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OP-ED: What does the US election tell us?

  • Published at 12:20 pm November 10th, 2020
Trump Us election
Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather at a 'Stop the Steal' protest Reuters

Biden did not win this election, Trump lost it

The election was won by Biden with a weaker performance than had been anticipated. The most common forecast was in the range of 320-355 Electoral College votes for Biden/Harris. In fact, Biden will end up with 280-306. The effort by Trump to take the election to Court will fail to change the result.

A successful reversal of the outcome of the election by the Court will tear the United States apart. The record of recounts in American elections is that this may change the vote totals by a few hundred, not tens of thousands. Biden’s victory seems secure.

The United States population is divided almost equally between Democrats and Republican, and according to the election results, the difference is 3-4%. Both sides are full of extremists, and there is little indication of a mood of cooperative behaviour. Many of the leaders of both parties are also extremists and seem to opt for greater conflict, not less.

Biden has campaigned for a program of coming together and reducing the emotion and verbal violence of political discussion. Time will tell us if this is possible, but one has to be sceptical.

The race for Senate control

The final battle of this election will be for control of the Senate. There are four seats not settled. The Alaska Senate election will certainly go to the Republicans. The North Carolina contest will most likely also go to the Republicans. As mailed ballots can be received up to November 12, the North Carolina election cannot be settled until then.

The other two Senate seats are contested in Georgia. To win a Senate seat in Georgia, you must have more than 50% of the votes. One election is headed for a run-off as there were three candidates, each of whom received a substantial share of the votes. The top two go on to the run-off.

In the second Georgia Senate race, in addition to the two main party candidates, there is a third candidate with a small share of the vote. As the two main party candidates are almost equal, this second race will also require a run-off. Run-offs are scheduled for early January.

Flush with their victory in the presidential election and with the strong election apparatus that has been built, the Democrats will be trying hard to win both seats. Should they do so, the Senate will be 50-50, and VP Harris will cast the deciding vote on any issue.

Control of the Senate is critical for Biden. A Republican Senate will hamstring the entire program that Biden hopes to achieve. But prospects for winning both seats are not good for the Democrats.

Bringing jobs back

It is now clear that half of the American population is responsive to Trump’s efforts to improve the economy and promote the social values he supports. The view of Trump put forth by liberal America, that he is a deeply flawed human being and therefore his policies are wrong and not acceptable to the American people is just wrong.

During Obama’s two terms, three things happened: The pace of Chinese growth accelerated and more and more manufacturing industries located in the United States moved to Mexico and China. Job loss and factory closure was immense. The Obama regime, like Bush before him, paid little attention to the issue of retraining and locating employment for the workers who lost their jobs. With closure of factories, the small businesses in the towns found their sales falling, and many of them had to close or to exist at a much lower income level.

Attempts to raise wages by minimum wages and contract rules made things worse. Rules and regulations for business grew steadily, increasing administrative costs. Large corporations prospered through relocation and technology investments; small businesses suffered.

Trump focused on just these issues in 2016 and tried to change the outlook for American manufacturing. He was not successful, but all those who had suffered the consequences of globalization and rising regulatory costs saw Trump as a person that had their interest in mind. The Democrats have shown little awareness of these issues.

Religious conservatism

During the 16 years of Bush and Obama, the United States went through a social revolution. This was not new but it became more intense. The first point is that the religious views of Americans were going through significant change.

The historical Protestant churches seemed increasingly irrelevant to modern life and had little attraction for young people. Catholics continued to be a significant part of the membership of both political parties. Evangelicals were much more important for Republicans [42%] than Democrats [19%], and the non-religious were much more likely to be Democrat [40%] than Republican [15%].

 Religions Composition % of political party members

         Catholic        2325
         Mainstream Protestant2016

Source: Pew Surveys       

  • Table includes only 4 large religions groups.
  • Excludes all other religious groups.
  • The four cover about 85% of the population.

These religious orientations had strong consequences for key social issues. Abortion, an important issue in American politics is opposed by Catholics and Evangelicals. Of course, these are general preferences and not every Catholic is against abortion. Similarly, attitudes towards homosexuality and same sex marriage are linked broadly to religious groupings.

Trump presented himself as a strong opponent of abortion and the collection of issues around homosexuality. His appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court is linked to these social issues. The Court in recent years has opened choices for men and women to live as they wish. To change this greater openness, new justices were needed who would reverse these earlier rulings. 

Money, money, money

The third issue of importance is money. Wealthy people in the United States wanted lower taxes. The Republicans offered lower taxes, and Trump certainly delivered on this. There are about 31,000 Americans residents in the USA that have a net worth above $30 million [Tk250 crore].

This group is against wealth taxes, higher income taxes, higher taxes on capital gains; all of the tax increases the Democrats are offering. The wealthy will contribute to the Republicans to keep taxes down. I think most of the highest 20% of the income distribution voted Republican.

Two things happened for the wealthy during the Trump years. First, interest rates were kept low by the Federal Reserve, flooding the financial sector with liquidity. Second, corporate income taxes were lowered. The first action led to large investments in the stock market, driving up prices. The second made the earnings of the corporations higher, also driving up share prices.

The wealthier 20% of Americans have done very very well under Trump.

In the middle of the pandemic, the Gallup polling organization reported that 64% of Americans said that they were better off than four years before. Of course, they would consider voting for Trump. In December 2019 almost everyone had a job and wages were beginning to rise for the workers with the lowest wages.

Like it or not, you get the blame or the credit for what happens when you run things. Trump received credit for the improvements in the American economy, even though much of the improvement was a continuation of trends in the Obama presidency.

All of those such as myself who longed for a repudiation of Trump, who were offended by his behaviour and character have to face the reality of America in 2020. There is widespread support for Trump based on the 16 years of failure of Bush-Obama to come to terms with the real situation in the United States: The changing role of religion in articulating and fighting for social values, the tremendous benefits for wealth he delivered, and the improvement in employment and compensation that took place among the poor.

Finally, one must be realistic. Trump presents himself as a strong, bold person fighting for his objectives. Biden presents as a very decent human being. But if you need help in a fight Trump is a better choice. For lots of people Trump’s power attracts.

In a democracy, a successful leader listens to what the people are saying. Trump did this much better than Hillary and won the election of 2016. What caused Trump to lose the election of 2020 was his mishandling of the pandemic. He failed to listen. Biden and his Democratic party did not win this election, Trump lost it.


Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham and has been a consultant for the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

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