Trump’s emergence as president has proved once again that democracy does not necessarily guarantee that the most qualified candidate would be elected
By Douglas Anele
In the November 3 presidential election, about five out of six in the total votes with which Joe Biden surpassed Hilary Clinton came from Georgia’s biggest metropolitan cities, namely, Augusta, Atlanta, Columbus, and Savannah. The Stacy Abrams Effect was also visible in the senate run-off election in the state, as Democratic candidates defeated the two incumbent Republicans to secure a razor-thin majority for their party in the upper legislature.
With the increasing importance of patterns of racial and ethnic configuration in determining the outcome of elections in the US, the question now arises: What is the significance of black votes to Biden’s electoral victory? The short answer is – extremely significant. In fact, without the solid support he got from black voters during the primaries, it is very unlikely Biden would have emerged as the presidential candidate of his party let alone defeat Donald Trump in the general election proper.
Remember, when the Democratic Party commenced its presidential primaries last year, Joe Biden initially fell behind Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. His resurgence started in South Carolina, a state where 56% of the primary voters were black, and 61% of them voted for him. Three days later, on Super Tuesday, Biden won ten states with overwhelming support from blacks.
It has been estimated that Biden probably got about 90% of black votes in the last presidential election, which is impressive but still less than 95% and 93% for Obama in 2008 and 2012 respectively, but 8% more than Clinton’s in 2016. The improved turnout of black voters last year is probably because of the meteoric increase in early and mail-in ballots caused by the covid-19 pandemic that tended to discourage in-person voting, especially among Democrats.
Besides, Democratic-leaning voters had learnt a bitter lesson from their complacency after Clinton’s defeat in 2016 and, this time around decided not to take any chances. Accordingly, president Joe Biden owes black people a ton of gratitude for defeating Donald Trump. In order to retain their support he should implement programmes that address the main concerns of the African-American community such as racism, police brutality and growing unemployment, crime and dilapidated infrastructure in black communities.
Trump’s emergence as president has proved once again that democracy does not necessarily guarantee that the most qualified candidate would be elected. Objectively considered, Hilary Clinton was better qualified in terms of temperament, cognate experience and track record to be America’s president than Trump, a man whose persona and life as a businessman and public figure seem somewhat shallow and contrived.
Yet, Trump was clever enough to exploit the throbbing resentment of white voters worried about the changing demographics that seem to threaten their irrational white supremacist beliefs, and disenchantment amongst a section of minority groups who feel that the 8-year presidency of Barak Obama did not improve their existential conditions in any substantial way.
Clinton, like every politician, committed blunders that made her lose narrowly in states that she should have – for instance, collecting huge fees for paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs after serving a government that bailed out the financial sector which made her seem bad to many voters, and the issue of using private e-mails while serving as Secretary of State.. But Trump was worse: his lack of discipline, flippant cruelty and nonchalant attitude to the fine details of policy, penchant for conspiracy theories, ringing egoism and transactional approach to public office among other deficiencies eclipse Clinton’s deficiencies.
In my opinion, Clinton lost for two main reasons. The first one is sexism – Americans were just not ready in 2016 to vote a woman into the White House. America is a great democracy and arguably the greatest country in human history. Yet, a sizeable percentage of Americans are still not psychologically prepared to break the last glass ceiling in presidential politics.
As Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief atVox puts it, “Many of Clinton’s strengths were hidden by our gendered expectations of leaders – what she was good at would have been important for her presidency, but it was not what 44 male presidents in a row have taught us to…see. Anyone who thinks that sexism isn’t a force in American politics should have a good answer to the question of why, in a country that’s more than half women, there has never been a female president and, aside from Clinton, no woman has ever come close to winning a major party’s nomination.”
Secondly, these days in virtually all democratic countries the ability to govern based on objective assessment of the candidates running for the topmost political office plays a second fiddle in the minds of a broad section of the electorate. Majority of voters tend to gravitate towards candidates with the ability to attract attention and enthusiasm. Now, in terms of relevant knowledge and capacity to govern, Clinton was light years ahead of Trump.
However, Trump, a former reality show host, knows how to get the attention of his audience, and he used that to great effect when he ran against Clinton. But everything has its limits. Trump’s ability as a crowd-puller which galvanises his loyal supporters makes him a great candidate which, as we have seen, does not necessarily mean he would be a great president. His shambolic tenure in office has exposed the soft underbelly of relying on bluster and braggadocio without real substance or governing ability.
Therefore, although for the second time he deployed the catchy slogan “Make America Great Again,” to captivate voters, unfortunately for him and Trumpians his ‘America First’ policy was not anchored on a detailed pragmatic economic framework that would cushion the negative impact of his trade wars particularly with China. In addition, his bizarre attitude to the covid-19 pandemic which has killed over 400,000 Americans and devastated America’s economy was the biggest nail in the coffin of his re-election effort against Biden.
One of the important reasons why Biden succeeded where Clinton failed was because of his gender. Again, all things considered, he appears more “presidential” and compassionate than Trump. Millions of Americans were tired of the chaos, uncouth and petulant attitude of Trump and were looking forward to a possible Biden presidency to restore the decorum, gravitas and decency in the White House.
Whereas Trump, in the eyes of many voters, was widening the racial cleavages and fault-lines in America by encouraging white supremacist and other extreme fringe groups, Biden consistently propagated the gospel of unity and pledged to work very hard not only to tackle the covid-19 emergency head-on but also to reduce the divisions exacerbated by his rival. Biden’s message of being a unifier-in-chief rather than divider-in-chief resonated with voters who rewarded him with over seven million votes more than Trump, a feat unprecedented in American political history.
That Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president as Hilary Clinton claimed several times was proved beyond reasonable doubt by his disgraceful incitement of insurrection in the Capitol on January 6 as Congress was about to certify the Electoral College results. Several commentators from across the world, especially America’s chief rivals China and Russia, gleefully point to that event as evidence of the poverty of democracy.
That judgment is flawed: democracy,as the Austrian-born British philosopher Karl Popper remarked, is superior to other forms of government because it provides an orderly nonviolent mechanism for replacing bad leaders.Indeed, that the insurrection inspired by Trump and his supporters ultimately failed is a validation of America’s democratic institutions, particularly the willingness of major actors in the electoral processes, including judicial officers, to carry out their constitutional duties without undue bias in favour of the incumbent president.
On the surface, Nigeria operates the presidential system modelled after the American paradigm. The fundamental difference is the kind of human beings that run the system. If Trump was Nigeria’s president seeking re-election, beginning with the chairman officials of the so-called Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) would have concocted results in various states showing that he “won” with a wide margin.
The judiciary up to the Supreme Court would have invented outlandish reasons why the fabricated results should stand in spite of evidence to the contrary. In politics institutions matter. However, the intellectual and moral quality of human beings running the institutions matters most – and there lies the fundamental difference between America’s presidential system and its deformed clone in Nigeria.