By Douglas Anele
The United States of America (or perhaps the Disunited States of America for a reason that would be explained later) is a nation of fifty states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions covering a vast expanse of North America, with Alaska in the northwest and Hawaii extending the country’s border to the Pacific ocean.
Covering a land mass of about 9.8 million square kilometers, the USA is probably the third or fourth-largest country in the world by total land area. With an estimated population of 328 million, she is the third most populous country on earth behind the demographic behemoths, China and India.In terms of government or political architecture, the US is a federal republic and a representative democracy with three separate co-equal branches of government, namely, a bicameral federal legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.
America is not only the greatest military power on earth with a defence budget bigger than what the next nine countries out of ten spend on their military, she occupies a unique position in the global indices for economic freedom and productivity, reduced levels of corruption perception, world-class tertiary educational cum research institutions, and high quality of life in general.
In addition, the US is arguably the most racially diverse nation on the planet, a dynamic melting pot of cultures and ethnicities whose population has been profoundly shaped by centuries of immigration – which is why she is often described as a nation of immigrants.
For millions of people across the world who prefer representative government to authoritarianism, America is the model of democracy and liberty. According to Wikipedia, she is the world’s oldest surviving democratic federation founded on a delicate balance of majority rule and minority rights protected by law. Both in theory and practice, the American government is regulated by a complex, sometimes convoluted, system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution, the grundnorm or supreme legal document of the country.
Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the US Constitution is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. Its core ideals of representative democratic governance and defence of civil liberties were inspired by the philosophical writings of the British philosopher, John Locke. After the end of World War II, the United States and Soviet Union were the only superpowers; but when the latter eventually collapsed in 1989 which ended the Cold War, America became the sole superpower. Now, the rising economic and military power of China is seen by some prominent American politicians across party lines as the greatest challenge facing the country today.
In spite of serious challenges, for over two centuries, Americans have maintained the tradition of electing presidents every four years, thereby making the political system more stable and predictable. All such elections have their peculiarities, but the 2020 version and its aftermath have thrown up some significant issues about American politics and about democracy generally that invite deep reflection on the nature of elections in a democratic setting and on the traditions and institutions that serve as bulwarks for effective democratic practice.
Flowing from that is the imperative of having enlightened citizens that can make reasonable choices based on objective assessment of relevant factors that determine electoral outcomes that meet the well-being and genuine aspirations of the people. If democracy is really the government of the people by the people, and for the people, then it is extremely important to build reliable electoral process that truly reflects the power which enables the citizens to use their ballots wisely and prevent the emergence of undesirable elements and scallywags into political office.
This is point is even more cogent for a country like Nigeria whose deformed presidential system is modelled after the American template which has not led to a deepening of democratic practice after over two decades of continuous experiment with representative government. Let us be clear on one point: whereas America’s democracy is anchored on a functioning federalist practice, Nigeria’s system is a mixed-up shambolic federation that combines the worst features of both unitarism and federalism.
The US presidential poll held on November 3, 2020 was the 59th quadrennial election which usually involves political contest between candidates of the two major political parties there, that is, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Joe Biden a veteran senator from Delaware and Kamala Harris, a serving senator from California, were respectively the presidential and vice-presidential flag bearers for the Democrats while President Donald trump and his vice, Mike Pence, contested for the Republican party.
It is already a fact of American history that Biden defeated Trump, which makes Trump the first President since H.W. Bush in 1992 and the eleventh incumbent president in the country’s political history who failed to win a second term of office. In a sense, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election shows that participatory democracy in the US has improved because it recorded the highest voter turnout in American history, with Biden and Trump each receiving over 74 million votes, which is more than the 69.5 million votes Barack Obama got in 2008.
In fact, Biden made history in two ways at least: his tally of over 81 million votes is the highest number of votes garnered by any presidential candidate whereas his 51.3% of total votes cast is also the largest percentage of the popular ballots won by any challenger to an incumbent president since 1932. It also follows logically that no incumbent American president had lost an election for a second term with the same number of votes that Trump lost to Biden.
In order to understand why Biden defeated Trump despite his slow start in the Democratic primaries and the bullying tactics the latter deployed especially after the election to retain power, one most look at some key factors at play in the last four years which tended to favour a change in the White House. To begin with, after Hilary Clinton lost to Trump in 2016 despite getting over 3 million votes more than her rival, it became obvious that Democrats underrated Trump, and many of them did not vote probably because they assumed that Clinton would win easily.
Four years later, it seems they have learnt their lessons and are determined to correct their mistake. Quite instructive in this regard is that in every battleground state Biden exceeded Hilary Clinton in votes, oftentimes by double digit percentages, although in these same areas Trump also increased his tally of votes with which he defeated her. For instance, Biden’s smallest percentage increase was 7.62% in Ohio. In other places the number of votes for Democrats moved up between 14% and 40%.
In Arizona because of the “McCain factor” to some extent, Biden garnered 40.48% increase over that of Clinton in 2016. Another point sometimes neglected by commentators is that in most swing states the Democratic candidate’s gains over Clinton are higher than the quantum of Trump’s percentage increase on his own performance over four years ago. Accordingly, Biden beat his Republican rival in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas, all of which the latter won in 2016.
Besides, even though both men made gains from solidly blue and red states, Biden increased his tally more aggressively than his opponent in traditional blue states such as Virginia and Connecticut by six figures and by five figures in four other blue states; he also flipped at least 51 counties won by Trump in 2016. Georgia is a textbook example of how a committed activist can trigger or orchestrate changes in entrenched political behavior and outcomes.
To illustrate: the last Democratic presidential candidate who received majority of the votes in that state than his Republican challenger was Bill Clinton in 1992. Years of get-out-the-votes campaigns lead by the tireless lawyer and entrepreneur, Stacy Abrams, and legal onslaught against voter suppression from a number of community organizations and activists helped increase voter turnout to 21%, which enabled Biden to add 600,000 votes to Clinton’s 2016 total.
To be continued…
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