America, We Need to Have a Word
Although I’m primarily an economic commentator and seek out news in this category with a passion that borders on obsession, I have also been known to observe the political scene with more than a passing interest as well.
In truth, this is largely because the latter often affects the former (and sometimes vice versa) but I have to admit I find the arena of politics as fascinating as it is bewildering.
For example, you can usually predict the behavior of a group of people when faced with an economic choice — even quite complex ones — because we understand that ultimately people will always act in their own self interest. In politics, however, this is often not as clear cut — at least on a collective level.
Last night’s US election was, to me, an excellent example of that.
The show begins
Here in the UK, I settled in at around midnight to watch the first results roll in, confident in my previous prediction of a strong Biden win. In fact, just as it began, I had provided commentary for a Forbes news piece basing my prediction on market and Bitcoin activity on that very premise.
It started as expected, the usual over-analyzing of polls, statistics and possible outcomes on colorful maps while the votes were counted in the background. As I sipped on my beer — a Budweiser that I’d selected earlier in the day in recognition of the event I was following — I was still comfortable in my assertion that Biden would win, buoyed by the polls showing a clear popular vote advantage.
There were a few early clues, however, that this may not be as easy as we’d previously thought. Some polls had indicated that a “strong leader” was first and foremost on people’s minds and Biden is certainly not that. In addition, there had been some apparent uptake in Trump’s numbers at the last minute. Surely, though, it couldn’t be enough to make a difference?
Trump was finished. On the basis of all logic, of course he was.
But somewhere around 2am UK time, the tone of the presenters on the BBC’s coverage began to change.
A night of surprises
In an election, especially in the US, most geographical voting areas are predictable even in quite extreme political situations. So, a state that usually votes blue will usually continue to vote blue and vice versa. As always, it comes down to the few states that flip flop between the main parties according to what — or who — is on offer.
It was already clear that the Biden landslide was not going to happen, but then I noticed on my Twitter feed that the odds given by FTX, Augur and Betfair had started to shorten on a Trump victory. Trump had started at 25% in some cases, but within thirty short minutes, had passed through 33%, then 50%, then 72% reaching 80% at one stage.
Almost instantaneously, the US markets started to move. The Nasdaq and Dow rocketed up several percentage points in a few minutes. Sentiment was of a) an outright win and b) a win by Trump.
Suddenly the lazy beer had been forgotten. Now I was sitting upright and messaging backwards and forwards with colleagues and friends based in the US, Canada and even New Zealand all asking the same question:
What is going on? Who the hell is voting for Trump?
#Trumpmeltdown ? Not so much
I personally don’t know a single Trump supporter, or even anyone who thinks he ranks well as a human being, so not only do I not have direct access to someone I can debate the issues with and get a first hand viewpoint, it is obvious that I am surrounded by a biased group to start with.
As any analyst knows, this puts you on dangerous ground as it provides the temptation to start with a false assumption. In this case that assumption would be that everyone dislikes the man and everything he stands for.
Clearly, that's not the case. So what exactly is going on here?
There seem to be a number of issues.
First, it is clear that Biden is not a strong candidate.
This was pretty obvious early on both through his inability to command presence and his vanilla performance in the presidential debates. His main strength appeared to be simply that he “wasn’t Trump” and I presume his party considered that simple fact to be enough to secure the victory.
Now I think about, to a certain extent, I had too.
Both sides had produced dozens of ads, each using all the cliched voiceovers and images that you would expect to see in them.
Happy multicultural families smiling to camera — check
Industrial images of hard working men and women (especially involving any heavy industry that involves producing sparks in slow motion) — check
Images of freedom and fluttering American flags — check
American military (combined with military bugle music undertone)— check
Slow motion shots of family life and happy children— check
And so on.
Trump’s messages focused on strength, power, industry, materialism and the rule of law, and Biden’s carried more idealistic and vaguer messages of unity and togetherness. Both messages reflected, quite well in my view, the different stances of each would-be president, while also pointing out the flaws in their opponents in the traditionally unsubtle way that is unique to American political ads.
One Biden video in particular really caught my eye, but in a way I didn’t expect. It summed up the democratic candidate’s position quite beautifully when the narrator, one Sean Penn, described Biden not as the savior of America, but as the “bridge” required to ultimately lead to the one who could be.
It seemed to be a public acknowledgement from democrats that Biden was only a stepping stone to get away from the madness of Trumpism, and a reinforcement of the idea that his best asset, again, was the fact that he was “not Trump”.
But even putting aside the ongoing discussion aside about it had come to be in a country of 330 million people that these two unlikely alternatives had been been picked as the best candidates available, there was clearly more to the puzzle.
America may be in more trouble than we thought
It’s possible Trump succeeded in 2016 simply because his rhetoric was so unusual for a politician. He made wild and outlandish promises, said what he thought and offered an end to the business of politics that so many had grown frustrated with. Plus, he was that bloke off the telly, a medium incredibly important to the US culture. What’s not appealing about that?
So, even though there were already question marks over his authenticity, agenda, motives and abilities, it was enough to secure a surprise win.
But over his term, he has been proven to be a liar (more than 20,000 times in fact!), failed to deliver on any of his key campaign promises (Has Mexico paid for that wall you haven’t built yet, Trump?), consistently hidden his true financial position while promising not to do so, allowed his utter disdain for ordinary people to make poor decisions so his numbers looked better, cheated, bullied, flouted legal procedure and given the country a real credibility problem on the international stage.
The glaringly obvious outcome to anyone looking at this with an objective viewpoint is that even the most ardent Trump supports would realize they had been completely duped and, with their now completely divided country under the control of an unhinged maniac, would use their democratic power to wipe the scourge from the White House and apologize profusely to the world.
In that scenario, I rather suspect we would have been quite sympathetic as we welcomed our friends across the pond back into the folds of reality and helped them repair four years of serious damage.
But that rejection didn’t come.
Even as I write this the election remains undecided, but the reality is Trump has already won, even if he doesn't manage to hold on to the presidency. Somehow, despite the most despicable behavior possible of a man that is head of the most powerful nation on earth, he has managed to persuade almost half the country that he is still their man and, by implication, that his behavior is perfectly acceptable.
Make no mistake, that’s as impressive as it terrifying.
Not only that, despite his blatantly misogynistic approach to women and the almost universal criticism from his own party members about his handling of Covid-19, Trump actually managed to increase his share of vote among white women (+3%) and Republicans generally (+5%) according to the official exit polls.
But wait, there’s more.
He also had to contend with the Lincoln project (a well funded independent group determined to ensure that he wasn’t re-elected) and countless A-List celebrities encouraging their followers on social media to “do the right thing” and vote him out. Even with working against him, it now appears (subject to confirmation) that he actually received more votes than he did in 2016.
This is not just astonishing, it borders on utterly incredulous.
Who, exactly, could still really believe this man has credibility and is good for the country?
In a way, identifying those who still think this, other than by looking for the tell tale MAGA hats, is irrelevant. Whichever way you look at it, American society collectively has failed. Around half of the entire population thinks it is perfectly acceptable for a president to behave in a way that would normally be considered dangerous in a tyrannical dictatorship, let alone a supposed democracy.
Hell, if this happened in another country, the USA would be stepping up pressure to invade and make sure it didn't happen.
Oh, the irony.
The bottom line
America’s recent leadership issues on the international stage have caused issues with allies and enemies alike, raising eyebrows and slowing progress with critical global initiatives such as climate change.
But it was excusable. The American people had simply been swept along and enthused by a leadership style never hitherto seen before. It was obvious to all that he would be unceremoniously removed from power on November 3rd 2020.
The fact that he wasn’t means the problems are far bigger and far deeper than we ever thought possible. The American people have effectively just made a public statement that they support racism, misogyny, protectionism, distrust, division and a whole bunch of attributes that look suspiciously like a dictatorship.
Why? Because dollar. On the ground, Trump has been good for business, in places at least. Remember that statement about economic choice at the top of this article? Could it really be as simple as that?
But land of the free? Not so much.
And, as I go to publish, my live news stream pushes images to my screen that confirm just how incredibly dangerous this man is and how influential he can be to masses of people who, I assume, would normally be smart enough to spot the madness if they weren’t directly swept up in it.
In Michigan, even as I type, groups of angry Trump supporters are shouting “Stop The Count” now that Trump has the possibility of winning the state, whereas in Arizona what appears to be a carbon copy of the same crowd in demographic and facial expression, is screaming “Count The Votes” where he isn’t.
Both groups must be aware of each other, but it seems the complete irony of dismantling the very system that is supposed to work for them is completely lost.
What more perfect way to summarize the madness that Trump brings to the world — the fact that he is able to influence two crowds to take exactly opposing positions and convince both of them they’re right at the same time?
Wherever we go from here, America, you have nailed your colors to a mast that has highly dubious connotations.
And we, your concerned neighbors, need to have a word.
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