On the knife’s edge

| Updated on November 05, 2020 Published on November 05, 2020

Even if Joe Biden carries the day, as seems likely, the fact is that America is sharply polarised with conservatives still holding strong

One of the tightest US presidential elections in living memory is winding down to a knife-edge conclusion and the odds are Joseph R Biden Jr will be the White House’s next occupant. It’s not a done deal yet with counting still underway in four battleground states — Biden just needs a win in one to clinch victory and Donald Trump must sweep up all four. But if, as expected, Trump loses, it doesn’t look like he’ll go easily. He’s already launched half a dozen legal challenges. What’s astonishing is the US electoral map looks little changed from four years ago despite almost unanimous pollster and pundit predictions of a Democrat sweep. Democrats thought 235,000 dead from Covid-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic would switch the electoral map from Republican red to Democrat blue. But that hasn’t happened. If Biden crosses the finish line, it’ll be largely because a handful of Great Lakes rustbelt states switched allegiances. At the legislative level, it looks like the Democrats will fail to capture the Senate, in which case, Biden will struggle to get ground-breaking legislation implemented.

What did forecasters get so wrong in expecting a blue wave? It appears when we put aside the daily dose of Trump drama, histrionics and Twitter spats, the economy’s done quite well, particularly in the last two years — pre-Covid that is. For all the noise he created, Trump followed a fairly straightforward Republican agenda by cutting taxes and offering other incentives for the business community. Yet, the fact is that President Barack Obama left a strong base for the economy to accelerate. But economics combines with social factors and entrenched resistance to change in Middle America. In some regions the manufacturing base has been in slow decline and well-paid jobs fewer than in earlier times. And beyond economics, deep-rooted social factors are also at play. Middle America is still a strongly conservative zone and appalled by the direction the world is moving, driven by what it sees as the “coastal elite.” Middle America’s viscerally opposed to abortion and gay marriage. Also, the race factor is clearly an issue and many white Americans feel under threat. The electoral map also makes clear the geographic cleavages. On the West Coast, it’s blue all the way from California, where prosperity has fanned out from Silicon Valley, through Oregon to Washington state, home of companies like Microsoft and Amazon. In the east, New York and the New England states are firmly Democrat.

What will the outcome mean for India? Bear in mind India still occupies only a small space in Washington policymakers’ minds. Europe, Japan and China all come far ahead of us. But the need to keep a rising and belligerent China in check means India and the US have mutual interests and a need to build on their existing partnership. China only last week declared it intends to build its military power and match the US weapon for weapon by 2027. That’s a threat neither the US or India can ignore.

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Published on November 05, 2020
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