US Election

The 2020 US election was certainly memorable. During this election season we have seen insult-fuelled debates, a nail-biting election night and long legal challenges. After nearly four years of controversial Trump leadership, the American public voted for Biden, who won the electoral college 306-232, the same margin as Trump did in 2016. But unlike President Trump in 2016, Biden won the popular vote, by more than five million. There was record turnout overall, and Biden won the highest number of votes of any presidential candidate, ever.

However, it was surprising that Trump did as well as he did, considering that his approval ratings never went above fifty percent during his term. The projections of a huge “blue wave” never really materialised.

The issues surrounding this election were unlike any in US history. One of the most important issues was the response to Covid-19, which has killed over 250,000 Americans. In addition, racial justice was a large issue in the election, following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent protests. Issues such as climate change and its associated impacts were also high on the priority list.

This election, however, was not just important for Americans. For the UK, President-elect Biden’s victory will mean that issues such as a coveted US-UK trade deal will become especially important. Negotiators will have to carefully consider Biden’s and the Democratic caucus’ views about the Good Friday Agreement. In September, Biden tweeted: “Any trade deal between the US and the UK must be contingent upon respect for the [Good Friday] agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period”.

The electoral college vote is on 14 December. At the time of writing, it is uncertain whether Trump will concede the election before then or will continue to contest the result in courts or on Twitter.

In November 2016, we solicited comments about the prospects of an administration under Donald Trump. Four years on, we again asked Tom Pursglove MP and American writer Adam Begley for their views on the US election and Trump’s leadership. We also contacted a British university academic who is currently teaching in what turned out to be a pivotal swing state in this year’s election, for his state-side perspective.

Robert Brettle
1 December 2020

Adam Begley is the author ofUpdike, and biographies of Nadar and Houdini. He was the books editor of The New York Observer for twelve years, and has been a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography. He has lived in the UK for over 20 years.
Joe Biden won the 2020 United States presidential election by a significant margin. He won the electoral college by the same margin Trump did in 2016, and the popular vote by more than six million. By contrast Trump lost the 2016 popular vote by nearly three million.

In many ways this year’s election was a triumph: more than sixty-six percent of eligible voters cast a ballot – a higher percentage than we’ve seen for more than a century – and this in the midst of a pandemic. There was very little disturbance at the polls, and the results were tabulated relatively quickly, again with only minor disturbance.

In other ways the election was a catastrophe: the loser not only refused to concede but also falsely declared that the election was rigged and that he was in fact the winner. Trump’s antics have been shameful and pathetic and also dangerous. He has undermined faith in the democratic process, faith that may be slow to rekindle.

Biden’s victory gives hope that the disastrous Trump presidency was an aberration. Instead of a bumbling malignant narcissist in the Oval Office, a man seemingly incapable of truth-telling, an utter stranger to fact, we will have a man who is decent, honest, quietly capable, and abundantly experienced.

Biden’s behaviour since November 3 has been impeccably presidential, whereas Trump has behaved like a spoiled toddler; he has demonstrated yet again that he’s unfit for high office.

Kamala Harris will be America’s first female vice president. She will also be the first Asian-American and the first African-American vice president. That, too, gives hope that the nation will turn away from the racism and xenophobia of the Trump years.

The Senate still hangs in the balance. If the Democrats win the two undecided Senate races in early January 2021, they will have effective control of both houses of Congress. Biden would then have the tools necessary to undo much of the damage done in the last four years.
Hope, in that case, blossoms into joyous expectancy.

Adrian Brettle moved to the United States in 2010 and read American history at the University of Virginia. He is now lecturer in history at Arizona State University.
Symbolically, the “call” by Fox News for Biden to win Arizona on election night marked an enduring shift in momentum; until then, President Donald Trump, with his earlier victories in Ohio and Florida, looked on course to repeat his shock 2016 win. However, President-elect Joe Biden captured Arizona from the Republicans by 10,000 votes, and the state had the only Republican loss in the Senate.

Arizona’s modest tilt leftward has a number of causes. Republican divisions mattered here; the spectacular personal feud between the President and the late Senator John McCain disguised deeper disagreements over fiscal and foreign policy. Meanwhile Arizona’s recent rapid urbanization, including an influx of Democrat-voting Californians, helped the Democrats. Around thirty percent of Arizonans identify as Hispanic and Trump’s divisive border wall rhetoric outweighed his economic appeal to them. Arizona’s relatively low unemployment and economic growth was always the strongest Republican message, but the shocking speed and magnitude of the virus’s surge undermined Republican support among the huge senior community here. Finally, Democrats got out the Native American vote representing five percent of the population. This community usually sits out elections.

Biden opposes Brexit. Yet the fact that Britain continues to be the second largest defense spender in NATO probably matters more to an administration determined to rebuild alliances and international organizations. After all, it was the Obama administration that started the demands for European members of the alliance to pay up. If Britain retains a close relationship with EU, leverages existing connections with other nations such as the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, and builds new ones – for example with the trans-Pacific partnership –a trade deal will be concluded.

Meanwhile Trump’s more than seventy million votes indicates the continued potency of populism; an appeal of a politics that privileges class grievances over racial identity, especially an antagonism toward a perceived globalized elite associated with the social media giants and pro-China policies. Furthermore, lockdowns energize this base, as those who cannot work from home resent the ‘zoomer’ class.

Tom Pursglove has been Conservative MP for Corby since 2015. He currently holds the government post of Assistant Whip.
The election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States and the historic election of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the first Black woman in the role, represents a huge moment in American politics. Their ticket impressively achieved more votes than any other in US history. Like after every election, this is an exciting time and a fresh slate this time around – a chance to restart, refresh and renew. Their success will directly impact upon our success, given how our two countries are so inextricably linked.

As this transition is made however, it is important to acknowledge the arguable achievements of the outgoing Trump administration, which, if we are being honest, has at times been unjustly maligned, where I suspect other administrations would have been effusively congratulated.

In particular, the President’s personal role in securing the peace deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, where the signing of the agreement to normalise relations between the two countries serves as an historic step in the Middle East peace process, leading Israel to suspend its plans for the annexation of the West Bank, something we too in the UK have consistently opposed.

The pre-Covid strength of the US economy, which mattered for jobs and prosperity in this country, was also hugely impressive, and I do believe the current administration has been emphatically pro-British, reflected in the President’s desire to secure a mutually-beneficial free trade agreement, and in his regularly expressed affection for our country.

It is also worth noting that, generally speaking, this has been a period of relatively little global conflict, something he said he was determined to ensure. So I hope history will be kind to those achievements.

Ultimately, the United States is our most important ally and I look forward to the close work our two nations will do together in the years ahead on all of our shared interests and priorities, from tackling Covid-19 to counter-terrorism, and collaborating closely through the UK’s presidencies of COP26 and the G7 next year.

The friendship between the UK and the US has always been a force for good in the world, and I look forward to seeing that continue to grow with President Biden in the White House.