I lost $50 last week. I bet with one of my friends that Trump would win the presidential election. The ‘enthusiasm gap’ between him and Biden (ie the number of crazy-scary people who would go to rallies to support Trump as compared to Biden), as well as the recent proof that opinion polls are about as good as calculating election results as a toss of a coin, convinced me that Trump was going to win.
And until his petulant display since the election result has clearly been in, I would say that his performance as president has not been, despite his perpetual tendency to behave like a 14 year old rather than a 74 year old, not too bad.
Now of course, the crassness (which readers of this blog would know I define as ‘rich people behaving badly’), mendaciousness, and general lack of dignity of his behaviour has me thinking that, despite my very conservative inclinations, Trump leaving the White House in 70 odd days time might be a good thing.
However, America has been through worse presidential election crises. 2020 is a ‘fake’ crisis, and even the one which people still might remember, the contested ballot in 2000 in Florida, was pretty much a storm in a tea cup, easily resolved.
For real crises, let’s look at 1800 for starters, when the villain of the musical Hamilton almost became president due to tying with his running mate, Thomas Jefferson. That was when the electoral college was not popularly elected in each state. Vice President Aaron Burr has always captured my imagination as the most interesting of America’s maverick senior statesmen.
Now of course, Trump probably is in the process of surpassing him.
Or let’s remember 1824. The election was split closely enough that it fell into the House of Representatives where Anthony Hopkins lookalike (remember Amistad) John Quincey Adams was elected president over Andrew Jackson.
[Adams fils might not have been the greatest of presidents, but he was a great man, and more importantly, a very decent man, one who spent his whole life, including a career in the House of Representatives after his presidency, defending individual liberty and opposing slavery.]
And there there is the Compromise of 1877, under which the contested election of 1876 was decided in a shady deal, where Republican Rutherford Hayes [you might remember he was mentioned in The Simpsons in the ‘We are the mediocre presidents’ song] was accepted as president by the House Democrats in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the former confederacy. And so civil rights in the southern states was set back 80 years or so.
American democracy has always had its shaky moments, and this is an important thing to remember (Abraham Lincoln got elected despite not even being on the ballot as an option in most of the southern states, which his opponent Douglass saw as a matter of concern which caused him to campaign even harder there in vain in order to try to preserve the legitimacy of the system). I am a student of American history, and I know it better than most Americans do (I say so without any trace of arrogance, but a tinge of concern, being an outsider looking in).
[As a footnote – you would remember from such classic 1970s TV shows as The Dukes of Hazzard and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo that law enforcement and civic leadership in the rural south at least has been seen as a corrupt joke by Hollywood, although that has ignored the real problems in the great metropolises.]
I expect that America will get through the next 70 days OK, and that it will then seek to work on building a new aspect to the always changing consensus which keeps it going, but which is always at risk of falling over. What it needs to realise is that there is a problem with the Antifa and other violent illegal movements of the left, as much as there is of the Trumpist populist chauvinists of the right, and that there is a much bigger institutional problem (of which Biden as a lawmaker has long been a part) where a very large proportion of the population is unnecessarily criminalised and incarcerated.
America is not communist China. But it does need to stop imprisoning people severely and potentially unjustly, and it needs to stop militarising its police forces. Maybe then it can really become the Land of the Free that it sings that it is.