Reporting on the ground from the nation’s third-largest city, Chicago
Nearly three weeks after an eventful election in the former British colony known formally as the United States of America, the incumbent far-right president D. Trump has yet to concede to his victorious centrist challenger J. Biden, calling about an unprecedented democratic crisis. Mr. Biden ran on the ticket of the only major opposition party in the federation.
Mr. Trump’s insistence on victory comes despite the election having been called in favor of Mr. Biden by the major broadcast networks weeks ago once enough votes had been counted to project the outcome, as is customary in the country of almost 330 million. The democratic crisis comes at a time of great ethnic tension in the racially divided country which has yet to effectively overcome historically deep-seated discriminatory practices.
Despite the major broadcasters generally being seen as reporting with an ideological tint, all of them – regardless of whether their allegiances lie with Mr. Trump’s Republican party or Mr. Biden’s Democrats – had declared the latter the victor of the election four days after polls closed on Tuesday, November 3rd. Mr. Trump, however, refused to accept the result, instead claiming that the election had been “rigged” against him and that there had been widespread voter fraud.
Observers and election officials, however, have declared the election to have been robust and fair within the context of the United States, where ruling parties have strategically redrawn voting districts, covert voter suppression tactics have been codified in law by some of the union’s states and a weekday election date continues to disenfranchise poor citizens, which are commonly found among the country’s historically disenfranchised minorities.
Despite the people of the U.S. generally holding strong political opinions, voter turnout is consistently relatively low when compared to western democracies. In the current climate, however, political opinions are hard to avoid and some have carried their actions out onto the streets. The USA’s people are also heavily armed, with nearly 400,000,000 firearms and a per-capita number of weapons almost two and a half times higher than Yemen. Recently, militias have used the uncertainty on the ground and increasingly presented themselves out in the streets even of major cities.
Although overshadowed by its northern neighbor Canada, the USA has historically been considered a beacon of stability and democracy in the region, which is also home to the crime-ridden states of Central America. Historians argue that these have been destabilized by a mix of U.S. meddling and the huge market for illicit drugs which the USA provides. The stability of the USA’s own democracy, however, now seems fragile, as Mr. Trump has released military leaders from their positions who had opposed cracking down on mass protests by force during Mr. Trump’s term. The positions were filled with Trump loyalists instead, just eight weeks ahead of the constitutional handover of power to Mr. Biden.
Democracy watchdogs also raised alarm over Mr. Trump’s Republican party refusing, in some cases, to certify election results, especially those coming from minority-heavy areas such as Michigan’s Detroit. The northern state had proven crucial to Biden’s winning the election, and Detroit’s largely black population had voted overwhelmingly in his favor. Mr. Trump has also commissioned an army of lawyers, some with questionable qualifications, to overturn the legitimate results of the election, however their chances of success are considered slim at best due to the federal nature of the state and the relative independence of the lower courts.
While domestic media and foreign observers have shown concern about the actions of Mr. Trump and there are worries for the long-term destabilizing impact they may have, pundits have also raised to attention that his administration has proven notoriously ineffective at getting things done, and that therefore it seems unlikely any attempted coup or power seizure were to succeed. Instead, they argue, the outgoing president will likely aim to maximize his personal profit from the office before he is ousted in January of 2021, as well as sabotaging the country’s future administration as much as possible. One such action has been the opening up of the country’s largest stretch of wilderness, located in the formerly Russian state of Alaska, to drilling for oil and gas, and auctioning off plots of land there.
The country has lagged behind on its commitments regarding sustainable energy, and under Mr. Trump’s regressive administration has seen a series of setbacks in combating its disproportionately large environmental footprint. One of these was the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, putting it in the company of the similarly progressive countries Turkey, Eritrea and one of its arch nemeses, Iran.
The heated political climate and resulting chaos currently engulfing the North American nation are reminiscent of failed states around the world. Political scientists and pundits have linked the rise of the often-authoritarian far-right of the country to the pre-existing conditions afflicting the USA, which have prevented any true improvements in quality of life for half a century as wages have stagnated and inequality exponentially increased. A detached political class and the influence of multinational corporations on policy making coupled with disenfranchisement of voters and broken electoral promises has led to disillusionment with the system and a feeling of resignation among the population. A historical aversion toward left-wing politics, rooted in the former rivalry with the USSR and perpetuated mostly by older generations, narrows the already slim political options for voters down even further.
Job insecurity even among college-educated workers, a dysfunctional healthcare system, a death a minute due to the raging coronavirus pandemic which the federal government under Mr. Trump has refused to effectively combat, collapsing infrastructure, a soaring national debt, crime-ridden cities, unattainably expensive college education and failing public education, mass shootings and other gun violence, an ongoing drug abuse crisis, questionable electoral divisions and lack of options for voters, high defense expenditures at the cost of civil investments, partisan stalemate, a dwindling position in the world and loss of ground to challengers such as China, as well as declining trust in domestic institutions further contribute to a slow-motion meltdown of the American state. America currently finds itself in an unprecedented heap of crises the state seems increasingly incapable of handling.
Some have taken matters into their own hands, forming armed militias, legal under the country’s dated constitution – the second-oldest active constitution in the world, beaten only by San Marino’s. Although the situation in the streets has calmed down from the summer, the situation in the streets of the USA remains volatile.
In the summer, widespread civil disorder as a result of extrajudicial, racially motivated killings resulted in at least 25 deaths. During the unrest, Mr. Trump actively encouraged violence across the nation and urged government forces to use force against protesters, even if civilians were peaceful. Over 14,000 were arrested in just the first month of protests, and there were widespread reports of disproportionate use of force, temporary disappearances at the hands of federal troops, as well as attacks on the freedom of the press.
Though the frequency and size of protests have since decreased, civil discontent remains and in cities such as New York or Chicago, downtown remains largely boarded up. In anticipation of potential riots following election results, I have observed further barricades being put up in downtown Chicago, including a wooden wall near a hotel owned by Mr. Trump and the raising of drawbridges going to and from the city center. Since the summer, there has been a heavy presence of law enforcement in the inner city; ahead of the election, they could further count on the support of the state-commanded national guard – a branch of the military.
The status of the country in democracy and civil liberty indices has been in continuous decline over the last decade or two, with the Economist’s Democracy Index considering the country a “flawed democracy.” Freedom House, similarly, has seen a continuous decline in both civil liberties and political rights over the past eight years. The decline has sped up significantly since Mr. Trump’s election victory in 2016. The crackdown on protests and current disregard for democracy by the outgoing administration is likely to cause an even more dramatic decline in these indices, and opinion polling has shown them to have tarnished the country’s already heavily damaged reputation among what allies remain abroad.
For the people of America, these are trying times, as they must navigate a political storm, a volatile peace in the streets and a raging pandemic all at once. The months to come will prove crucial for the path of this diverse postcolonial country as it seeks to maintain its fragile democracy. Having seen two other superpowers decline since its emergence – the British Empire and the Soviet one – the U.S. had been the “last man standing”, becoming the world’s center of power in the late 20th century. Now, domestic negligence and decades of its leaders’ refusal to solve deeply-seated rot have caught up with it and the country’s future lies in jeopardy. It will be up to the collective actions of the American people to decide the USA’s fate. One thing seems for certain: If it continues on its current path, the USA as they know it may soon be but a memory.