The Divided States of America


    ‘…who America chooses to be President and what message he sends out to the rest of his country (and to the world!) is so crucial for America’s future.’

    AS I write this, America has yet to know who the winner of the 2020 Presidential elections is. Is it the candidate of the Republican Party, the incumbent, Donald J. Trump? Or is it the candidate of the Democratic Party, the former Vice President, Joseph R. Biden? While Biden trumps Trump when it comes to number of votes garnered – about 70 million vs. 68 million – the uniqueness of the American electoral system that uses an Electoral College to determine the winner of the elections has made this a nail-biter, a cliff-hanger, one for the books that surpasses the excitement and tension of the Bush-Gore version of 2000.

    In that election, the outcome of the Florida count hinged on the issue of “hanging chads” – parts of the ballot that is punched out by a voting machine to signify which candidate the voter was voting for. In Florida, questions arose around how to interpret ballots where the “chad” wasn’t cleanly punched out. The Secretary of State of Florida ruled one way, but the Democrats brought the matter to the US Supreme Court on appeal. The latter refused to meddle in the Florida count, and so the State was declared a “win” for its Governor, Republican George W. Bush, who then became the 43rd President of the United States.

    In this election cycle, expect a case – or many (!!!!) – to once again be brought up to the US Supreme Court on appeal, mainly by lawyers for Donald Trump. Already, Trump lawyers are filing cases in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan to stop the counting of mailed-in ballots (which, according to election experts, are usually Democratic votes) that could upend narrowing Trump leads in these states. What will be interesting is how the US Supreme Court will rule; will it uphold “States’ rights” and give the States the leeway to adopt and enforce their own election rules? Or will it find justifiable cause to impose its will? Interestingly, conservative justices are known to be strong advocates of “States’ rights” which, however, will be contrary to the interests of the conservative Republican Party. Moreover, with the Bush vs. Gore decision as a precedent, the US Supreme Court will have to find substantial justification for activism on this matter, another potential source for unease if not unrest in society already on edge.

    Indeed, what the Biden-Trump electoral battle has only shown beyond doubt is that the United States of America is in fact the Divided States of America, divided into red and blue communities that oftentimes see the other side as “the enemy,” with serious implications for the country’s political and social (and even economic) well-being. Add to that the fact that America is no longer the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) nation that it was until maybe the 1980s, and what you have is a potent mix of combustible matter with so many fault lines, one that can make the deep divisions of the 1960s and 1970s look like petty quarrels.

    This, in fact, is my fear: that America will “crack” along so many lines that it will become less and less cohesive and more and more ungovernable.

    The states of America may end up like the Balkan states of Eastern Europe.

    Contrast that to America’s principal rival in the 21st century, modern day China. Land area wise, China is just a wee bit bigger (9.3m square kilometers) than the United States (9.1m square kilometers). Population wise, China has to feed 1.1 billion versus America’s 350 million. But ethnic-wise, China is maybe 95% Han Chinese, making it almost a solid single bloc, whereas the United States is now a mixed bag of Caucasians and Latinos and Asians and other people of color. Now, if played right, that mix of different cultures and ethnicities may become the source of America’s bright and vibrant future; played wrong, it could be the seeds of its disunity if not disintegration.

    That’s why who America chooses to be President and what message he sends out to the rest of his country (and to the world!) is so crucial for America’s future.

    But back to the nail-biter.

    I noticed that part of the problem in reporting about the election results as they come in lies in the use of the word “winning” instead of the more appropriate word “leading.” This is not unique to election coverage; it is also very true in sports, and for one who has seen my share of close basketball games decided by a last basket at the last second – one too many, if you ask me – a “winning team” with a quarter to go, or six minutes, or even 30 seconds, may very well end up with an L because things went awry at the last second. And so when the game is being hotly contested we are sometimes asked “who’s winning?” and we say “us,” and the one who asked leaves the room confidently, only to return later and find out that we lost. Which usually results in the question: “I thought you said we were winning? I just stepped out to make a call (or use the washroom or make a sandwich or do a vlog etc. etc.) and when I come back we’ve lost????”

    No different from elections like these in societies as divided as this Divided States of America. Early returns may seem to paint a picture that one side is “winning” and “winning big” but a few minutes, or an hour or two, or even a day or two later and the map has radically changed.

    Ultimately, whoever truly wins the Presidency, Trump to serve for four more years or Biden to become President-elect, it is my hope that America itself wins. But it may be a hope against hope. Because I’ve seen how divided it is, down to divided families. Healing that division will be a tall order even for a Joe Biden.

    I have to admit I have far less confidence that these divisions can be healed in four more years of Donald Trump.

    Now back to waiting for results in Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania!