Everyone has to give a commentary on the elections in the United States, apparently, and though I have never so much as stepped on American soil, it is expected of me.
The big winner was Joe Biden, in more ways than commentators have noticed; the apparent weakness of his overall position actually gives him more power against those who are seeking grab power themselves, but more later.
The election was all showbusiness, and that is what we have come to expect. It is turbo-charged since Hollywood pizzazz became the norm in all public presentations, and the Presidential Election is Hollywood-style with the stops pulled out, and that is the spirit in which I followed it, to the extent I did.
It would be comforting to believe this and the visceral hatred splitting the nation is new, but in 1835, when the ink was barely dry on the Constitution, De Tocqueville, who celebrated American democracy said:
For a long while before the appointed time has come, the election becomes the important and, so to speak, the all-engrossing topic of discussion. Factional ardour is redoubled, and all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light. . . . As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and the agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favourite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement, the election is the daily theme of the press, the subject of private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present.
I say that Biden won, but there are the legal challenges. (Were there instances of corruption, stolen votes, dead voters and fraud? I expect so: there usually are in the American system.) It goes to the courts then to confirm the result we already know: the United States were founded by lawyers; the Union’s constitution and institutions were shaped by lawyers, and so it is expected that it will be fought out through lawyers. That is a habit of the American system almost unheard-of in the Commonwealth. On the other hand, it is far better than the alternative we see in less favoured lands.
The Presidency is a winner-takes all situation; it is not like a Commonwealth Prime Minister weighing the strength or weakness of a parliamentary majority, so the narrowness of win does not weaken the incoming President. What does, on the surface, is that his party failed to win control of the Senate, or to move the House of Representative much either. However, all is not what it seems.
The ground-level of the Democratic Party has become a very different place. This was the ancient party of the establishment – the party of Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis and George Wallace, the party that came out of the established powers and upheld them, championing in turn the old states, the plantation system and slavery, Jim Crow, and the gang bosses of New York. It was reliability encapsulated, against the insurgent Republican Party that wanted to tear down slavery and ossified power, but it learned to adapt, to create client groups dependent on them, in the New Deal and the entrenched dependency of welfare systems: even the Civil Rights Act was a cynical client-creation system when Jim Crow had failed. Now the roots are very different, filling with radicals that are the antithesis of what the Democrats were, whose ideas would cause collapse of systems, which are shattering the client systems. Now the man of their party is on top, with all the executive power in his hands, they want a turn at the wheel.
This is where the apparent weakness becomes a strength. By having power restrained, Biden cannot give that power to the nutcases – while he retains sufficient power to do as he wishes. Without control of the Senate, the wild-Democrats cannot fill all the offices of the Union with fellow nutcases: it requires compromise, which leaves Mr Biden in control of appointments, not the radical element.
Much has been made of the new conservative Supreme Court, and again this is to Mr Biden’s advantage, though not in the same way. The political argument over the court has been about the willingness of justices to overturn legislation, by reading into the Constitution words which are not there: a conservative court reads the American Constitution as it is written, and so is les willing to overturn legislation and executive acts. That strengthens the power of the President and of the House of Representatives. Mr Biden, for all the bluster by those behind him, should welcome a conservative court, and when the time comes he should appoint more conservative justices to it.
I doubt that the politicians will see it this way.
On the other hand, I am not an American, and I could have got it all wrong, and any American is welcome to tell me it is none of my business, which it isn’t.