the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The 2020 Elections In The Collimator; What Did The Two Parties Do

 

 

 

             

The 2020 Elections InThe Collimator; What Did The Two Parties Do.

By

Dr. Michael Sakbani

 

Now that all the recounts and the legal challenges have run their course and enough states have certified the outcome, the 2020 elections results give Joseph Biden as a winner with more than 6 million national votes and 306  against 232 in the electoral college. President Trump was defeated even though he garnered up more votes than any presidential rival in history. Biden`s vote total of 80 million and counting, is the largest in US history. Thanks to a massive election turnout, the 2020 elections will be remembered as an epic battle big on numbers and short on acceptable norms. Trump lost, but the Democrats neither won the Senate, nor the House nor down- state elections. The blue wave proved to be fictive. Exit polls and subsequent information point to many Democrats and Republicans shortcomings in addressing the concerns of voters.

The campaign of the Democrats

The Democrats went into this election with a presumed demographic advantage that has been building up since 2010.  Immigrants from outside Europe, the young and the suburban women plus the blacks are all leaning towards the Democrats. However, this demographic majority turned out to be only a potential one. While it is a statistical reality, the exit polls showed that it is not yet a politically mobilized majority. Latinos voted 7 to 3 for Biden, but they were not monolithic and differed from one state to another.  Some 15 % of black men voters went for Trump. And the young, who came out in large numbers, were not yet a huge electorate. (Yahoo, elections 2020)[1] The lesson is that a political majority obtains when it is an active mobilized force and not a structural fact. Elections are still won by voter registration and field reach and by volunteers bringing voters out to the polls.

Looking at the demarcation lines in American politics today, one finds that they are not simply on identity. The demarcations are between well-to-do college-educated who live mostly in urban centers and their suburbs and less prosperous high school educated who live mostly in rural areas. And the electoral college distribution in the states gives the Republicans a built-in advantage favoring the small states. The demarcations also mark a difference in economic well-being; the rural population has on the whole lower-income and less wealth. Added to gerrymandering perfected in recent years by the Republicans, The Democrats in the  US Senate represent more than 12 million more citizens than the Republicans while they are a minority. In the House, there is a gap of some 5 million.

Biden`s  campaign was disciplined in steering the elections to a plebiscite on President Trump. Biden’s calm statesmanship stood out in sharp contrast to the emotive, peevish, agitated Trump. At the end, Biden won in a lethargic campaign similar in some respects to Hillary Clinton`s campaign because for the majority of voters, he was a more comforting choice than Trump. The Corona epidemic might explain the lethargic virtual character of the campaign, but that is not all. The Democrats fell short on field- mobilization in many places: Miami-Dade County in Florida, on registering and reaching voters in Western Pennsylvania and in rural Wisconsin.

The campaign allowed some slogans used by the Republicans, like socialism, defunding the police, and no fracking to go unchallenged. The Republicans threw accusations of extremism at the Democrat, in English and Spanish, which were not refuted. The campaign adds were not savvy; they did not explain in simple terms universal health care in a mixed multiple payer insurance scheme, the links between Green technology and job-creation, President Trump`s “America First” and his trade policy failures, the viability of returns on infrastructure investment, to give some salient examples. While Trump`s failure of managing the Covid epidemic was well articulated, opening the economy with sensible health protection was not thrashed out. That is why Trump increased his margin over 2016 among voters at the  working-age between 30 and 45 (Let us Talk Politics)[2]. The same can be said about the timeline of placing limits on carbon footprint and fracking. These issues were well articulated only in the campaign background papers, the same mistake made by Hillary`s campaign.

 The Democrats used their money advantage to wage a virtual reach rather than one of  physical ground contacts. Joe Biden is perhaps one of the best retail-politicians in the US scene. Yet, the campaign failed to capitalize on that even in a virtual manner. The Democrats’ investments of $ millions in the Senate races in South Carolina, and in Kentucky did not pay.  But those in Georgia did pay because they were field-oriented.

The polls proved unreliable and dependence on them was wrong and misleading. The Polls underestimated Trump’s strength because they did not address the enthusiasm factor of his base. It would have been instructive for the campaign to decompose the motivations of his various voters in fashioning its ads. The Evangelicals, for example, stress the social issues, Israel and the Courts, the white working class, trade, identity  and health issues, the Trump cult members are motivated by identity issues and feeling ignored. The white racists and evangelist racists are attuned to his racist whistles and have a Machiavellian attitude about his own behavior.

For several months before the elections, the president attacked mail voting and defined legitimate elections as the ones he wins. After the signs of his impending defeat became obvious on election day, he predictably claimed victory and wanted to stop the vote counting.  This was predictable and worth raising by the Democrats as a campaign theme more clearly and before the elections.

The Republican Campaign

The Republicans had no formal platform. Their campaign was about Trump the candidate with all his energy, charisma, fabrications, disrespect of norms and rules and demagogic populism.

Trump had no program for reelection, he simply propagated alternative fact about his achievements and falsely accused his opponents of destroying everything. He downplayed the Covid epidemic while knowing full well since February 2020, that it was lethal and highly transmissible, thereby misleading the public (Woodward )[3].  His driving concern was his re-election and his worries about shutting down the economy, his strong appeal suit (Sakbani,1)[4]. Up till the end of the campaign, he claimed that the country turned the corner on the virus, in the midst of a murderous and unprecedented surge. He abdicated federal responsibility for managing the epidemic leaving it to state Governors and told the people “it is what it is.” The US had to face the epidemic with no coordination, no standard norms and no financial aid to state and local governments. President Trump insisted on opening the economy as early as May, despite contrary advice from the scientists. He muzzled opposing voices and since June stopped attending the Virus’ Taskforce. (Fauci) [5]

Throughout the campaign, Trump claimed that he fashioned the greatest economic growth and lowest unemployment in history. The US economy went into a nosedive after the onslaught of the Pandemic, with income and employment registering lows not seen since the Great Depression. Historical statistics, however, give the lie to Trump’s claim: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton did just as well on growth. During the last three years of Obama, the economy grew by the same rates as the first three years of Trump. President Obama handed him an economy with 4.1 % unemployment (full employment) after his recovery act brought it down from a disastrous 11% in 2009. All Trump did was to bring that down to 3.5 % by cutting taxes, deregulating and running astronomical fiscal deficits at full employment!!! This buoyed the stock market, his favorite index of success. (Bloomberg )[6]

During the Trump four years, the balance of payments on the current account was in a larger deficit than when he came to power. His tariffs weaponization cost farmers and consumers billions of dollars and therefore, he extended billions of dollar subsidies to farmers whose votes he needed (Sakbani 3 ; Image Economy, 2019)[7]

In the rust-belt of the Mid-West, manufacturing jobs went up slightly in 2017 and first half of 2018, but dipped down in the last two years. The billions of dollars of corporate tax cuts went largely to purchasing companies’ own stocks and paying  executive bonuses rather than to investment ( Sakbani,2)[8].  All in all, President Trump’s performance was a slight improvement on the healthy economy he inherited.

Despite all these facts, Trump increased his votes over 2016 by 9 million. His total, exceeding 73 million, is the highest total for a losing or winning candidate in history. except for Biden.  He increased his share of Asian voters by 6 %, over 2016, increased votes from people between the ages of 30 to 45 by another six percent. The Republicans got an unexpected victory in the Senate and lower state elections; they even got seats in the House (L.T.Politics, 538)[9].

This demonstrated that no other Republicans could have done such a job in mobilizing the electoral base. According to “let-us-talk-elections, 538”, 40 states have moved to the left- when the results are + 3 % for the Democrats, compared to 2016 vote (L.T.poltics,538 )[10]. Yet the shift was not enough to inflict losses on the Republicans, a tribute to Trump`s strong campaigning. This performance cemented his control over the GOP. And that control has cowed any opposition to him in the Party and secured his grip on the 2022 and the 2024 campaigns.

This control has instilled fear in all electable Republican politicians. They fear his base and his vengeful reactions if they trespass the line. When the respected Republican Governor of Ohio John Dewitt called Biden the President-elect, Trump tweeted the next morning about a possible future primary candidate in Ohio. That is why all Republican Senators, with the exception of only four, have kept a thunderous silence about recognizing the election results. Sadly, four of them, with presidential ambitions, have joined the President`s false claim of winning. The Republican establishment's silence on acknowledging the results of the elections is really dangerous for US democracy and undermines the viability of its institutions.

A notorious example is the reaction of Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate leadership. Knowing that their majority hangs on the results of the two Senate races coming up in two months in Georgia, they repeated the tautology that the President is entitled to his legal objections.  That glosses over the fact that the elections were transparent and free of any reports of problems and that the President’s judicial claims lack evidence and are being systematically thrown out of the Courts.

President Trump, in violation of all democratic precedents and norms, has refused to concede. Since the elections more than three weeks ago, his political appointee as the head of the GS, Emily Murphy, has not signed the papers authorizing President-elect Biden’s access to the funds allocated for the presidential transition and for receiving security briefings. This is a grave security risk and a dangerous course in the midst of the epidemic. It leaves the staff of the president-elect without access to the planning for the vaccination against Covid during Biden’s official term.

The bizarre scenes of Rudy Giuliani’s and his entourage in the RNC, blaming the dead Chavez and communists for tampering with voting machines  coupled with the defeat of all but one of the 34 of legal claims of election fraud on behalf of the President for lack of evidence was a scene to behold [11]. While Giuliani claimed fraud outside the Court when the judge in a Pennsylvania Court asked him about proof of fraud, he admitted he had none. Trial lawyer Mark Aronchick then moved to dismiss the case (Aronchick) [12] The same travesty was dismissed before another judge in Michigan. It is now reported by the Media that under the cover of raising funds for legal challenges, Mr. Giuliani is helping himself to $20,000 fee per day and the President is paying his campaign debts (Melber) [13]

Running out of legal options, president Trump desperately tried on November 20  to get the Republican legislators in Michigan to throw out the Michigan vote and substitute appointed Trump electors. This was fortunately for US Democracy rebuffed by the respective leaders who said, in the absence of any evidence of irregularity, they will follow the will of the electorates in naming Biden electors.

A Divided Nation In Search of a Rational Discourse

President Trump has undermined America’s claims to institutional democracy and harmed its institutional norms by refusing the results of the election.  He started a course of delegitimizing presidential election results and the peaceful transfer of power, the cornerstone of US Democracy for 204 years.

So far, all the  34 legal challenges of Trump except one, have been thrown out of Courts. His sole successful challenge is in Pennsylvania that concerns a few thousand votes stamped before election day, but arrived after the three days allowed by the state legislature, but within the three extra days permitted by the state Supreme Court. Biden has won Pennsylvania by more than 70,000 votes. Whatever happens to these votes will in no way affect the outcome.

The question is then what does Mr. Trump want? Does he believe his own unsupported claims?

The first motive is the financial one alluded to above. Mr. Trump has big campaign debts and his business firm has, according to the N.Y. Times, more than $400 million of debt (Buettner, Craig and McIntire).[14].  The Wall Street Journal has been reporting about a cash crunch facing his business shortly after he leaves office. He is also likely to be in for numerous suits in New York and elsewhere which will cost a fortune to fight. The second motive is keeping his control of the GOP for a possible presidential bid in 2024. The third motive is using his influence over his large following for some commercial gains like a Trump TV. His recent attacks against Fox News are possible signposts. And fourth, not beyond him, to de-legitimize Biden`s presidency.  

The Trump presidency and its aftermath reveal disturbing trends running in important segments of the US public. President Trump did not create them; they were well on their course before he came on the scene. Sarah Palin before him touched on these Americans who feel that there is no American dream for them and their children. Some of them hardly make enough to look for a better future. They are trapped in a great inequality of income and wealth in a society where the six heirs of the Walton family, who own Walmart, have more wealth than 145 million of them. An economy where 90 percent of the GDP growth generated since 2009 goes to the top 10 percent of society (Sakbani,4, Stiglitz)[15]. Many Americans reel under unaffordable costs of health care, of educating their children and of keeping their jobs, which have been disappearing to foreign lands year after year.  And adding to their anxieties, they are told that by 2040 they will be a minority in their country in relation to foreign organed others they do not know. These “others” immigrate without limit and burden their tax-paid public services. Trump gave expression to these anxieties and used social media to say what no other politician has said. On that social media, he and they could for the first time express themselves without being dismissed by the elite. So, a cult was found of like-minded people sanctioned by approval of very many followers. Trump was the magnetic pole around whom they can coalesce in even rejecting science, overlooking facts, and proclaiming their own truths. He is a liberator, a President without filters or bounds who has taken liberty with truth 22,000 times since November 2016 and who has whipped up their tribal allegiances. They, therefore, believe in conspiracy theories peddled by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Qanon and Sidney Powell on television. This America lives in a bubble animated by right-wing social media where the repetition of lies elevates them to alternative facts. A depressing aberration is that nearly three-quarters of Republican voters believe that Trump won the elections

After the election results became obvious, there was a large demonstration of thousands of Trump supporters in Washington DC, who did not believe the results even though they had no contrary evidence. They were commercing in wild conspiracies about tampering with the software of election machines, again with no evidence. A veteran emergency unit nurse in South Dakota, Jodi Doering, reported on 16 November to CNN and NBC, that patients under her care for Covid 19, did not believe that they had the virus as they were in the throes of death from it !!! 

Another manifestation of the same phenomenon was in the sudden increase of audience for the extreme right cable networks like One-America and Max-News both of which sapped the audience from Fox News after President Trump attacked the channel, hitherto his favorite. Fox-News’s guilt in his eyes is its news department`s acknowledgment of the election results!!! This is like a demand for lies and fantastic conspiracies. Trump will be able to use this part of the US public to serve his dangerous games of fake politics and to keep himself in the US news scene.

The US political scene is showing numerous signs of a schism between what people want and what the political class of the two parties are willing to support. One can see this on several issues. According to Fox News polls, 90 % of Americans support background checks and 67% favor banning the sale of assault rifles. However, politicians in both parties have failed to support sensible Gun Control, because of the financial lobbies of the NRA and arms manufacturers. (Wikipedia) [16]  Another issue is climate change. John Avlon reported these statistics on CNN on November, 19. According to him, 75 % of Americans admit climate change and support environmental controls to combat it, whereas there is no political class majority on such an action, again because of the financial contributions of the gas-oil industry. (Avlon; Pew Research ) [17].  Another issue is women’s control over their bodies. 85 % of Americans support choice with certain restrictions or altogether without.  Only 20 percent oppose abortion at any time. Politicians, especially at state levels, are opposed, because of fears of the pro-life lobby (Gallup, 2019 )[18]. Still another example is Obama`s Affordable Care. Fifty-one percent of Americans support universal coverage with single or multiple payers, and 38 % want such coverage through expanding Medicare and Medicaid. The Republicans are opposed to that, because of pharmaceutical and insurance companies campaign financing (Pew Research, 2020)[19].

The cleavage between the Public and the political class throws into question the validity of the two-party system when issues span-out across the party divide. At the conclusion of his 2020 campaign, Bernie Sanders raised the quest of establishing a movement to coalesce the public on issues and place pressure on both Parties. Maybe that is an idea with a future.

From November 3 till January 20, there are seventy-five days when Trump is still the President. During this time, this out of norm president might unleash vengeful actions or start foreign adventures, He has no rail guards around him. All his aids: Pence, Barr, Pompeo, and Meadows are yes men. He already fired the Secretary of Defense just two days before his own departure for objecting to his reduction of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He fired Christopher Krebs, the director of cybersecurity in the DHS, for stating that the 2020 elections were the freest and most secure in history. He asked for advice on bombing Iran`s nuclear facilities inchoate with his friend Israel`s Prime Minister Netanyahu, but was discouraged by the top brass. (Amanpour, 19 November) [20].

This paper has not dealt with foreign and multilateral policies, because despite their importance, they were of minor attention in the campaign. But sure as it can be, Trump has exited the USA from the multilateral system it shaped, quarreled with US allies, undermined  NATO, sabotaged the Climate-Control agreement and let go of the nuclear disarmament agreements with Russia. In his four years of Presidency, human rights were only episodically raised. In fact, he approved of President Xi`s repressions of the Chinese Ugure Muslims and Tibetan nationalists. All of that amounts to an abandonment of the tenants of Liberal Democracy whose torch has been carried by the USA for decades.

Trump’s departure will not be regretted except by authoritarians. And, like Nero, Henry the 8th, John Adams, and Richard Nixon, he will be long remembered for what he did and what he was.   

 (Geneva, 25 November 2020)

 

                                         Notes


[1] . Elections2020, You Tube, consulted on12 November-

 

2 . Let us talk Politics, 538, YouTube, consulted November 12.

 

3. Robert Woodward, Rage, 18 interviews, published by Simon and Schuster, 2020.

4 . Michael Sakbani, (1) Reflections on the Epidemic and the Macroeconomic Response, in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, March 24.

5.  Dr. Antony Fauci, interview with Dr. Sanjay  Gupta, CNN, November, 10,2020.

6.  Bloomberg Europe, charts of the SP500 and the Dow Jones industrial, New York Stock Exchange.

7 . Michael Sakbani, (2)  the World Economic and Political Scene After the Pandemic, in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, April 16, 2018.

8.  Michael Sakbani, (3) Trade Wars With The World; CanTrump`s Approach Work, in michaelsakbani.blogspot.com, February 18, 2018, Also, WTO, Press Release,April2019; Also, Image Economy Et Al , 2019, March 26,2019.l

9.  Let Us Talk Politics 538, Yahoo, consulted on 10 November 2020.

10.  lawyer Mark Aronchick, CNN, November18

 11. Rudy Giuliani was shown with hair- dye running down his cheeks while wildly  gesticulating with his arms.  Behind him was Sidney Powell who claimed 500,000 fraudulent votes were cast  in Michigan and attacked the Republican Governor of Georgia and its Republican Senator for taking  part in the conspiracy against the President. After checking,  it turned out that she mixed up vote tallies in Minnesota with those of Michigan!!!. CNN, NBC, ABC, CBC and the Washington Post, November 18, 2020. Powell was fired from the President`s  team on November 23, .She announced thereafter  that  she will continue her legal work as a concerned citizen.

12 . Ari Melber, , MSNBC, November10, 2020

 

13.  Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig & Mike McIntire, The New York Times, 27/972020.

 

14.  Fox News poll, Wikipedia consulted on 20 November 2020

 

15.  See Michael Sakbani, (4)  Trump The resident That Was Not To Be, in michaelsakbani.spotblog.com, 2016

16.  John Avlon, CNN, November20, 2020; Pew Research.com.2020

 

17.  Gallup Poll.com, 2019.

18.  Pew Research.com

19.  Ibid.

20 . See Christiane Amanpour interview with The New York Times correspondent in Jerusalem,    CNN, November 20,2020.