Indecision 2020


Are your nails bitten to the quick yet?

As of this writing Wednesday November 4, the results of the American election are muddy and will probably remain so through the weekend. Pennsylvania, for example, is notoriously slow in counting votes. The politicos tell us that the still-to-be-counted mail-in votes will favour Democrats, especially in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

But those same politicos and pollsters also told us for months that Biden held a consistent 7-10 lead nationally and narrower but consistent leads in those three states.

President Trump is fulminating about going to court to stop the counting of votes after midnight last night. I don’t think he has a chance. The issue is not that voting continues; it has stopped. The counting of votes legally cast has always gone on for days after elections.

For example, in 2016 it took Michigan two weeks to certify that its electoral votes went to Trump. And with his all-too-frequent incoherence, today he complained that Arizona was called for Biden before all votes were counted and then, almost in the same breath, that counting should stop in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The presidency is not all that is at stake here, of course. While it seems pretty clear that the Democrats will hold the House of Representatives, their grasp on gaining the Senate is slipping. Seats that they had hoped to wrest from the Republicans such as Montana and Iowa were held by the Republicans and while the Arizona and Colorado went Blue, Alabama went Red.

In other seats that the Democrats had great hopes for taking, such as Maine and North Carolina, the races are unexpectedly tight. And Georgia will have two seats up for run-off in January.

Of great importance are the legislatures of many states. Since 2020 is a census year, the boundaries for congressional districts and each state’s legislative districts, will be redrawn in 2021. In most states, it is the legislatures that do this, not independent commissions as we have in Canada. Hence, the party that controls the state government can and usually does gerrymander boundaries in their favour.

A case in point occurred in 2010-11 when, because of the Tea Party movement, Republicans gained new control of many state legislatures and proceeded to gerrymander state districts to such an extend that in states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin, they retained control even though statewide soundly lost in the popular vote.

In the larger picture, though, it is the general governability of the United States which is increasingly coming into question. In a functioning democracy there is a strong connection between attaining power and legitimacy. The purpose of elections is to confer legitimacy on the winner. Legitimacy means that supporters of party or candidate X accept that it is right that party or candidate Y have power if they have won the election.

The increased polarization in each of the major U.S. parties combined with the rapidly shrinking class of independent voters in the middle is coming to mean that each party demonizes the other. Add to the mixture the allegation that the voting system is corrupt (and it is mostly Republicans who are doing this as demographics relentlessly erode their power base) and one has the recipe for the delegitimization of government.

America is sliding towards this. More and more its elections are becoming nail-biters while landslides are fading away. In 2016 and 2020 Trump’s strategy forewent any attempt to build a massive middle-of-the-road majority and instead relied on the quirks of the electoral college system to manufacture a win, decoupling power from electoral legitimacy.

Biden attempted to build bridges in order to craft a broader coalition. That does not seem to have worked. In fact, it looks like more states are becoming swing states and that means that decisive victories are less and less likely.

What does this mean for Canada? Well, first of all, the difference between Canada’s political culture and America’s is more obvious. Though there are some similar trends to divisiveness here (one thinks of Quebec exceptionalism and Western alienation) few question the integrity of our electoral system.

As well, while the Conservative Party has been flirting with rightish polarization and the Liberal Party with WOKE dogma in preventing people who have hesitations about abortion from running for Parliament, the major parties continue to host divergent viewpoints.

But Canada is tied economically, culturally and geographically to the United States. Prickly as that relationship might be, it sure beats being so tied to either China or Russia! Robert Thompson, former leader of Canada’s Social Credit Party said, “The Americans are our best friends, whether we like it or not.

Hold onto your hats

Johnston Smith is a retired teacher and an active spiritual director in Winnipeg.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 08:16h, 05 November Reply

    Thank you very much Johnston!

  • Johnston Smith
    Posted at 08:33h, 05 November Reply

    Ooop! I mistakenly wrote that the Georgia Senate run offs are in November; in fact, they are in January.—Johnston Smith

  • Dennis Kuzenko
    Posted at 09:32h, 05 November Reply

    Yes, “whether we like it or not.” Thank you Johnston.

  • Eric Jensen
    Posted at 13:29h, 05 November Reply

    Time cannot wither you – in fact, you’ve mellowed!

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