The U.S. presidential election will decide the contour of the U.S. societal structure for decades. With Trump, the fragmentation of the United States and the breakdown of public services will deepen. With Biden there is a chance, not more, for the United States to move toward a genuine nation with common and shared values.
Trump’s base is solid, mainly consisting of the elite troops of the industrial age: white males of whom many were skilled workers now having lost their jobs to members of the minorities inside the United States and outside to emerging markets and developing nations such as China. Obviously, no politician can bring the lost jobs back, but Trump is playing on the piano promising to do so. Whatever he does, his base will support him. He is their last hope to maintain their traditional strong position in society.
To win, Joseph Biden must cobble together a coalition of Democrats, a few disgruntled Republicans, female voters, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians who agree on very little except that they do not like Trump. And to govern after a victory, he needs the same coalition to muster a majority in both chambers of Congress. Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to do so in 1932. But Biden is not of the same calibre and is seen by many as a default candidate.
Trump’s supporters will show up, but Biden cannot be sure that a sufficiently large number of his will do so. In fact, the election may be decided by abstainers, which makes predictions extremely difficult. The more Biden tries to market his policies, the more likely it is that some voters will feel that this is not really what they like and stay home. His instinct after all those years in politics is an insider, which makes him less palatable for many Americans fed up with Beltway politics.
Trump has in his own way made it clear that if he loses—which is the most likely outcome—he will regard the election as fraud and victory stolen from him. Consequently, he will refuse to leave the White House. What happens then is everybody’s guess. We can be sure of only one thing: Donald Trump will turn the situation after November 4 into a chaotic nightmare breaking all rules, written and unwritten.
And do not forget, until January 20, 2021, he is the legitimate head of the executive branch and Commander-in-Chief of U.S. armed forces able to wield tremendous powers after having used his four years to put his own people into key positions. He has nominated 200 judges to federal courts out of a total of 792. Unless the Senate stymies him, he will use the death of Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to increase the majority of conservative members from 5-4 to 6-3.
How far he can go may be determined by the Republican Party and it will only abandon him if Biden blows Trump out. And even if that happens, he will fight; he has nothing to lose not caring about his legacy. At a press conference, Trump made it crystal clear that he won’t commit to a peaceful transition of power if the result goes against him. According to the mass media, he made the astonishing statement, “Get rid of the ballots, and you'll have a very - you'll have a very peaceful - there won't be a transfer, frankly, there'll be a continuation.”
Expectations driving the markets that late this year the worst would be behind us will melt away if the political system collapses.
Even before these worries the launch pad for a crisis was being built. Global stock markets are hovering around all-time high. This is unbelievable in view of a global economy contracting in 2020 with about five percent. The willingness of central banks to stoke this furnace with free money may be more or less endless, but investors' willingness to put their money into stocks may turn out to be less so.
The combination of the United States without leadership, in the grip of a constitutional crisis, an economy not having recovered, a public debt at the highest level since 1945 and a gradual collapse of economic globalization may make even the most hard-skinned investor think twice.
Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is a former state-secretary for the Royal Danish Foreign Ministry and the author of The Veil of Circumstance: Technology, Values, Dehumanization and the Future of Economics and Politics, ISEAS, Singapore, 2016.