The results of the U.S. elections on 3 November could have been worse. Pollsters and pundits had predicted a Democratic landslide, a blue wave capturing not only the Presidency, but also the Senate, in addition to the House of Representatives, already controlled by the Democrats. A prominent left-wing Democrat, Robert Reich, Secretary of Labour under Clinton and presently a Berkeley professor, had openly laid out a programme for a permanent Democratic takeover: Packing the Supreme Court, splitting California into two states while making the District of Columbia a full state, and abolishing filibuster in the Senate.
This will not happen. Biden was elected with a narrow majority, the Republicans seem set to hold on to the Senate, and they gained several seats in the House of Representatives. Trump who had been written off by the pollsters and pundits got more than 70 million votes. Recriminations are already beginning in the Democratic Party where moderates attack the radical left, represented by Senator Bernie Sanders (although he sits as an independent) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom admit to being socialists. The moderates say that the radicals destroyed the chance of a real victory. The left-wing takeover of the Democratic Party is no more likely to happen now than the Democratic takeover of the United States.
Why were the polls so different from the results? The answer is obvious. Trump supporters have been told for four years by the ‘mainstream’ media that they are bigots, racists, and crypto-fascists. Of course they were not going to reveal their voting preferences to any caller from what they would suspect to be a part of this very media. But some of the exit poll data are very interesting. Many more people with a college education voted for Trump than previously anticipated, and he gained more support from the African-American and Hispanic communities than any other Republican presidential candidate has done for half a century. Again the answer is obvious: It’s the economy, stupid! Many Americans thought Trump would be better for the economy than Biden. For example, members of the Hispanic community in Florida had typically moved to America because they dreamt of better conditions for themselves and their families. They want to be upwardly mobile. Trump, with his programme of tax cuts and deregulation, held out hope for those people.
In 2016, when I was interviewed on Icelandic television, I said I would have voted for Hillary Clinton rather than Trump. She was a safe choice, a known entity, I commented, whereas Trump had bad manners and was a protectionist. I found his proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to be preposterous. We should build bridges, not walls. But now I would have voted, albeit reluctantly, for Trump. The reason is that his bark turned out to be much worse than his bite. He was a reasonably good president in terms of activities, or even better, non-activities. He cut taxes and deregulated; he refrained from the extraordinary habit of American presidents to send their military into any country of which they disapproved; and he appointed to the Supreme Court judges who would make decisions by reference to the U.S. Constitution rather than to their own dispositions and prejudices. He did only implement his deplorable protectionist agenda in a very limited sense. It would be absurd to say that Trump tried to move the U. S. in the direction of a police state. Indeed, the F.B.I. seemed actively to work against him. The impeachment case brought against him by the Democrats had no basis in facts.
I understand my sophisticated and well-educated American friends who cannot stand Trump’s vulgarity, crassness and narcissism and who therefore voted against him. But for an uncommitted political observer it is an intriguing question whether all this was a part of the problem or the solution. Perhaps some people voted for Trump not because of his programme, but because of his personality. They may have enjoyed his attacks on the ‘mainstream’ media and his erratic sincerity in front of the cameras. For them, it may have been a part of his outsider’s charm that he always seemed to be unprepared. He was what they wanted to be; he said what they wanted to say. Trump is neither a conservative nor a libertarian (although he says himself that he is somewhat of a libertarian). He is a populist. He is a pioneer in going directly to people through the internet and mass meetings, bypassing the media. He portrays himself as a lone fighter against the elites on both coasts. Of course all politicians have to some extent to be populists. Reagan was running against Washington for all eight years of his presidency. Thatcher assured her voters that the National Health Service was safe with her. But Trump seems to rejoice in what others did out of necessity.
The real worry now is not any takeover by the Democrats. Nor is it in my opinion the blatant bias of the ‘mainstream’ media such as CNN, ABC, CBS, Washington Post and New York Times. They reach much fewer people than the more balanced Fox News and Wall Street Journal. What is worrisome is the social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. Imagine that all the roads in a country are privately owned. Then the owner turns out to be a bigot and lays down a rule that African-Americans cannot drive on his roads. Of course this would be totally unacceptable. But Twitter and Facebook control most of the internet means of communication. During the election campaign, they used their power to suppress stories such as the discovery of a laptop allegedly owned by Biden’s son, with some incriminating stuff. It was a newsworthy story, even if it seems that Biden himself did nothing wrong or criminal. His son may have been indirectly selling access to his father while he served as Vice President in 2009–2017: again, probably not a crime, but perhaps reprehensible behaviour. But this is for American voters to decide, not Twitter and Facebook.
(Gissurarson’s column for the Conservative 11 November 2020.)