Trump has lost. Joe Biden has won. America’s democracy appears to have narrowly dodged a bullet, but although few elections in US history have caused such an outpouring of joy, in the cold light of day Americans will have to face up to what remains a disturbingly bleak picture.
Politically, the nation remains gravely divided. 73-million Americans took stock of the last four years, saw the racism, corruption, nepotism and extraordinary incompetence, and still cast their ballot for Donald Trump. Although the likely electoral college margin of 306-232 looks substantial, Joe Biden’s win came courtesy of just five ‘flipped’ states, four of which were won by a margin of 1% or less.
Yet the election, declared one of the most secure in American history, has not caused the incumbent President to concede. Indeed Trump remains prone to late night twitter outbursts, declaring ‘I won the election’ to his 89-million followers, a substantial portion of whom appear unable to distinguish truth from falsity. This unprecedented petulance is magnified by the continued unwillingness of Republicans to call it out. All 53 sitting Republican senators declined public comment over the weekend, and America’s courts still buzz with frivolous lawsuits trying to find a way to overturn the result.
For the first time in America’s long history, it remains to be seen if the election loser will allow a peaceful transition of power. Trump’s psychology appears to suggest he can never concede a loss, and his fear of bankruptcy or prosecution once out of office may cause the President, when cornered, to do something truly rash. Trump has already decapitated the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, and there is talk that the head of the CIA may be next. On the evidence we have so far, should Trump cause a constitutional crisis, few of his Republican colleagues will have the courage to choose country over party.
This will not be the usually uneventful ‘sitting duck’ period we are used to.
Outside the halls of Washington, the country is in an unholy mess. Trump has racked up $7-trillion more national debt during his four years of mostly favourable financial conditions. The 2020 budget deficit of over $3-trillion is more than double the previous record, yet there is precious little to show for this spending spree. Unemployment is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. Food lines stretch for miles. Millions are in abject poverty.
And hanging over this remains the pandemic – with two months to go until Joe Biden takes over, the COVID-19 crisis is rapidly spinning out of control. In the middle of October, the seven-day average of new cases in the US was around 50,000 a day. A month later it’s 150,000, a tripling in just thirty days. The frightening power of a virus able to grow exponentially is being demonstrated in real time.
A similar average of daily mortality has risen less steeply, from 700 to over 1,100 a day, but although those numbers by themselves are terrible, deaths are a lag indicator. People get the virus, some get sick, some go to hospital, some end up in ICU and some eventually die. Absent a vaccine or new therapeutic treatment, America’s daily death toll is likely to increase dramatically in the next few weeks.
And that’s a problem, because America continues to set daily records for COVID hospitalisations, and the massive increase in cases is yet to translate into the inevitable deluge of further sickness and death. In El Paso, Texas they are already operating ten temporary morgues to deal with the bodies. Prison inmates in full PPE, earning just $2 an hour, are being used to transport the bodies from hospital wards to the freezer rooms. In North Dakota, medical staff are so stretched that nurses actively infected with COVID are being allowed to keep working.
Nine months into this pandemic, the Trump administration is yet to form any coherent national strategy. Governors are left to enact piecemeal and often toothless local mandates to try to slow the spread of infection. The Defense Production Act, which allows the government to commandeer civilian resources during a crisis, is yet to be invoked (Biden says he’ll do so on day one). PPE and other protective equipment remains worryingly scarce and in many states there are barely any ventilators now not in operation. America’s health system is on its knees, scandalously exposed to the deluge that will inevitably arrive over the next few weeks.
Yet Trump is unmoved, motivated only to cling to a job he so clearly doesn’t wish to actually do. With winter closing in and a president who refuses to act, America’s Covid tragedy is poised to become a catastrophe that will dwarf anything suffered since the Civil War.
When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he was bequeathed a nation on the brink of total financial collapse. The Republican administration of George W. Bush allowed banks such an unfettered lending environment that world capitalism itself almost imploded. Twelve years on, Joe Biden may be handed an even worse hospital pass. America, once that shining city upon a hill, faces profound and existential danger in the long period before someone competent takes over.