Good grief. That was a deeply stressful few days.
Full disclosure – I wish I had been able to write about this sooner, but in a very odd turn of events I found myself on the island of Tenerife during the US election. My partner and I had a holiday booked for last Tuesday and, well… it wasn’t cancelled, the holiday provider gave us a thousand and one assurances about it being COVID-safe and the tourism industry was already on its knees…
So we went. And very lovely it was, too. Thanks for asking.
I implore you to spare a thought for my poor partner, however. All she wanted to do was unwind, relax, and pretend the world wasn’t on fire. I, on the other hand, stayed up until 2.30am most nights, watching John King relentlessly go through the state-by-state voting data like an electoral Terminator on CNN Worldwide, and spent the days glued to Twitter to watch the results come in for illustrious districts like Susquehanna, PA or Muscogee, GA.
Thankfully, my partner knows me well enough by now to allow me such indulgences. But it was all a bit surreal, watching arguably the most important election in a generation while surrounded by masked, sunburnt Englishmen pounding back the Amstels at 10am.
But, at long, long, looong last, Joe Biden was predicted to have enough votes to be named President-elect. With him comes Kamala Harris, the first female VP, the first VP with mixed heritage, and an all-round boss.
In normal times, that would be that. But, lest we forget, Donald Trump remains President of the United States for now.
And he is not going quietly.
The sentiments running up to Tuesday evening consisted of cautious optimism from the Democrats to nervous alarm from the Republicans. Opinion polls, having been running for weeks, had Joe Biden with a considerable lead over Trump, moreso even than Hillary Clinton back in 2016. Opinion polls had been wrong (so very, very wrong) in the past, but they had learnt from their mistakes, updated their methodologies, and were confident that their predictions were accurate.
Or so they said. Turns out, once again, they were wrong.
Initially, they appeared to be not just wrong, but disastrously wrong, again. At the end of election night, the clear Biden victory was nowhere to be seen. Not only were he and Trump seemingly neck-and-neck on the popular vote (i.e. who got the most number of votes overall), Trump looked like he was in line to win some of the key battleground states that Biden needed to stand a chance at gaining the presidency.
I stopped watching at around 2.30am GMT. It was clear that, after initially falling behind, Trump was going to win Florida. Florida is an exceptionally odd place, and this carries through to Presidential elections, too – it has a number of wildly variable districts within it that vary from OJ-drinking, retirement village sunset towns to bohemian, multicultural hotspots. Florida has often been the state that decides elections (e.g. Bush v. Gore, 2000), and, this time, it was Trump’s.
This did not bode well. At the very least, it proved that the predicted Biden landslide was not forthcoming. Despite the chaotic nature of his presidency, despite the embarassments, and, most of all, despite the fact that 250,000 Americans are likely to die of coronavirus because of Trump’s leadership, he was still very much in the race.
The momentum was with Trump. If trends continued without any major upsets, it looked like he was going to win a second term. But this was no ordinary election – I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a global pandemic on at the moment.
Having survived it once, it was always going to be by destiny’s hand that Trump should be undone by the coronavirus at the second time of asking.
In the run-up to the election, Joe Biden relentlessly campaigned for voters to vote by postal ballot in advance of election day. Ostensibly, this was to protect the public – voting in the US usually results in huge queues of people waiting to exercise their democratic rights in the street. Given the coronavirus’ propensity to spread at public gatherings, Biden wanted as many people as possible to avoid the crowds on election day.
Trump, by contrast, rallied hard against postal voting. He claimed, without a shred of evidence, that it was far more likely to result in fraudulent results, to be subject to tampering, and to undermine democracy. His blasé attitude to the coronavirus was apparent in the run-up to election night, as he flew from rally to rally of thousands of crowds and encouraged them all to vote in person.
It is worth noting at this point that even though postal votes are done before election-day voting, in many states they are counted after the in-person votes on election night.
…Can you see where this is going?
Millions upon millions of Democrats voted through by postal ballot. Very few Republicans did by comparison, who voted in-person instead. As such, on election night, when the first, in-person results started coming in from the battleground states, they were heavily skewed in favour of the Republicans.
Then the postal votes started to be counted.
The best example of how Trump’s lead slowly evaporated is Pennsylvania, the state that eventually won Biden the presidency. At midnight EST on Tuesday, Trump’s lead was around 550,000. By 7am, it was at 700,000. These are big numbers for a single state, even one the size of Pennsylvania.
Then, at 10am, Trump’s meltdown began. The lead shrank to 590,000 by 10am. Early in the afternoon, Trump’s son Eric helpfully tweeted:
But as Twitter itself was starting to point out, the claims coming out of Camp Trump were unfounded, untrue and increasingly desperate. They knew what was coming.
Thus began what is hopefully the last great embarassment of Trump’s presidency – the continued, unfounded claim that the election has been fraudulent.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted:
Knowing that his lead was disappearing, he started claiming that the votes being counted were illegal and that there was vote rigging happening in the counting stations across the battleground states. He urged his supporters to prevent the rest of the count from happening in the states that he was going to lose, although perhaps unsurprisingly not in the states he was going to win.
In a moment of agonisingly painful desperation, Trump gave a statement from the White House saying that he had “won” Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania and that the continued counting was tantamount to election-rigging.
It was deeply embarassing to watch, and it was all in vain. By Friday, his lead in Pennsylvania had gone, along with his presidency.
Then, on Saturday, the media outlets began declaring for Biden. It’s a strange element of the US elections that the winner is declared before all votes are counted, but they only do so when it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that a candidate has an insurmountable lead.
CNN. MSNBC. The Associated Press. Within a few minutes of one another, they all made the call. Then, finally, Trump’s preferred broadcaster, the heavily-Republican Fox News, conceded defeat, too. Joe Biden was to be the USA’s next President.
And that was that, you would think.
And if you did, you’d be forgetting that there are still a few weeks left for 2020 to eke the last few drips of joy out of us.
As of Wednesday, 11th November, a full week after election night, Trump still has not conceded defeat.
He is trying to mount legal challenges in all of the states where he initially led but was then thwarted by postal ballots. He’s applying pressure on his Republican allies to stay in line, where their immediate reaction would probably be to distance themselves as far as humanly possible from an increasingly volatile rump president. And, perhaps most worryingly, he’s fired a number of Pentagon staff and is filling the roles with allies.
So. What’s going to happen?
Well, for a start, he stands as much chance of winning all his legal challenges as I do in a one-on-one wrestling match against a mountain grizzly – something very, very suprising might happen, but he’s probably going to get mauled.
His allies are, one by one, falling away, and more and more Republicans are urging him to concede defeat and not damage the party further (including, very notably, Fox News). While a few hardliners might stick around long enough to go down with a rapidly-sinking ship, it seems far more likely that as the final routes to an unearned victory disappear, Trump will start to find himself feeling very, very lonely.
And an actual coup? While the reports coming out of the Pentagon don’t make for pretty reading (he’s refusing to share vital national intelligence documents with Biden, for instance), it is, at the end of the day, a mere tantrum.
As Biden himself has said, a Trump concession would be “nice to have” but isn’t vital. Come January 20th, Trump will be evicted from the White House, or, should he refuse to go, create a logistical headache that is, at most, deeply amusing for his critics. Ultimately, though, he cannot prevent Biden from, you know, actually running the country.
So while this is all a bit alarming and deeply embarassing for the democratic process, don’t panic – it will all be over soon.
Trump hates losing. According to reports about his childhood, his emotionally-abusive father essentially refused to even acknowledge his son if he ever failed at something. It is, to use a word coined by the toussle-haired, Tango’ed tinpot totalitarian himself, sad.
He will do everything in his power to stop what’s happening. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have much power any more.
A little while ago, I announced that BTL would be constructing a number of “Politics 101” cheat sheets to explain the British political system, major political philosophies and other things you want to know about. These are still under construction, but I’m hoping to have them up and running in time for Christmas.
I know, I know – just call me Santa Clause IV (One for you New Labour types).
Additionally, in the next few days I’m going to be writing a love-letter to politics in general, where I’ll explain how we can all get on a little better and try to repair the damage of the last few years. This will be an essay addressed to those on both Left and Right, and I’d hugely appreciate it if you could share it with friends and family when it’s up.
Lastly, I’ve finally caught up with the twenty-first century and have started using Instagram. While I’ve yet to construct a page for Between the Lines, I have decided to flex those creative muscles by writing three short poems a week about political goings on.
This is called Poetically Incorrect, and you can find it here. As a taster, here is the first post:
I’d be hugely grateful for a… oh god… like, share and subscribe.
That’s it. I’ve officially lost my soul.
Many thanks for reading and your continued support. We live in strange times, but they might, just might, be heading back towards normality again.
Matt, Founder and Editor