The liberal-conservative bipartisan tradition of the United States has always suffered from a two-sided tension: Democrats and Republicans reflecting two gravitating political cultures, from left to right, that their leaders were in charge of moderating when competing for the Presidency. That changed with Donald Trump, who radicalized the game and empowered the populist factor, acting as the leader of a group of people willing to lash out at traditional politicians and displace the liberal tradition with a reactionary discourse and an ultra-conservative agenda.
That is why the Trump vs. Biden race has become a crossroads of another kind, almost existential, in which deeper and more fundamental questions have been put to the test, ones which have their roots in history. "The fundamental internal problem of our time can very well be located in the counter-resources that a liberal society gathers against the tyrannical compulsion, deep and unwritten, that it contains", wrote Louis Hartz, in 1955 (Hartz, L, The liberal tradition in the United States, 1955). Well, the two biases that fought for the deep seated heart and soul of America in these elections showed a striking parity of forces. The Republicans had a good election throughout the country with an increase in votes among Latinos and African Americans that drew attention. Nevertheless, merit should also be given to the solidness of the electoral coalition built by the Democrats that managed to recover states that had been lost to the Republicans four years before.
Several factors contributed to the results of the most contested and polarized elections in American history that have kept the country and the world in suspense during the days following 3/11, from the premature victory announcement by Trump to the triumph by Joe Biden. Firstly, the indirect electoral system means that the popular vote at the national level is not reflected by the composition of the electors of each state, who will be the ones to finally consecrate the new president in the Electoral College. Secondly, there is the question of the early voting by mail, massive in this case due to the pandemic, which made the scrutiny more cumbersome and complex. And finally, we have the polarization of the electorate, spurred by the President himself.
There was no overwhelming winner or overwhelming defeat, which is also visible in the future compositions of the Senate and House of Representatives, with a notorious parity between Republicans and Democrats, as well as diversity in the spectrum of figures that will enter the Capitol.
The difficulties that delayed the final count of the numbers announcing the ultimate winner of the presidential election leave behind some lessons. To begin with, it makes us think of what distinguishes -or should distinguish- democracies from oligarchic or autocratic regimes: the uncertainty principle. When certain rules lead to uncertain results, the question must be resolved quantitatively, counting vote by vote, and recounting when doubts appear.
In the case that this gets complicated, as we have seen in these elections, a qualitative dimension appears in the final resolution. The reaction of the leaders to the forced lengthening of the count, threatening to ignore the results or expressing caution and prudence; the activism of the people in the streets of big cities and neighborhoods near the polling centers demanding respect for their votes; the role of the media, replicating or neutralizing “fake news”; partisan lobbies and judicial intervention, ultimately tarnishing or guaranteeing the validity of the vote.
All the springs of a democratic republic were thus stretched to their maximum tension, reflecting the interests at stake, the intentions to protect or manipulate the results, to give credit or to dismiss the allegations of fraud. But also, the "checks and balances" were activated to avoid the imposition of a contradictory result, with respect for the popular will that was expressed in the vote of majorities and minorities. This principle of uncertainty bothers those -like Trump- who think they know in advance who the majority will vote for, and when they do not, the only explanation they can find is deception or error.
A presidential election can also be a therapeutic experience of democratic restitution for a society like the United States, divided into -at least- two halves. The collective reconstruction of "We the People" -the formula inscribed in the Preamble of its Constitution- in which the constituents of Philadelphia wanted, in 1787, to embody a principle of unity in extreme diversity.
The American people are what they saw during these last weeks of a strenuous electoral campaign and disputed vote-by-vote scrutiny: the splintered multi-colored mirrors of a kaleidoscope that never stop spinning, making it extremely difficult to achieve the reality of “becoming one” in the election of a president. This is one of the troublesome legacies Donald Trump leaves behind to his successor, Joe Biden, and part of the task that Biden will have to undertake as the 46th president of the United States of America.
This is an intensely political moment that unfolds in the US, in the sense in which the philosopher Hannah Arendt understood politics: as a collective invention, as a set of conditions under which men and women in their plurality, “in their absolute distinction one from the other, live together and approach each other to speak, with a freedom that only they themselves can mutually grant and guarantee”. (Arendt, H., The promise of Politics, 2005).
Fabián Bosoer is a political scientist and journalist. Master in International Relations. Professor and researcher at UNTREF/IDEIA, editor in chief of the Opinion section of Clarín. Author, among other books, of Generals and Ambassadors (Ediciones B, 2005), Malvinas, final chapter (Capital Intelectual, 2007), Braden or Perón, the hidden history (El Ateneo, 2012).
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