Some thoughts on the election and the future of US power

The final results are still a while away, but it looks increasingly likely that Biden will squeak through to a victory sometime later this week. There are still plenty of things that could go wrong though: the Democratic lead in Arizona is precarious, and Pennsylvania still looks like a coin toss. Trump is lawyering up and attempting to squirt clouds of squid ink over *checks notes* vote counting. I’ve seen videos of Trump supporters in one state demanding that the count be stopped, while supporters in another state demand it be continued. Leaving that aside, here are a few things to think about over the next days and months:

  • The future of the Republican party: After enabling Trump for four years, senior Republicans may have finally found a red line. Republicans like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have challenged Trump’s unfounded claims about voter fraud. Court stacker extraordinaire Mitch McConnell tentatively backed the President saying: “In a close election you can anticipate in some of these states you are going to end up in court, (it’s) the American way.”

    I suspect Republicans will humor Trump for as long as it is vaguely legal, but will drop him at the first sign of real trouble. They got a conservative court, hundreds of federal judge appointments, and maybe even the Senate out of his Presidency. Biden taking over is not all bed. They can pin the recession and out-of-control pandemic on him, and set themselves up for 2024.

    Looking ahead, Trump has shown that socially conservative working class populism is the GoP’s way forward. When combined with gerrymandering, the electoral college, and judicial appointments, appealing to a radicalized minority is an effective strategy. (There is a certain irony that the electoral college, which in theory forces candidates to have broad appeal across the country, actually concentrates power among rural minorities and a few battleground states.) I expect the party to continue shedding its overt racism to pick up socially conservative minorities; Latin voters turned to Trump in large numbers this election. I expect the party will try and find a more stable, less fickle, version of Trump for 2024
  • Gridlock in Washington: Right now it looks possible that Republicans will maintain control of the Senate, while Democrats hold the House and Presidency. Add to that a conservative leaning court, and there is a recipe for a whole lot of nothing. The NYT reports that business groups are already looking forward to an administration where the rhetoric is toned down, but no serious progressive legislation can pass the Senate.

An America tied up in domestic battles is unlikely to take any meaningful progressive leadership on the global stage. This is bad news for global climate change (although Biden has announced the US will rejoin Paris) and domestic progressive reform. This might encourage the EU and China to step up further, we shall see.

  • Trump: All I can say here is that I expect his claims about voter fraud to become this cycle’s equivalent of the Birther conspiracy, turbo-charged by an ex-President mouthing off about it every day.
  • Splintered inside and out: A recurring preoccupation of mine is the contrast between US military and financial hegemony and its declining economic and soft power. The US military still has no serious military competitors (except perhaps in cyber), the Federal Reserve is the world’s central bank, and the US dollar is still firmly the reserve currency. Shale has turned the US from an oil importer to an oil exporter. On the other hand, the US share of the world economy has been shrinking for decades, its under pressure technologically, and soft power has taken a hit since Trump. Trump’s tariffs sanctions are an example of how military or financial power can be used to correct for an economic gap.

    How does a power react to a decline in some areas but not others? What changes when we add schizophrenic domestic politics? I’m not sure yet, but I promise to keep thinking about it.

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