If anyone needed proof that Donald Trump was wholly unsuited to be President of the United States, this election has provided it. His peevish, inaccurate Twitter claims about a “rigged” and “fraudulent” contest, supported by no evidence at all, are unworthy of any occupant of the White House and the encouragement he has given to his supporters to take action on the streets is a disgrace to his office.
It created an extraordinary situation in which several US networks refused to show the President’s comments because, in their view, they were demonstrably false.
At the heart of Trump’s problem is that he hates losers and cannot bring himself to accept the idea that he might be one himself. He has shown many times on the golf course that he will cheat to avoid losing. The word “loser” is the ultimate insult in his vocabulary. Incredibly, he even applied it to soldiers who had died for their country until he realised that such remarks did not go down well among veterans of the Vietnam war or the grieving families of those who had given their lives.
As a result, he is looking for ways to minimise his sense of loss, and his immediate response to that mounting threat has been to claim that he has been victimised and that the Democrats have “stolen” the election. In that way he can claim that he hasn’t really been beaten and therefore isn’t really a loser. It has been credibly suggested that Trump’s psychological flaws derive from inheriting his wealth from his father. It is said that in such cases the son often fights off a sense of unworthiness by being arrogant and aggressively assertive about his own prowess.
The unusually large number of postal votes this time, caused by the widespread fear of Covid by people who didn’t want to stand in line with crowds– an understandable fear in a country where 240, 000 people have died – has made it easier for him to claim that votes counted days after the election could be fraudulent, especially as Democratic voters seem to have used this facility more than Republicans (partly because Trump encouraged his followers not to). The ridiculous claim by his lawyer, the largely discredited figure of Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York – “Who knows where these votes came from? Maybe they came from Mars” – illustrates the intellectual paucity of his so-called legal challenge to the results.
The chaos and delay over counting postal votes is largely Trump’s own fault. When it became clear that as many as 100 million people would be voting that way, rather than in person, Trump put in his own nominee to run the US postal service. This resulted in massive budget cuts to the service, making it less able to handle the massive new demand. Republicans governors in some areas also hampered the handling of postal votes by having only one drop-off point in a county, such as Harris county in Texas which serves 4.2 million voters. Others made it difficult for postal voters by demanding a witness to every signature or photo ID of a kind that many people in poor urban area don’t have.
These changes were made possible by a maverick Supreme Court decision in 2013 that states no longer needed federal approval to alter electoral arrangements. As a result, there are dozens of different systems in place around the country, It is hard to believe that exploiting this loophole wasn’t a deliberate attempt by Trump and Republican leaders to sabotage the effectiveness of postal voting and give grounds for legal challenges.
It was widely stated before the election that the United States is divided as never before.
The effect of the campaign has been to emphasise that polarity, each side convinced, as Simon Schama put it, “that the victory of the other spells the end of the Republic, so that the contest turns into a competition of terminal nightmares.” On one side the fear is a of a Marxist revolution created by a Biden-Kamala Harris America in which, as Vice-President Mike Spence declared, “you won’t be safe.” Likewise the Democrats portrayed a Trump-led future as a tinpot autocracy. Neither of these scenarios, of course, was ever likely to be true, but truth is the first casualty in politics as it is in war.
Yet the polarity in American opinion demonstrated by the election results is very different from those Doomsday scenarios. It was class divisions, not the colour of voters’ skins, that determined the result. Trump made gains with Latinos, blacks and Asian Americans, both male and female, and actually lost some white voters. Analysis of the votes in the states that have declared suggests that 60 per cent of the support for Trump, the supposed racist and sexist, came from women and ethnic minorities, and only 40 per cent from white men, making nonsense of the widely held liberal view that the only people who back Trump are white male racists.
There be something of the Thatcher revolution in this: working people following the money, especially when their traditional parties, Labour and the Democrats, get stuck in an ideological rut. Trump’s go-for-growth philosophy appealed to these voters in a way that the pundits and pollsters never saw coming.
Biden’s main gain was among educated groups, especially graduates, where he gathered 55 per cent against Trump’s 43 per cent. In fact, Democratic gains in this area were bigger than the non-white votes that moved to Trump. But Biden, like Obama before him, might have a hostile Congress to deal with, blocking progress on issues like health care and the relief of poverty.
One reason Trump is so desperate to hang on to the White House at all costs is that he faces personal debts of $350 million, mostly personal guarantees that are due to be paid in six months. Without the immunity provided by the Presidency, he would be a marked man, possibly open to criminal charges - an outcome that would bring no tears in this household and, I suspect, in millions of others.