Biden won the US election, but everyone was surprised how close it was and how well Trump did.
It might be said that had there not be the COVID19 virus and Trumps handling it very badly, he probably would have won. Many have been wringing their hands for years, but whatever lies he tells, however much fact-checking was done, Trump seemed Teflon-coated. The standards have changed. Did we really think politicians had to tell the truth in the past and have them resign if they were caught out? The reality show host told people that economy was doing well, the stock market was up and the COVID would disappear and if he wasn’t consistent with yesterday, that is for fact-check researchers. He is still the same friendly face and reassuring voice for many.
But at a more fundamental level, the middle class in the US have been having a bad time for a long time. Neo-liberal economics favours world trade, China does it cheaper and jobs are offshored. The importers can pay Chinese prices for goods, and charge US prices, so their margins have gone up. In 2008 Obama’s slogan was that ‘Change is Possible’ but he failed to capitalise on Democrat control of the Senate and when the Global Financial Crisis came, he bailed out the banks, not the little people who still lost their homes. In 2016 Bernie Sanders recognised the problem, but the Democrat Establishment were scared of him, suppressed the vote in the Primaries and put in Hilary Clinton. Hilary Clinton, as ex-First Lady and Secretary of State was seen as part of the Establishment, and hence part of the problem.
Trump played this, as well as the voting system that favoured small states with Republican governments who wrote the electoral laws with varying degrees of voter suppression. Trump remained Anti-Establishment man, a populist, who would say anything to be popular. This time again, Sanders spoke of the need for change and used the word ‘Socialist’, a brave thing to do in America. The Democrat Establishment was again scared, and again used some voter suppression and getting the other less successful moderate candidates to withdraw to allow Biden’s late run for the Democrat nomination. So the people who wanted change were dudded again. The Democrats had an Establishment candidate, and the Republicans ran a candidate who pretended to be for the battlers.
The current situation is portrayed as just Trump’s ego stopping Biden getting on with the job, but that does not explain why 70 million people still voted for Trump and are very angry. Poorer Americans have a lot to be upset about. Biden was considered ‘past it’ by both the common people and the Democrat Establishment until the younger candidates were failing against Sanders. Biden was suddenly wheeled in to both save the poor people and get the big end of town’s money.
The Democrats scraped in this time. But this does not make Biden a good candidate. It is by no means certain that Biden has any idea how to fix the problem, or if he would be allowed to fix it if he did. Conservative Democrats put him there, and he is likely to have a Republican majority in the Senate, which neither wants progressive change, nor wants to help Biden at all. So enjoy the fine rhetoric while you can.
Even in defeat Trump will have enough power within the Republican party to destroy the pre-selection chances of any Republican who upsets him, so he may continue strutting around making up realities, with an overall effect like a bull in a china shop. But Trump in a strange sort of way was a beacon of hope, who recognised the discontent and tapped it. Though he did little to improve the situation, he gave hope that the Establishment could be defied and this role may continue.
The crunch time will come soon, when the disillusioned voters realise the situation. Will there be a systematic response, marches or vandalism? Time will tell.
It is accepted that the US voting system is so rigged that there is little chance for any candidate not backed by huge amount of money, and the system is hugely rigged in favour of the small states which favours the Republicans. The question is whether the voting system can be fixed for next time- it is hard to see how. It is stuck in the Constitution. The welfare system, the health system, the education system, the wages system and the competitiveness of American industry all seem very complex, with their solutions in different sectors of the economy. Biden is better than Trump, but that was a very low bar.
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
Europe is trying to get out of lockdown, but did not have the COVID19 epidemic under control, so the numbers are rising quite steeply, and look likely to be more than the first wave. I tried to put some graphs together, but it has proved beyond my computer management competence, so I can only refer readers to the Worldometers COVID home page and ask you to click on the individual countries and scroll down to the ‘New Infections’ graph if you want to check what I am saying.
The UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Czechia, Austria, Denmark are all rising. Spain was following the same pattern, but has just started a new lockdown. Germany is ticking up, somewhat more modified, as is Norway. Sweden continues to have cases, but there is some doubt now about how they collect their figures.
The lesson for Australia is clear. We have to be conservative and go for elimination. Suppression will not work. There is danger that NSW has people no longer getting tested, presumably because admitting that an infection is possible means you have to self-quarantine for 2 weeks and have a nasty thing stuck up your nose, when you might just have a cold.
Daniel Andrews has taken the flak, but implemented a policy that has probably saved Australia. No thanks to Morrison, whose advice has been frankly mischievous.
Stephen Duckett, one of the architects of Medicare, tells it like it is.
A friend has sent me this to illustrate how life is in Turkey these days under President Erdogan, who fancies himself the new Kemal Attaturk. Ataturk however was the victorious general at Gallipoli and the founder of the modern Turkish state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. He wanted a modern, democratic, secular state an instituted a new western-style alphabet.
Erdogan has undermined democracy and concentrated power in his own hands. He claims to be Muslim and been a very divisive figure, playing to the less educated eastern side of the country against the more educated secular western side. He had fantasies of leading the Muslim world while building the country with borrowed money, principally in real estate investment. The quality of these high-rise buildings in earthquake -prone Istanbul will no doubt be tested in time. The economy is not doing well, particularly in the COVID19 crisis. This little story about digging up a glacial lake is a micro illustration of his capricious rule, which has involved things like emptying the prisons and locking up journalists and academics who oppose him.
Such stupidity does not only occur in Turkey. If it is foolish to undermine a little lake and dig a hole that cannot be filled underneath it, how much sillier is it to allow long wall mining under the catchment of a large, growing capital city that is prone to drought. Cracks will go from the surface to the mine depth and then the water will run out to sea. We should ask ourselves why we tolerate the NSW government, and Peabody, a US owned mine.
China is a rising power with 1.3 Billion people. Its government is totalitarian, and focussed on improving its place in the world. From a Chinese point of view the West exploited it when it could, and it is now taking its rightful place as the Middle Kingdom, in the centre with others coming to it. […]
Sweden likes to present itself as a highly sophisticated welfare society where a caring State looks after all its citizens. But conservative governments have been quietly undermining its welfare system for some time, and this opening up of the country and talk of ‘herd immunity’ may be both hypocritical and very poor public policy.
The assumption that healthy people will not die, and the rest do not matter is a very callous moral judgement. The assumption that without normal commerce the economy will not function and thus it is the economy versus a few oldies welfare is a morally appalling position, which is creeping in by default.
When I was a NZ sheep and beef farmer standard practice was that the breeding females had a performance criterion. If they did not get pregnant before winter, they went to the abattoirs as they were too expensive to feed over winter.
Managers love performance criteria, and as Management now dictates political actions people now have to perform also. Not strong enough to survive a COVID19 infection? Funeral for you! It is assumed that the rest will be infected once and then be immune. And when most people have been infected so that the virus cannot propagate in the society, we (hopefully) have ‘herd immunity’.
Politics being what it is, things have to dressed up a bit. Less tests, fewer masks, omit certain types of hospitals, change the death certification. Do not state the policy bluntly, and give no mandatory orders from the top, but make it vague enough with scope for non-implementation of best practice and plausible deniability. Make concerned statements of good intent, select some good figures to quote, and praise the people for their fortitude. If the odd whistleblower says something and manages to get publicity, be surprised, deny, promise to investigate and call it a ‘one off’ case or situation.
Brave New World is here. The only surprise is that it has started in Sweden.
I am not sure of the answer to this question. China obviously hid the facts initially as whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang revealed, later dying of COVID19 himself. Dr Ai Fen of Wuhan Central Hospital also blew the whistle and has now disappeared.
China clearly suppressed information initially, and may not be telling the truth now, particularly on the numbers affected.
It used very authoritarian tactics and now claims that the infection of controlled. It seems hard to deny this, if we presume that millions of deaths cannot be hidden. The SARS virus was successfully suppressed with an unprecedented lockdown, and this would appear to be the same. Probably few other countries could have suppressed movement of people as effectively as China could, which is good and bad.
The initial cover up allowed movement to other countries which has allowed the epidemic to spread world wide.
Here is an Indian TV station calling out the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus for not standing up to China, and giving a pretty damning assessment of his actions, both in not getting the facts from China early and then ignoring their delays. The circumstances of his election to WHO seems to be a reliance on China’s lobbying at WHO, and also his debts to China from his role as Health Minister and then foreign minister of Ethiopia. He is contrasted with the previous head of WHO Health, a Norwegian, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, who called out China and embarrassed them over SARS, so China had an incentive to get a more malleable person in the job.
The TV station seems to have a good story and also claims to be daring and young, though it is owned Esselgroup, which is owned by Subhash Chandra, an Indian billionaire with links to the BJP. Things are not always clear in politics , but it does seem that the Director-General is a Chinese patsy.
Readers may recall that I posted on this subject on 19/4/20, and had Dr Li as the original whistleblower on social media. He was an ophthalmologist who died of COVID-19. The origin of the virus was via the markets, but possibly via a bat research project in a secondary Wuhan research laboratory.
The document I used was cited but was from the web and not from a standard journal and sounded very plausible. Now this document that again seems very plausible casts doubt on the previous story.
Presumably there will be a WHO investigation which will come up with a conclusion. This probably would have happened without the ham-fisted and tactless intervention of Morrison. Whether the US or China is deceiving us all may or may not become apparent. Both have quite a lot of prestige riding on the inquiry, and Trump needs someone to blame if he is win the November election.
10 May 2020 As Australian political parties slowly and steadily dismantle Medicare to move us towards a privatised system American-style, it is worth noting the major feature of the American system. Everyone says it is a hopeless system. It depends what you want it to do. It is the world’s best system at turning sickness […]
3 May 2020 Protesters, some armed with automatic weapons invaded the Michigan Capitol (State Parliament) to protest at the State Governor wanting to extend her lock-down powers. It is illegal to carry placards into the legislature, as they might damage the paintwork but open carrying of guns is legal in Michigan. Michigan is the 10th […]