Even though more than 50 per cent of the expected votes have already been mailed in, tomorrow, the USA goes to the polls in one of the most highly-anticipated elections across the globe in decades. While there has been much talk about the “end of the American century” in recent decades, America remains the preeminent power in the world. As such, the individual who takes over the helm of their government after the elections is seen as a harbinger of the orientation of the powerful superpower.
And there is good reason for this, since, in an almost unique fashion, the US President is elected through a process that involves the American people evoking the direct democracy of Ancient Greece, where the concept of democracy was birthed. Unlike Joe Biden, Donald Trump is not a product of party politics that is the norm for most modern democracies. He is the archetypal outsider who broke through ranks of the Republican Party by going directly to the people to orchestrate concerns that resonated with them.
Trump has been dubbed a “polarising” figure in American politics, but this is not entirely fair. He has brought back the original imperative that produced “party politics” as the vehicle for making democratic choices. Parties are supposed to represent distinct views on given issues and as such, in a “partisan” fashion, present a clear choice to the people to select the country’s leader. The process is ineluctably adversarial in its construct, in a similar manner to the situation in courtrooms that are designed to produce justice. While the American Founding Fathers were not entirely free from the elitist prejudices against the “masses” when they introduced their “Electoral College”, American elections do tend to produce leaders who embody the “spirit of their times”.
This US election, then, is as much a referendum on the aspirations of that segment of the American populace who feel alienated from the “liberal” straitjacket that became the dominant paradigm due to elitist institutions, as it is on Donald Trump himself. Very few outsiders who call themselves “democrats”, and who decry Trump’s success, appreciate the irony that he has been able to bring into the political realm a wide swathe of Americans who had been historically not only ignored, but also derided.
It is also an irony of faith that if Trump were to lose the election, it would be due not to what can be called his ideological stance, but to an event that came entirely out of the blue: the COVID-19 pandemic. The only countries that were able to control the spread of the virus has been the authoritarian-leaning illiberal States such as China and South Korea, using methods of control that most Americans would not only chafe at but reject outrightly.
At this point, most of the polls indicate that Biden is leading Trump, but this was also the case in the last elections. Because he is seen as a polarising figure, there are a substantial number of voters who do not indicate their preference for Trump when questioned by pollsters. As such, the jury, so to speak, will be out on who is the next president of the USA until all the votes are counted. But because of State rules on the deadlines for counting postal votes, we might not know the result for days.
In the meantime, however, while the individual occupying the Oval Office in the White House might signal to a great extent, the style of his administration, the substance will continue to be guided by the interests of the US, especially in the realm of foreign policy. Guyanese, therefore, should be leery of those who predict some sort of volte face by the US Administration should Biden win the elections. As has been emphasised time and again, like all great powers, the US does not have permanent friends, just permanent interests.
Be that as it may, we wish that the US continues to be a beacon to all who desire democratic governance.