What Does the American 2020 Presidential Election Portend for Emerging Democracies? By Dr Babayo Sule

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The United States of America has been parading itself as the custodian of democracy and democratisation on the globe for many decades. America has been policing and polishing the developing countries who are perceived as the emerging democracies world over with democratic aid, monitoring of elections, provisions of electoral logistics and sanctioning of any perceived threat individual to the ambitious Fukuyama’s historicisation of democracy and democratisation of history as the last and final form of government that mankind can ever practice. Most of the emerging democracies look up to US as a guardian and role model of democracy, scholars championed the exemplication of a politics of an ideological politics, peaceful and bitter less elections and a non-zero sum game nature of American democracy. The above views are maintained not only when President Donald Trump was elected in the 2016 Presidential Election in the US. Many political pundits viewed the 2016 Presidential Election in the US as the expression of swing voting and deterioration of democratic values not because Donald Trump did not deserve to emerge but for the simple fact that the electorates are no longer in possession of an adequate political knowledge to make a rational choice that will save the dignity and integrity of election and democracy in the giant of the world.

If there is any doubt that President Trump will not make it to the White House again in November 2020 Presidential Election, it is perhaps, from the political pedestrians who may have a little insight into the bigger picture of American politics. What concerns most of the experts who saw it coming was how to relieve President Trump of the Seat after his defeat which all permutations pointed towards even before the Election proper. For the record, no President was ever impeached in the US and make a successful return to the White House. Besides, the way the President handled the Corona Virus pandemic with his usual political rhetoric and a blunt dismissal of serious issues with meanness according to many health experts cost the country more lives to the pandemic more than it should have cost. Additionally, the President is a realist that the world should have celebrated for his openness and a vulgar statement of intention without a hidden diplomatic agenda. Such leaders are easily predictable which made their strategic decisions anticipated and apprehended. This however, affected President Trump expensively because his outbursts portrayed him as a racist, arrogant and a defiant undiplomatic world leader that the chaotic world is not ready to handle contemporarily.

For those who do not know how the American Presidential Election works, it should be noted that popular votes may not necessarily lead to victory, the 538 Electoral College votes do. Electoral College votes are allocated to States in the US based on some factors that need not arrest us here. Some States are apportioned more than 20 while others as low as 3 or even 1. For any candidates that should be the US President, he must secure a minimum of 270 Electoral College votes even if he is losing the popular votes. Several concerns were raised on the flawed system that is projected to have rigged many US Presidents into office at the expense of popular candidates. In the 2000 Election, Al Gore suffered this destiny when he secured higher popular votes but was shortchanged in the Electoral College votes. In the 2016 Election, the Democrat candidate, Hilary Clinton secured popular votes of 65,853,625 votes (48.0%) while her rival, President Trump got 62,985,106 (45.9%), a margin of 2,868, 519 but the Electoral College votes offered President Trump the advantage of 306 votes against that of Clinton of 232. Through an unpopular voting process, Trump made it to the White House after a controversial campaign tragedy full of political hysterical manoeuvre. For instance, Pippa Norris in his Book “Why American Elections are Flawed and How to Fix them” published in 2017 by Cornell University Press stresses that “the America’s 2016 Presidential Election polarised opinions, generated allegations of fraud, vote rigging, repressions of voters’ rights and hacking. Several major structural weaknesses have exacerbated doubts in the 2016 campaign, thereby worsening party divisions and further corroding public trust in the electoral process”.

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The build up to the 2020 Presidential Election was full of rancor, campaign of calumny, bitterness, hate speech and an unusual political tension that the US Elections spent a while without witnessing. However, the process was not a new development or spared from the 2016 saga. In the process of battling for White House in 2016, President Trump introduced a new brand specie of political campaign. Dari Sylvester Tran in his Book “Unrigging American Elections: Reform Past and Prologue published in 2019 by Palgrave Macmillan states the following concerning the 2016 American Presidential Election: “The year 2016 was a carnival-like time in American politics: many events were seemingly bigger than they appeared, while the gigantic personalities like carnival barkers promised fanciful policies with no basis in political reality. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Republican candidate Donald Trump maintained that the upcoming election would certainly be “rigged,” particularly if he were to lose. After a stunning November upset—Trump captured the requisite Electoral College votes even as he failed to secure the popular vote—he continued to claim that the election had indeed been rigged. Specifically, he alleged that widespread voter fraud was behind the millions of votes that separated his vote share from his opponent Hillary Clinton, and that 3 to 5 million illegal ballots had been cast”.

Having benefitted from the proceeds of the above outburst and political misdeamenour, President Trump expanded his weird political scheme again in the build up to 2020 Election to the extent that many fears tension after his defeat which may shame the American democracy. For instance, most of the analysts and projectors seemed not only to be swaying their opinion in favour of Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, but they almost were praying for his emergence to avoid the ill-cruising of the American ship in the sea of global political economy by President Trump. W. Joseph Campbell in his Book titled “Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in the Us Presidential Elections” published in 2020 by University of California Press narrated the following concerning the fears of the aftermath of the US Presidential Election in 2020: “Some people in the polling business say they fear the 2020 presidential election may give rise to polling errors akin to those that dramatically upended expectations in 2016. Their fear is that state-level polls, which failed to signal Donald Trump’s popular vote strength in crucial swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, may flop again. Courtney Kennedy, director of survey research for the Pew Research Center and lead author of a report about polling’s performance in 2016, has spoken publicly about this fear. “I don’t see forces that are going to fix this”.

Further fears were expressed some few months before the election which were later confirmed by Trump ineptitude and attitude. Richard L. Hasen in his Book “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy published in 2020 by Yale University Press reported some fears and uncertainties of what Trump’ s defeat will portend for American Election and democracy in the following paragraphs: “The point of this book is not to ask whether American democracy can survive Donald Trump. Trump is more a symptom of the American electoral system’s malfunction than a cause. The problems will exist even after he leaves the political scene. Nor is this book a broader attack on issues of the equality of voting power, such as the use of the Electoral College for choosing the president or the presence of partisan or racial gerrymandering. The point instead is to ask about the resiliency of an electoral system that most people have long taken for granted. Trump certainly has been a norm-breaker, and his actions have opened a national conversation about whether it is norms rather than law that hold American democracy together. The central norm at stake in this book is the peaceful transition to power after hard-fought but fair elections. Nothing before Trump guaranteed such transitions, and nothing in the Trump or post-Trump era guarantees it either. Democracy takes work, and it begins through recognition of the stresses on the American system of producing clear and fair winners and losers (P.20).

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Further fears of President Trump trying to truncate a peaceful transition after losing wear expressed in the following words of Richard L. Hasen: “In May 2019, Nancy Pelosi gave an extraordinary interview to New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush in which she expressed concern that President Trump might not leave office voluntarily if defeated in 2020. Pelosi, a Democratic representative in Congress since 1987 and the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, told Thrush that Democrats should run a center-left campaign in 2020 and not try to impeach Trump, despite the findings in the Mueller report, so that they could win a wide victory over the incumbent president. But it was what she said about the peaceful transition of power that caught the nation’s attention. The only way to ensure Trump’s removal from office in 2020, Pelosi said, was if the Democratic presidential candidate won an overwhelming victory. She revealed that she had told her inner circle before the 2018 midterm elections that she was worried Trump would try to stop a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives if that election was close: “If we win by four seats, by a thousand votes each, he’s not going to respect the election. He would poison the public mind. That Pelosi would publicly make such statements was a remarkable acknowledgment of the new dangers facing the United States. And she was not alone in her concerns. Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, concluded a long day of public testimony in February 2019 before the House Oversight Committee by remarking, “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today” (P.110).

As forecasted above by various political stalwarts in the US, the November 2020 Presidential Election has come and gone but the tension is yet to be doused as President Trump continues to brag and drag the result and his defeat in a deliberate denial. The final result in the 2020 Election indicate a squarely defeat of the incumbent President in both the popular votes and the Electoral College. Joe Biden, the elected President scored a popular vote of 80,978,429 and an Electoral College vote of 306 defeating the seating President Trump who scored 74, 093, 377 with an Electoral College vote of 232. The results indicate a wide margin of popular votes of 6,885,092 and a difference of Electoral College vote of 74. President elect, Joe Biden set an unprecedented record of the oldest elected President into the White House and with the highest number of popular votes ever scored by any President in the history of the United States. Despite all these features, President Trump is still disowning the result and threatening legal action, a phenomenon that has not been seen in the country since the Post-Cold War era of the American consolidation of democratic imposition on the globe not even by Al Gore in 2000 Election who, according to the journalist, Larry Flynt in his Book “Sex, Lies and Democracy: the Naked Truth about America’s Democracy and War Against Terrorism” had every fact to dispute the result due to alleged irregularities that forcefully cost Al Gore the seat. President Trump will go in the end of all the melodramatic transitional hiccups that he may succeeded in creating for himself and the winner, vested interest and invisible powers in the country would succeed in either persuading him to succumb to his anticipated defeat or through coercion and threats if he failed to yield easily to the peaceful process, no matter what it takes, he has mocked the entire American electoral system and its democratic principles with a battered image that could not be repaired anytime soon.

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USA Presidential Candidates: Trump and Biden
USA Presidential Candidates: Trump and Biden

The repercussion of Trump’s defeat has a spillover impact on global democracy. The US is the exporter of democracy according to William Blum in his Book “America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy”. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in America which has four core grantees of National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI), the Solidarity Centre and the Centre for International Private Entreprises (CIPE) received an annual increase funding from $180 to $300 million in the 2020 budget proposal and it has been approved by President Trump. The NED is a bi-partisan non-governmental grant-making organisation with the sole mission of advancing democracy in the world. NED provides support to over 1,500 non-governmental organizations annually in more than 90 countries. For a country that is spending huge and supporting over 90 countries in the world, by interpretation more than half of the world countries to face such a political rigmarole where the defeated seating President is employing all words recklessly to discredit the election and a possible denial or strangulation of the peaceful transition process entails a setback to the global crusade on democracy by the world power. The country may not in the near future, acquire the effrontery to police the defaulting democratising states as it used to do in the past for fear of retaliatory insults and a possible internal backlash.  

For the emerging democracies, they may now have a subtle approach towards democratisation. Coups and counter coups may be handled softly by the US for now if they may occur (who knows the world continues to cycle intermittently) and several incumbents especially in Africa where a shameless display of a charade called election is easily stage-managed with impunity, will continue to impose themselves as against the tenets of democracy. Additionally, those countries such as Nigeria for example, who are being an exact replica of the American Presidential system may start having a rethink on the practicability of the model since its root is now shaking and it has not been working appropriately in the countries that adopt them. Rival powers that maintained a rigid and a closed democratic operation such as China and Russia will push harder for alternating the Western liberal democracy with their models while the conservative Middle East countries that retained monarchy will continue to operate in tranquility with less pressure if any for the simple fact that the mother of democracy in the globe has orchestrated its internal downfall by a reckless votes that led such a careless leadership to assume the mantle of its governance. For now, the US may not find it easy to compel democratic compliance. Joe Biden can quickly restore this lost glory through all-inclusive migration policies, anti-racist stand and a minimal economic warfare with other economic powers such as Canada and China. The President-elect may also reconsider immediate restoration of internal benefits such as Obamacare and external ones including climate change treaty and Iran’s nuclear deal in addition to a balanced diplomatic relationship in the Middle East which will restrain Israel from further aggression while confining Palestine to the initial signed agreements.an increased aid and grants can also douse the created stained relationship between the US and developing countries in addition to some visits especially Africa. More of such efficacious internal and foreign policies are capable of restoring the integrity of the US global cause for democratisation soon.

Babayo Sule (PhD),
Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities Management and Social Sciences,Federal University Kashere Gombe, Gombe State Nigeria

About Umar Abdulwahab 73 Articles
UMAR ABDULWAHAB 9News Nigeria senior correspondent; A seasoned journalist, and ardent Public Policy Analyst. B.Sc and M.Sc in public Administration from university of Maiduguri and University of Abuja respectively.Diploma in Journalism (PGD Journalism) from International Institute of Journalism, Abuja.Abdulwahab Umar can be contacted via Facebook @Abdulwahab Umar or E-mail: abwahab2003@gmail.com

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