Doctor and activist

US Election Commentary- Warning- long post, innovative stuff nearer the end 5/11/20

I shudder to comment on the US Elections- it is a crowded field- 15 professional commentators in today’s SMH alone, and that is without the electronic ones.

But I had a few thoughts, firstly about the US Voting system which is very flawed, then about the candidates, and finally about what might happen:

Biden looks likely to win and Trump is dangerously stoking tensions by calling into question the integrity of the whole US electoral system. The US electoral system is probably not corrupt in a limited meaning of the term. The mail ballots are sent in, and should be counted and not be fraudulent. The counting process is well supervised and credible.

But the whole system is hopelessly outmoded and non-democratic.  Here are a few issues:

The candidate who wins the popular votes does not necessarily win the Presidency because of the Electoral Colleges system. 

The Electoral College system gives two votes to every state, but it was set up when the US Constitution was written, so States with few people have far more votes College vote per citizen that populous States.  So Wisconsin has 1 Electoral College vote for every 195,000 voters whereas California has one electoral college  vote for every 670,000 voters, a ratio of nearly 3.5:1.  The small States are mostly Republican and in the centre of the country and there are more of them.

In most States, whoever wins the State gets all the Electoral College votes, so if a lot of  small states are won, this gives the Republicans a big advantage, which is why Bush Jnr and Trump won with a minority of the popular votes. If Trump wins this time, it will again be with a minority of popular votes. 

This problem is hard to fix as it is in the Constitution, and the small states, like Tasmania in Australia will resist this and there are about 30 Tasmanias in the USA.

Voter suppression is another art practised particularly in Republican states. This involves changing the rules so that certain groups are less likely to be able to vote.  If for example, people who have been in gaol are ruled ineligible to vote, it disadvantages black voters.  If the proof of address is needed, poorer people whose voter registration records are less up to date are more likely to be ruled ineligible. If there are few ballot boxes in certain areas and they are hard to get to, etc.  It is almost certain that the actions of Governor Bush in Florida, the Presidential candidate’s brother helped George W Bush by suppressing voters and gave him the Presidency over Al Gore.  You may recall that there was an appeal to the Supreme Court for a recount and this was denied, the Supreme Court members voting in the interest of the Party that appointed them. This is why Trump keeps talking about appealing to the Courts.

There is also ‘first past the post’ voting rather than preferential, which means that any third candidate merely takes votes from the candidate closest to him or her, and this may favour someone with less than a majority.

The gerrymander of the electoral boundaries is another problem in the US. The incumbents set boundaries that wander in strange shapes to take in pockets of voters and allow an incumbent to survive while the adjacent electorates have huge majorities for the other party, and if there was a fair redistribution the seats would all go the other way.

There is no Federal equivalent of the Australian Electoral Commission, which puts out a model for fair electoral boundaries and then hears representations of why they should be changed from this.  Rather, in the US there is a different electoral system in each state, because that was necessary to get the States to form the United States.  It was not that the founding fathers thought that this was the best system- it was simply the best that they could do under the circumstances.  So it will be very difficult to fix.

At a practical level, Trump seems willing to divide the country.  He would probably have won had there not been a COVID epidemic.  There were more jobs and the stockmarket was high. Generally if the economy is doing well, incumbents are re-elected other issues notwithstanding.  Trump was seen to have mismanaged the COVID epidemic, playing it down as tens of thousands died and millions were infected.  How anyone can still think it is a hoax is difficult to understand, (but this article is not about the media).  How much a President can actually do is other question.  Administration at a day to day level is by States, as we have found in Australia in the epidemic, they still have quite a lot of power.  It will be interesting to see how much Biden can do if he wins.  At least he is likely to recognise the seriousness, state it clearly and mobilise resources.

It seems as the votes are counted that Biden will win but partly due to some of the factors above by a lesser margin than was expected.  The longer the count goes on, the more Trump will stir trouble, and there may be riots as his supporters are strengthened in the idea that he was robbed.  It is significant that all the shops are boarded up in the most fashionable streets in Washington DC.  This is not some backwater- these streets are the equivalent of the most expensive areas in Sydney CBD.

The question will be asked, how could Trump do so well after such dishonesty and incompetence.  I will try to get in early on this.  Trump did some good in foreign policy. He probably stopped the US attacking Iran, and did not commit the US in Syria, which allowed Assad and the Russians to win, but it was hard to see a good outcome whatever happened and it may have been another US quagmire.  He has ‘stood up to China’ economically and militarily, made peace overtures to North Korea, persuaded some Arab states to recognise Israel, torn up the NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement0 with Canada and Mexico, and taken a far more nationalistic line on trade.  Whether all these are good remains to be seen, but they do constitute policy change that is broadly popular with his constituency.

In his style he has tweeted- a direct communication to the common person.  This is the antithesis of what was done before.  Hilary Clinton was seen as a child of the Establishment, the bankers who had been bailed out in the GFC when a lot of people lost their homes.  Presumably if they had been given the money they would have given it to the banks and they would have survived as well as the banks, but perhaps that was too administratively difficult.  Jobs have gone offshore because labour is cheaper there, which has hollowed out the middle class, particularly in the manufacturing sector.  Though this may have been forgotten by the media it is not forgotten by those affected, who do not trust the Establishment, which is partly why conspiracy theories and populism can flourish.

Just looking at the Campaign hoopla: Trump was exciting and optimistic, Biden looked the Conservative, unexciting with a negative message.  The Establishment had not fixed the problems before, now it was demanding its place at the head again to have another go.  Trump may have been talking fantasy, but it was hopeful fantasy, and reality does not look so bright. It is like a religious cult; if you assess it with your heart, it seems right, if you use your head it does not.  It is as if many people in Western society are choosing pleasant fantasy over unpleasant reality with Trump and Biden personifying the choice. 

I spoke to Joe Laurie of Consortium News during the week before the election.  He had an interesting story about Biden that is probably true.  No one thinks that Biden is a very good candidate. Most of us thought that he was past it, and I asked some weeks ago what the minimum criterion for a President was; to read an autocue?  It seems that the Democrat Establishment were not too impressed by Biden but there was a shortage of a credible moderate candidate.  They were scared of Bernie Sanders. He represented a major change. He admitted to wanting things that had been termed ‘socialist’ like universal health care, bigger taxes and more welfare.  Elisabeth Warren was the next most progressive.  There were a number of moderate candidates, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Lobucher, Tulsi Gabband, and the immensely wealthy Michael Bloomberg.  The Democrat Establishment let them have a run, but Sanders was beating them all.  So somewhat belatedly the Democrat Establishment tapped all the young moderates on the shoulder, told that that they could not win, and asked then to stand aside and let it be Biden v Sanders.  Elizabeth Warren was left there, as she was more likely to take votes from Sanders, and it made it look like a more open race.  The Democrat Establishment then supported Biden as much as possible, including doing some voter suppression in the Primaries in California in areas where Sanders was strong.  Sanders was robbed in 2016, and probably again.  So the Democrat Establishment, which represents much of the business world got an acceptable if not optimal candidate, Biden.

The people who had lost their jobs in the GFC and did not trust Hilary Clinton and were not much more impressed with Biden, who was after all, as much of a creature of the status quo as she was. So if you ignore COVID, and do not care much what else Trump has said, apart from noting that he has upset the Establishment, you get some idea of why his vote has held up so much better than was expected. 

The psephologists say that the polls are wrong, partly because of the complexity of the voting systems, but also because people do not admit that they are voting for Trump.  They tell the pollsters one thing, and vote another.  Perhaps political correctness influences their polling behaviour. 

But if Biden wins, what can he do?  He is very much part of the Establishment, who rejected Sanders’ solutions.  The world market takes jobs to where labour is cheapest, particular if it is well organised, like in China.  An unregulated market is like a Monopoly game. Those with more money set the prices and the rents, and those at the bottom compete with each other as price takers.  So money flows upward; the rich get richer, and the poorer people recognise this.  Governments have to act with wages that share the wealth, welfare that provide services and universal things like parks and roads, health and education.  If governments are not willing to do this, and the welfare is to the top end as it was in the GFC people do not trust the system.  Is Biden the man to fix this?  I doubt it.

Marx looked at history from an economic perspective and said that revolution would come in an advanced capitalist society basically because the wealth would increasingly be concentrated in fewer and fewer people.  He did not glorify revolution (as many have since), he merely said that it would become necessary because the rich would not give up their money without a fight.  The US rioters have been called opportunists and looters, but also the bogeyman of the socialist revolution has been discussed.  All this may seem premature or logistically impossible, but if the economic drivers remain in the same direction, it is certainly a matter of concern.  The Establishment must recognise that the economic system cannot remain as it is.  A Republican Senate with Biden as President does not bode well, particularly if Trump’s swansong is to focus many people’s frustration.

I attach Consortium News’ article on Voter Suppression

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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