As the tsunami that was the US Presidential election begins to subside, Motley’s Conor Daly looks at the debris and how those in power face the unruly task of rebuilding bridges.
Joe Biden got the requisite 270 electoral votes and was named the 46th US President. Donald Trump refused to accept reality and created and amplified lies that serious fraud has penetrated the democratic process by votes being both selectively ‘found’ and ‘thrown out’. Ironically, his solution to this alleged despotic act was to stop counting votes and to disregard hundreds of thousands of apparently legal ballots. Depending on where you were watching your coverage of the election, Trump was either an aspiring totalitarian leader attempting to take away people’s democracy, or he was the very opposite, someone who was trying to save it. That was the problem with this election and with the country Biden has assumed control over, it’s blatantly divided. People believe what they want to believe because in this age of information it’s nearly always possible to find a fact or the second cousin of a fact to back up your argument, no matter how outlandish it may be.
Trump’s act of trying to undermine the voting process did not come as a surprise, indeed it was always his intention. Say what you want about him but the 45th US President planned it all to perfection. For months he expertly propagated the idea into the public consciousness that mail-in ballots offered a potential for fraud. He created an ideological divide between those voting in person and those who chose not to. It was not merely throwing a cat amongst the pigeons, it was a calculated political move to put this idea in people’s head so it didn’t seem completely incredulous and dystopian when he announced a fraud on the American people in the early hours of Wednesday the 4th of November. His ability to survive the past four years with everything that has been thrown his way has been based on his outward appearance of incompetence while remaining in control almost every step of the way.
It all seems a bit surreal, even watching from afar with the comfort of thousands of miles of the Atlantic as a buffer. But still we can empathise with American citizens sitting at home and watching a mob of thugs or patriots, again depending on where you watched this unfold, storm the Capitol and put democracy at risk. The lives lost and countless others put in danger seemed to be the destructive release of five years of false narratives, bigotry and a complete disregard for consequences. The backlash was fierce, as one would expect, and the message was clear, everyone has had enough. The numerous resignations and a second call for impeachment were enough to make Trump change his tune and (almost) admit defeat. But, for the families who lost loved ones and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris who have a monumental task ahead of them, it really was a case of too little too late. At the moment, no matter where you are getting your news, the narrative of a country divided is the one that is most pertinent. That seems to be the only thing that people are in agreement about. However, the perpetuation of this discourse of division is merely exacerbating this. The preface to these last four years should have been “forget everything you think you know about politics”, and ironically, at the end of this horror show, you really feel as though you have.
Not knowing who to trust is particularly difficult for people in this current political climate. How do you know that the place you get your news is giving a full and objective picture? The answer is you don’t, that’s where trust comes in. Many people are trying to consume less news in order to preserve their mental health so it is vital that what is consumed is accurate, helpful and not just two sides of a debate shouting about impending civil war or the resurgence of communism. A recent in-depth study entitled “The Trust in News Project” by Reuters and Oxford, analysed the trust consumers had in news in general and the industry trends in relation to this. One of the key statistics presented was the clear desire for objective journalism and broadcasting. Out of a survey of over 1,700 Americans, 60% stated that they preferred to get news from a source that had no point of view. Additionally, only 27% of Americans felt they could, in general, trust the news. It seems that people have lost patience with fear-based narratives and sensational headlines. Particularly over the course of this past presidential campaign, voters became more aware of the influence of the media and the importance of being a critical consumer. Some headlines and news stories are blatantly untrue and we can disregard them with ease, but it’s in that grey-area of paranoia where false and potentially dangerous political narratives thrive.
It seems like so long ago since we spent days glued to election coverage with our minds on a loop of permutations, close calls and genuine anxiety about the importance of the election. It feels as though the US has been a country on edge ever since. Despite the many weeks that had elapsed since the result was announced, it still seemed to be tempting fate to definitively say that the whole thing was wrapped up and we could all move on. As expected, Trump made it very difficult for Biden to have a smooth transition into the White House. A second passed vote on the impeachment of the 45th president and all 50 states on alert ahead of Biden’s inauguration was, in a warped way, exactly how you would have expected Trump’s term to end. He became the first US President to be impeached twice and despite the long-standing rivalry between the two major parties, Trump became one of a small cohort of presidents who did not attend the inauguration of their successors.
The 20th of January came and went, thankfully with no great disruption and you could almost feel a nation exhale as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took their oaths. The theme of the inauguration was pretty clear; the acknowledgement of divide and the pursuit of peace and unity. This was a truly historic inauguration with the swearing in of the first-ever female vice-president. The significance was also slightly more nuanced, as for many this was the emergence of hope after a period where such a virtue seemed so hard to find. Now, as we have heard so often, is a time for reconciliation and forward thinking. A time for accepting difference rather than being afraid of it. Young poet Amanda Gorman was at the forefront of the inauguration and her powerful words can hopefully inspire a nation to value character over political beliefs. As Gorman so eloquently concluded her piece, “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”