Donald J. Trump
US President Donald J. Trump (White House)

Some Filipinos were rightly on tenterhooks over the United States of America’s 2020 presidential elections, but for the wrong reasons. Some were rooting for Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and others for Donald Trump. While it does matter, it is not so much who prevails in that contest, but how the most contentious US elections in decades are resolved that should really most concern the people of this country and those of the rest of the world. Because of Trump and the Republican Party, a crisis could develop in the US in the coming months that could have far-reaching consequences on the entire planet.

Former Vice President Biden of the Democratic Party, and with him his running mate Kamala D. Harris, who will be the first ever Asian and woman Vice President of the US, handily won the popular and US Electoral College vote. But a peaceful transfer of power is still iffy, with Trump’s refusal to concede defeat as of yesterday, November 12, apparently because losing the Presidency will lift his immunity from prosecution for tax fraud among other offenses he allegedly committed while in office.    

Political analysts and media pundits in the US are therefore saying that getting President-elect Biden into the White House might take longer than usual. Trump is filing numerous lawsuits that if they prosper can lead to recounts in some states. Doomsayers are also predicting that his refusal during one of last October’s presidential debates to declare that he will vacate the White House if he loses — he claims that the only way he can fail to win a second term is if the Democrats steal the elections — indicates that he won’t accept defeat. He could trigger a prolonged dispute, or worse, even civil war should his hardcore base support with force his clinging to power.

That base has turned out to be much bigger than many thought it to be. In addition to Christian fundamentalists, it consists of, among others, heavily armed white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other outrightly fascist groups that applaud his racist, authoritarian and anti-immigration policies, who believe he is  “making America great again” and who are prepared to use their guns to keep him in the White House.

If Trump refuses to give up the Presidency he would be in violation of the US Constitution and a “trespasser” who could be forcibly evicted. The assumption is that not only the Secret Service but also the US military will defend the Constitution by assuring the transfer of power despite the presence in the armed services and in the police of racists and white supremacist sympathizers.

Trump calls himself a conservative but even some conservatives, among them the family of the late Republican Senator John McCain who ran against Barack Obama in 2012, but who quickly conceded defeat when he lost, and the prominent conservative political commentator George Will, have denied him that title.  Will has even said in one of his columns in the Washington Post that the Republicans under Trump are no longer a legitimate party but a right wing, anti-democratic “insurgency.” 

The wonder of it is that in spite of Trump’s taking liberties with women and the facts, and his outright lies since he came to power in 2016 despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by three million (he has lied thousands of times, according to the Washington Post); despite  his misogyny; his blatant racism; his plain ignorance;  and worst of all his mishandling (or more precisely, his “unhandling”) of the COVID-19 contagion, which has infected over seven million Americans, killed some 300 thousand, and is afflicting 120 thousand daily — despite it all, nearly 50 percent of the US electorate apparently still voted for him.

What is even more surprising is that among that number were Hispanics and women. But it was not unexpected for some 34 percent of Filipino Americans, many of whom are Republicans, to vote for him as well. They did so even in such predominantly Democratic Party bulwarks as New York, California and Hawaii, in one more indication of how conservative, factually-challenged, even racist and more white mannish than whites is a big number of that two million-strong community.

In any event, what all these are demonstrating is how dysfunctional US democracy is — or, as the less charitable have put it, how undemocratic is the US electoral process. They cite how the popular vote can be overridden by the electors of the Electoral College as was demonstrated by Trump’s winning over Clinton in 2016, and how the College is among the dregs of the southern states’ slave-owning past. 

What is even more apparent is that any political system in which any clueless, narcissistic, abusive scoundrel can lie his way to its highest post, who can claim that its  elections — the most fundamental of all democratic exercises — are fraud-ridden,  and who can provoke an entire country into a prolonged crisis and even civil war must be deeply flawed. That used to be thought of as true only of Third World countries like the Philippines. But as recent events in both the US and other countries are demonstrating, the “developed” parts of the planet and their peoples can be, and often are, no less benighted.

Those who dismiss the US elections as of no major consequence to the Philippines are mistaken.  Political chaos and conflict in the only remaining superpower can plunge the rest of the world into even worse disorder as certain countries eager to take the US’ place as global overlord take advantage of its predicament by even more aggressively expanding their spheres of influence and dominance in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It is true enough that the results of the US elections will not make much of a difference in US-Philippine relations. Foreign policy was hardly an issue between Trump and Biden quite simply because its fundamentals — maintaining US “full spectrum dominance” on land, sea, air and space; containing the rise of another superpower; keeping subject nations in line through soft power, but with muscle diplomacy and even force if necessary — have never been contested by either the Democratic or Republican Party. Despite his supposed commitment to democracy and human rights, Barack Obama basically adopted from 2008 to 2016 the same foreign policy as that of his Republican predecessors’, and proved thereby that US global interests are above everything else. What is therefore most crucial is how the contention between these US parties is resolved or remains unresolved — and at what cost.

This is not to argue in support of US global dominance, but to point out that any disruption in the balance of power could stoke further disorder on a global scale as US rivals Russia and China contend for supremacy in a world they can either wrongly or correctly interpret to be within their capacity to dominate. But crisis or no crisis, the US still has the means to militarily engage any challenge to its hegemonic interests. The resulting confrontation can lead to nuclear war, and, as Noam Chomsky warns, the end of “the human experiment” — of humanity itself.

Not being a big or even medium power, the Philippines could either end up among the usual prizes of the winner in another global conflict, or, in case of a nuclear catastrophe, as just another victim of intra-imperialist rivalry. The next few months in the US deserve more than the world’s passing interest.

Also published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the White House website.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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