Election Postmortem Gerry OShea
President Clinton’s political guru James Carville’s oft-repeated statement of election wisdom that “it is the economy stupid” was deemed not to apply in advance of this year’s presidential election. How could any other issue supersede a raging virus that was causing nearly a thousand deaths a day, with every poll showing that most people blamed President Trump’s incompetent handling of the crisis?
Amazingly, exit polls on election day revealed that the COVID crisis was rated third on the scale of importance by voters. Racial division showed at second and at the top again, number one, came the economy.
About a week before election day the Federal Reserve Board announced that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had expanded at a record 33.1% in the third quarter. This was welcomed like manna from heaven by President Trump and all Republican candidates. They argued that this never-before-achieved growth rate was proof that conservative Republican economics were working, and they assured people that the fourth quarter would show similar record numbers.
This extraordinary progress in productivity and employment led to a sense of hope that the dark clouds were lifting. Few people adverted to the fact that the growth numbers had collapsed by 31.4% in the second quarter and that the Feds were predicting a decline of 6.5% in the GDP for the whole year.
A week after the election on November 3rd , Pfizer, the multi-national pharmaceutical company, announced that their tests on the development of a coronavirus vaccine came through with an unprecedented 90% success rate. The company CEO, Albert Bourla, boasted of this achievement as a historic event – “a great day for science and for humanity.”
The president had spoken frequently about the imminence of a vaccine which, of course, he hoped would happen before election day. Imagine the impact on voters if a 90% effective COVID preventive treatment was announced in late October. Mr. Bourla asserted that the timing of their statement had nothing to do with the elections in the United States. This claim elicited a wry smile from the president and his top advisors.
Actually, Trump and the US government contributed nothing to the Pfizer research, but one can imagine the ownership claims that would have been made by the White House of a 90% prevention vaccine and how this might influence an electorate shaken by the cursed pathogen.
The president spoke frequently about the growth of company share prices during his time in office, and indeed the Dow Jones numbers have increased substantially since he was elected in 2016. It is estimated that 20% of voters, about 30 million, have retirement funds called Tax-Deferred Annuities (TDA) invested in Wall St. They get quarterly reports and their spirits are buoyed if the numbers in their portfolios are going in the right direction. This provided an important electoral fillip for President Trump.
The president scored well in gauges of economic wellbeing, slightly ahead of his opponent in this singular area. In one poll his positive efforts registered at 56%. In a strange anomaly, Trump’s job approval rating as president hovered around an ominous 44% since he started in office. The first statistic suggests a clear path to re-election for an incumbent, but the latter one indicates a steep mountain to climb for any president who is so consistently perceived as inadequate.
Slogans matter in every campaign. The cry to Defund the Police was meant to tie the level of government funding to needed police reforms. However, the actual words allowed Republicans to promote the idea that Democrats are against strong policing practices. Joe Biden repudiated the slogan but it damaged Democrats on November 3rd.
Initial results favored the president as he won Florida and Texas easily. Democratic leaders in both states looked to a huge turnout of Hispanics to move the needle in their direction. They were disappointed when they lost heavily in the two states, and they feared that these results were a worrying augury for other parts of the country. Those results were showing in Trump’s favor on the night of the election, and he was also hundreds of thousands of votes ahead in the crucial swing states, called the Blue Wall, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The president, feeling empowered and succumbing to his need for instant gratification, declared himself the winner. Never mind that he announced that the election was “rigged” before a vote was cast. The antics around his claim of victory brought to mind a memorable event in Ireland in 1982. Malcolm McArthur, a well-known upper-crust socialite in Dublin, murdered a nurse, followed by another killing, and he then headed for shelter in– of all places – the home of the acting attorney general.
The prime minister, Charles Haughey, was flabbergasted when he heard the story, describing it as grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. Conor Cruise OBrien, an opposition member of parliament and prominent intellectual, mockingly suggested that the acronym GUBU should be used to avoid the drum roll of adjectives. That shortened version is still heard in Ireland to describe unusual and unexpeced happenings.
The president’s declaration of an “easy” victory with tens of millions of votes to be counted beggared belief. As time went on, when the numbers began to show Joe Biden moving ahead, he accused the election system of fraud, praising the count where he was winning but making allegations of malfeasance where he was down. Yet, he and his lawyers could not show even one credible example of voting irregularity. GUBU on steroids!
President Trump’s actions and his party’s compliance brought to mind the first election in East Germany in 1946 after the end of the Second World War. The Moscow-backed Socialist Unity Party, SED for short, was heavily defeated, but the headline in their newspaper read “Great Victory for SED.” And that puppet government lasted for 44 years.
The final results show Biden far exceeding the number of electoral college votes for victory and winning the popular preference by more than five million while adding five states that Trump carried in 2016 to the Democratic corner. A thorough victory from any perspective.
The election has been called by the networks and President-elect Biden has addressed the country stressing the need for reconciliation and an end to demonization and lurid partisan accusations. Most of the major world leaders have called to congratulate the new president-elect, and he has proceeded to name a commission to advise him on a comprehensive plan to beat the awful virus, just as he promised.
However, President Trump, still in tantrum mood, refuses to concede and, indeed, continues to claim victory and he is actually developing budget plans for 2021. Adding to the sense of GUBU, most Republican lawmakers remain in lockstep with him. The president dismissed the Defense Secretary, Mark Esper and two of his top aides leaving people wondering what he has in mind for the Defense Department during the last few weeks of his presidency.
There are two possible reasons why a defeated candidate won’t concede his loss and leave office. The poet, John Milton, captures one of these in Paradise Lost when he considers Satan, defeated in the imagined heavenly war and consigned to chaos, the black hole of remorse, dejection and tears, but still shaking his finger defiantly at God:
All is not Lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of Revenge, immortal hate,
And the Courage never to Submit or Yield.
This kind of heroic depravity does not apply to Donald Trump who takes out his negative frustrations by playing golf and pouting angrily when asked what proof he has that his defeat in Michigan by 150,000 was due to “illegal suppression.”
The other explanation for why he is refusing to accept defeat is far more credible. This man was raised by a powerful and amoral father who drilled into him that he must never be a loser. And he has lived the life of a grifter, achieving satisfaction by intimidating and crushing people who crossed him – family members, contractors, politicians.
His niece Mary, an eloquent and impressive psychologist, describes him as a narcissistic sociopath, a sick man and a bully whose first instinct is always to dominate and humiliate any opponent. In addition, his shallow emotional make-up cannot deal with the clear fact that he was beaten easily by the man he dismissed as a weak opponent, Sleepy Joe.
The leader who demeaned black people, warning that the Democrats would encourage them to move to and pollute the suburbs, was defeated by a massive turnout of African-Americans in Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta. He is a loser because of them. The law of karma applies. The people that he openly despised brought him down.
This story, loaded with GUBU, is not finished yet.
Gerry OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.com