|The Fire And The Fury: And so, they came out and voted for him – four million more of them (and counting) than turned out for Trump in 2016. Not quite enough, it would seem, to keep their Rough Beast in the White House. But close. Far too close.|
PRESIDENT BIDEN. It has a reassuring ring. A democratic ring, too, given that more Americans have voted for Joe Biden than for any other presidential candidate in US history. That is hardly surprising, since the last time such a large percentage of eligible Americans turned out to vote the year was 1900 – twenty years before US women secured the franchise! And yet, in spite of all these hopeful portents, the world is not ready to cheer – not yet.
Because it is close. Very close. So much closer than, in theory, it should be. In theory, a big turnout equals a big Democratic Party victory. For decades, the political scientists have argued that if it is poor and marginalised Americans who are boosting the numbers voting, then, overwhelmingly, they will be voting for the party which, ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, has presented itself as the friend of the ordinary American working man and woman.
That theory now lies in tatters. The huge surge in voting numbers has, in large measure, been a bi-partisan surge. Yes, the Democrats have turned out their vote, but so have the Republicans. The latter’s strategists learned the art of the “ground game” from, of all people, Barack Obama, whose campaign team pioneered new and highly effective methods of identifying and mobilising the Democratic vote. Even those pundits sympathetic to the Democratic Party have conceded the superiority of the Republicans’ ground game in key battleground states.
But it wasn’t just the party’s ground game that turned out the Republican vote, it was Trump himself. With the energy of a man half his age, the President criss-crossed the United States on Air Force One, sometimes speaking to as many as four rallies in a single day.
The veteran Republican strategist, Karl Rove, famously advised those wishing to understand American politics to watch the television news with the sound turned down. Anyone following his advice over the course of the final few days of the campaign would have seen Trump, pumped-up and punching the air in front of rapturous crowds. Biden, careful and Covid-wary, spoke to car-parks full of masked and socially-distanced voters. With the sound down you wouldn’t even have been able to hear the beeping of their horns.
Observing these very different events from afar, it is difficult not to be reminded of the following lines from W. B. Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming:
The Blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It is also very difficult not to be reminded of the political magic of the UK Leave Campaign’s Dominic Cummings – the man who made Brexit happen. With help from the notorious Cambridge Analytica, Cummings was able to communicate directly with people who, for years, had given up on politics as a mug’s game. The sort of people who chuckled when someone joked: “Don’t vote – politicians always win.” The fatal mistake of the Remain Campaign was to assume that these non-voters would stay non-voters. Their chief pollster, one of the best in the UK, built that assumption into his data analysis. That’s why he got it so wrong. That’s why the Remainers never saw Dominic coming.
It is highly probable that the US pollsters made a very similar sort of error. Certainly, Michael Moore, the left-wing US film-maker, who famously called the election for Trump as early as June of 2016, has been warning anyone willing to listen that the pollsters were dramatically under-counting Trump’s supporters.
Moore knew this because he’d made it his business to go to the places where Trump supporters lived: to the trailer parks and the endless miles of soulless suburban tract-housing. He knew because he had sought out, as Paul Simon puts it in his song The Boxer: “the poorer quarters where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know.” He knew it because he’d heard it from their poor, white, barely-making-it, working-class mouths: “Trump is making us great again.”
And so, they came out and voted for him – four million more of them (and counting) than turned out for Trump in 2016. Not quite enough, it would seem, to keep their Rough Beast in the White House. But close. Far too close.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 November 2020.