Democracy, media bias, money and the U.S. election

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Janet Ecker

Watching the U.S. election results this week, several observations deserve comment.

Despite fights over which votes were valid and should be counted, (and who thought it was a good idea to allow millions of mail-in ballots to count days after an election?) this is the biggest affirmation of democracy in the country in over 100 years, with voter turnout about to top 70 percent, perhaps even higher when everything is said and done.  In some counties it reached an unheard of 90 percent.

For many of those determined citizens, they drove miles to ballot drop-off spots or stood in voting lines for hours.  And while there may well be some questionable outcomes in close races that require investigation (and there are legal processes designed to deal with that), at the end of the day, American citizens, whatever their preference, underscored the importance of democracy by voting in droves.

Secondly, it is hard to imagine the credibility of American media getting any lower. But it has.  After four years of incessantly bad-mouthing President Donald Trump in every way possible, often with shameless partisanship, he not only came close to re-election but increased his vote count, approaching President Barack Obama’s record breaking 69 million.  And he may yet beat that when all is done.

But this speaks to more than just the media’s diminishing influence. It also highlights the power of the Trump message which continues to resonate with almost half the American people.  Most Democrats simply do not understand it, regarding all Trump voters as uneducated, gun-toting bigots.  Former presidential candidate Hilary Clinton summed it up when she labelled Trump supporters as the “deplorables”.

Yes, President Trump’s despicable behaviour on so many occasions has encouraged such individuals.  But there is much more to it than that and politicians of all stripes ignore it at their peril. Listen to the “person-on-the-street” interviews that characterized so much of the American television coverage, listen to what the Trump supporters said.  Many recognize and criticize Trump’s many serious flaws.  But still they vote for him.  Why?   One of the most insightful comments from one columnist was that they vote Trump because they like the way he treats the people they do not like.

Too many Americans feel the system treats them unfairly, that the “elites” are winning while they are losing – their jobs, their communities, their history, their culture, their security, their country – and the only person who really understands them, who really sticks up for them is Trump.

If the reputation of journalists took a hit, so did the reputation of pollsters.  Yet again, endless predictions of a so-called “blue wave” of Democrat voters who were going to sweep Trump from office turned out to be widely inaccurate.  Yet again, pollsters failed to identify the so-called “shy Trump” voter and therefore underestimated the strength of his support.  Just like last time. The industry clearly needs a rethink of their methodology.

And finally, this election proves that money is no guarantee of success.  The best example is former New York Mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.  He poured approximately $115 million of his own considerable fortune into anti-Trump advertising in three key states, Florida, Ohio and Texas – Biden lost all three.

If there is to be a President Joe Biden, the most likely result, one can only hope his years of political experience can help bridge the yawning gap in America’s body politic, to unite in someway, a divided people and bring back a semblance of adult behaviour.

Because despite all of its faults, the United States is still one of the world’s great nations.  It is our closest neighbour, our biggest trading partner and in a dangerous world, our best defender and ally.

 

Janet Ecker

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