Why are you so enthusiastic about US elections? Why are you celebrating Biden's victory?
These were the questions some of my friends asked me upon seeing how closely I was following the US elections. That’s why, I have decided to coherently put what I think about these elections, and why they matter to me as an Indian and as a person who firmly believes in democracy.
Mockery of Democracy
In the recent past, we have seen a rise of ultra-nationalist and populist leaders across the globe. Donald Trump is the tallest of all of them in terms of spreading venom for bigotry and undermining democracy in every possible way. He also represents the oldest democracy and the so-called superpower state of America. In the USA or most of the nations, the head of a State has massive power in hand to set the tone, change the direction, and redefine the idea of a nation.
In this context, the re-election of Trump would have meant mainstreaming of white supremacy, armed goons, climate change skepticism, Islamophobia, etc in the US political space. It would have also meant a continuous assault on rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality, the fundamentals of the American Dream. Trump stood for everything which is anti-democratic.
In a nutshell, the defeat of Trump is the defeat of the idea of the USA he stands for. Which in turn, means new hope for the idea of: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Eagle with New Soul and Wings
On the opposite side of Trump, we have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The duo, who had never deflected from the narrative of a united and inclusive United States. This non-deflection from the inclusion agenda is important because frequently, we have seen leaders from secular parties in India taking a pro-majoritarian stand. Biden's first address after being President-elect asserts his vision of being a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify. The election has also sent a strong message to all the countries where populism is on the rise that an all-inclusive unifying agenda can help you get elected. There is no need to go with the flow of the majoritarian agenda to win elections. Instead, the non-populist parties need to create their agenda, which is based on the issues that affect the lives of the people.
Kamala Harris getting elected as the Vice President, is as equally significant as Barack Obama getting elected as President. After 244 years, the USA has elected its very first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American Vice President! It has given hope to millions of women of color! A quote from her speech is worth remembering in this context, “Democracy is not a state it is an act.”
The Spine of Democracy
The role of Independent Institutions in a democracy is one of the important facets this election has underlined. The election was not a clear win for Biden as most expected. Instead, the battle was cut-throat. Every vote mattered as the margin in crucial swing states was very thin. Trump asked his followers to vote in-person on election day at election booths. On the contrary, the Biden camp, citing pandemic reasons, asked voters to vote via mail. As a result, on the day of counting, Trump was leading with a thumping majority in the first rounds at many places. But as the mail votes started getting accounted for, the margin started shrinking and Biden took the lead. This phenomenon was observed in crucial states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
Trump lost his cool seeing this, and as usual to his style, started baseless accusations of voter fraud. Some of his followers gathered near counting booths to stop the vote-counting process. In this scenario, the election mechanism faced all the pressure from these fringe elements, and even the President, but never bowed down. When Trump was ranting about baseless voter fraud, the media houses started displaying a disclaimer about the hollowness of his argument. When his rant went beyond control, news agencies took a historic stance and stopped live broadcasting.
The media taking such a stance against the head of the state is worth praising. This exemplary example of institutional virtues shown by the election mechanism and Media is something we can learn from the USA, especially when we see institutions without a spine daily in our country.
The mismanagement of the pandemic is a common characteristic among all the populist leaders. More than 10 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than two hundred thousand people have lost their lives. The pandemic has shown the structural problems in the system, especially health care. Biden has promised to fill this gap and take immediate precautionary measures. The same applies to handling the situation in economic matters.
A comparison of these two leaders on Policy aspects is equally important to understand deeper repercussions. ObamaCare aimed to provide affordable health insurance coverage for all Americans. Many poor, unemployed citizens and people with pre-existing conditions like chronic diseases who generally do not come under the ambit of insurance, have benefited from ObamaCare.
The Paris Agreement, aimed at curbing global warming, is one of the historic steps in which all countries agreed to control carbon emissions. One of the crucial achievements of Obama’s second term, the Iran Peace Deal, was a ray of hope for peace and tranquillity in western Asia. Biden has supported Obamacare, the Paris climate deal, and Iran Peace Deal, while Trump has taken a firm stance against these policies. Further, Trump is an Islamophobe and a person with a strong anti-immigration stand. Biden has opposite views on these matters.
Hope for better tomorrow
This election also has events that are beyond the Biden-Trump binary. One of them is the re-election of members of the ‘the squad’- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) from the Bronx, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All these women of color advocate universal health access and actions on climate change. All of them hail from poor working-class families and have emerged from strong grass-root movements. They do not take corporate donations. Instead, they have relied on crowdfunding and individual donors, even though millions of dollars were spent by their opponents with corporate donations. The grass-root activism they are part of is responsible for the massive turnout in the elections this year. This has been highlighted in the survey carried out by the Associated Press on the demographic of President-elect Joe Biden’s supporters. The survey states he has 90%, 70%, and 63% support among Black, Asian, and Hispanic voters respectively. These votes have played an important role in flipping crucial states in favor of Biden. Such a high turnout of Blacks and other communities is only because of the grass-root movements like Black Lives Matter.
On the contrary, only 43% of white voters have shown support to Biden, which implies high support to Trump among the white community. Re-election of the members of the squad reintegrated faith in grass-roots activism. AOC states that the change can only be brought on the streets.
Another important aspect worth underscoring is the role played by the politically active individuals who were using available means at their hands to make people aware and galvanize them for high voter turnout. They were using social media in the most creative ways to send messages across. This reintegrates faith in the democratic ways of fighting the mightiest with ideas.
Towards a new dawn
One can argue that there are many contradictory stands taken by Biden and Harris in the past, which need scrutiny. There are some flaws in this duo, but what is more important is defeating a person and his core support base, who constantly spit venom and undermine democracy daily.
Moving further, one will criticize the structure of the USA, which is ultra-imperialistic, and how it not only affects the American people but also the global climate. This point is very valid, and it lays a long journey of struggle ahead, but let us first enjoy this victory of democracy.
In a nutshell, the US presidential election gives hope, a fighting spirit. It underscores the importance of individual and innovative ways for fighting the mightiest, and highlights the role of independent institutions, and reassures faith in democracy. It also makes one draw several parallels with India’s political scenario, and that’s why I am equally interested in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections.
(Akshay is currently working as a Consultant with the Department of Urban Local Bodies, Government of Haryana. He is an ex-Chief Minister's Good Governance Associate. He has studied Public Policy and Governance at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. His areas of interest include governance and anthropology of the state.)