By Shivaji Sengupta
On December 14 the Electoral College declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential elections. Donald Trump has tried every which way to annul the result, accusing it of being fraudulent, claiming without evidence that the election was rigged; but now all his options seem to be up, save perhaps the ultimate one: challenging the elections on January 6 in Congress, when the House and the Senate meet in a joint session to accept the Electoral College’s verdict and declare Biden the winner. Though Trump hasn’t said so specifically, he did say that “The battle has just begun,” after the Supreme Court rejected his and the Republicans’ appeal to throw out the votes from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But, today, in this piece, let us analyze why Biden won, and why Trump lost.
First, the loss. There is little doubt in most people’s minds that Donald Trump lost the elections primarily because of COVID. I say “primarily” because there are other reasons, like his provocative and caustic public behavior, the open vindictiveness against those who oppose his views and viewpoints, the constant revolving door that his administration has become, right up to his last days in office. But the Coronavirus was his downfall.
“COVID, COVID, COVID!” He was fond of taunting anyone who expressed serious concern about the pandemic. He has been accused of knowing about the fatal enormity of the disease and hiding it from the public. Trump said in his defense that he was trying to protect Americans from panicking, by being forever optimistic, giving people hope. His opponents – the Democrats – didn’t buy that and used the President’s poor strategy to paint him as careless and callous. Indeed, much as I am against Trump, there may be something in Donald Trump’s professed effort to protect people from panic. After all, he is a businessman, first and last, trying his best to become a politician. Businessmen always emphasize the brighter side of things, always try to sell their product. Remember Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman? – “A salesman got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory!”
But it’s not quite that romantic. Donald Trump is no Willy Loman, the hero of Miller’s play. In fact, he has been the Great Divider, has split our country into two: the 74 million who love him; and those who detest him, blame him for just about every ill in America during the last four years. Four years ago, many Americans voted for him, expecting a vastly different Chief Executive, one who would be the very antithesis of a Washington D.C. politician. Tired of the same old-same old, run of the mill establishment that Hillary Clinton represented, many moderates voted for him anticipating something different.
He was. But not the sort the middle-of-the-road moderates expected. Trump kept most of his election promises, and after assuming office, he swiftly moved to enact one policy change after another. If anything, his moves were way too quick. His hardline stand on immigration, on Muslims entering the United States, building the “Wall,” all coming at breakneck speed, which shocked millions of Americans but were also applauded by his supporters.
The economy was doing well, partly because of the steps the Obama-Biden administration had taken, but also because business and commerce responded well to a businessman-president. Stocks climbed; Trump’s slashing of industrial regulations created unprecedented increase in production and employment. Unemployment was at a fifty-year low. The new tax laws of 2017 brought some extra dollars to the middle class, but it also drove up the national deficit against which Trump had campaigned. His “America First” policy caused him to withdraw from the WHO, harassing the NATO nations for not paying their allotted share of operational funds. He pulled us out of the Paris Environmental Accord. Trump’s opponents at home bemoaned what they saw as America’s loss of face because of these foreign policy decisions. Those supporting him, however, applauded. To them, it was not isolating America as much as making their country great again.
Then, early in 2020, came COVID. Like all epidemics, the virus started slowly, and caught the president completely off-guard. He shouldn’t have been, because Coronavirus had already ravaged China and travelled to Europe where both the infection and death rates were high. Internally, the CDC and other similar health organizations were warning us to take heed. The president didn’t listen, wished it were gone, and kept reassuring Americans that it would soon.
By the time of this writing, 15 million Americans are infected, 300,000 dead. No president would have won an election in the same year as the pandemic. (Although New Zealand returned its prime minister presumably because she led the way to take excellent protective measures, keeping low the infection and death rates). Trump had to lose.
Joe Biden, his opponent, is everything Trump is not. About the only thing in common between them is that they are of the same age-group. Biden is four years older at 78. But in terms of time served in government, Biden is streets ahead. He has been in Washington for 44 years to Donald Trump’s four. He has been a US senator, served as chair of many congressional committees. He has been vice president of the United States. You could say that by voting him in as president, Americans have done a U-turn, bringing back experience and expertise, and rejecting Trump’s novice ways.
In terms of character, Joe Biden is the opposite of Donald Trump: kind and sensitive instead of rude and abrasive. Empathic rather than self-centered. Biden has been through numerous personal tragedies, losing his first wife and daughter to an auto accident, his elder son to brain cancer. Thus, in terms of losing family members of COVID which so many Americans experienced this year, to them Joe Biden was kind, tender, and resolved to rescue them. Biden is also a skillful politician, and was able to project himself during the pandemic as the man who has the emotional and experiential wherewithal to lead us back to calmness and normalcy.
So, the way forward is quite different for the two men. Biden will be our president, governing with Kamala Harris at his side, and with a cabinet brimming with expertise. Donald Trump has established himself as the leading Republican, perhaps with an eye for 2024. He may try to become only the second man after Grover Cleveland to win back the presidency after losing it.
Regardless, they have been interesting, if calamitous four years. To paraphrase the classical English poet, John Dryden:
It’s good an old phase is out.
Time to begin anew.