Federiga Bindi / Sep 2020
At little more than a month from Election Day, Americans watched in disbelief what was supposed to be a presidential debate. Donald Trump repeatedly attacked and interrupted Joe Biden, who at a certain point reacted: “Will you shut up, man?”
In the United States, the President is not only the head of the state, but also sets the tone of the country. Long gone is the Obamas’ decency. Though Trump’s style and rhetoric at his rallies were known, witnessing it in the intimacy of one’s home, at a time when home is the refuge from the surrounding virus and craziness, was overwhelming.
In a normal country, this would be an easy election, but the US long stopped being a normal country and Democrats are worried. As in 2016, winning the electoral votes will not be enough; in fact, it is not even required. To be elected, the President needs to carry the electoral colleges – 270 Electors - a particularly hard feat as liberals are concentrated in the North East and California, not enough to secure a victory. Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, and the Carolinas are among the states that can give or deny victory.
In 2008, there were Obama-Biden lawn and window signs everywhere. In 2016, their absence signaled that something was off. In 2020, Biden-Harris lawn signs are still rare even in progressive cities like Washington DC, while in conservative counties – where Trump signs have populated the landscape for months – they are non-existent. There, people confess that they are afraid of retaliation, of being attacked or having their properties damaged, should they display Democratic signs.
This is America today. The ghost of the past is pervasive, reinforced by Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists, or by his statements that we need to go “back”. Back where? To a segregated past, now that young couples are finally increasingly starting to integrate? Back to women’s submission to their husbands and to having no control over their bodies as Handmaiden and Justice-nominee Amy Barrett believes? Back to sanctioning any digression in gender or sexual orientation?
Hollywood’s America was never the real America, but today it is light years from reality. Long gone is the American Dream. According to the OECD, in the U.S. it takes five generations - the same as in Italy or Portugal, countries known for their low level of social mobility - for someone born in a low-income family to reach the country’s median income. Education is the most powerful tool for inclusivity, but as the gap between good and less good public schools increases, and enrolment in higher education among disadvantaged students declines because of the exorbitant fees, social mobility is plummeting.
As unemployment grows, in the time of most need, access to health care is consequently declining. COVID is making the most victims among minorities. And yet, Trump aims to get rid of what is left of Obama Care and, if he could have his way, also of Medicaid and Medicare, the free health care for poorer or older people.
In the meantime, the West is burning, and urban confrontations continue, skillfully used – when not provoked – by Trump and his followers. The same people who are trying to make it hard for minorities to vote – especially African Americans who are overwhelmingly Democrats and may help Biden carry states like South or North Carolina. Though voting is a constitutionally protected right, its exercise is less so. Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in the South, the use of expedients to limit minorities’ voting rights was widespread.
As COVID will exponentially increase the number of people voting by mail – there are states like Colorado that are mailing the ballots to all residents – it risks complicating things further. Statistically, republicans are more likely to deny COVID and thus to vote in person. As votes by correspondence will be counted after those expressed in the booths, the risk is to have two electoral outcomes: one of the early hours of the 4th of November, and the other – the real one – days, if not weeks, later.
Trump has repeatedly refused to confirm he is going to concede in case he loses. Instead, during the debate, he reiterated how the vote will be rigged. Cornered, risking indictment for fiscal fraud and much more, he may be tempted to call “his people” to defend “their President”. People who, while others were buying face masks, were amassing bullets and weapons.
In case of a contested election, the Supreme Court will have the last word. In 2000, by denying a Florida recount, the Supreme Court de facto handed victory to G.W. Bush over Al Gore. Experts foreseen several requests for recount this year, and the two sides are building unprecedented armies of lawyers. It is not surprising that Trump took no time in naming Amy Barrett and that the Republican-controlled Senate is doing all it can to have her seat in the Court confirmed before November 3rd.
Dark clouds are floating over the United States, and the smoke does not only come from the fires destroying California. As in meteorology the clouds coming from the US usually find their way to Europe, often political and cultural trends arrive from the other side of the Ocean. Although Europe does not carry the same historical and cultural baggage of the US, the baggage it carries is totalitarianism. Also, intolerance, racism, violence are universal sins and viruses that spread faster than COVID. Those in Europe, on the conservative side of the political spectrum, who wish for Trump’s confirmation, need to understand the dangerous domestic and international implications of such a possibility. They may end up getting more than they wished for.