. Detente with Russia was the political innovation, while the Washington Consensus was the economic paradigm they imposed on the rest of the world. In Guyana, for instance, then President Desmond Hoyte had to accept the conditionalities of the IMF in their Economic Recovery Programme.
The collapse of the neo-liberal order with the developed world’s financial collapse in 2008 is still playing out with Trump’s rise, and his present continued success is a symptom of the underlying morbidity. The nativism of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and his trumpeting of American exceptionalism worked because of the deep fears engendered in the US as to its future in a newly uncertain world. These will become staples of American politics which Biden will have to grapple with, not only because of the political opportunism, but because he has to deal with their reality in a pragmatic way. He cannot bury his head in the sand in the new America that he has inherited.
In terms of the rest of the world, Biden was a past chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and we can be assured he would work to defend America’s interest, including in Guyana, quite vigorously.