‘Too unbelievable’: Covering a tumultuous US election

The many subplots were hard to follow, and with Trump intent on staying in the White House, it isn’t over yet.

A Donald Trump fan drives by Walter Reed Medical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland on October 4 [Josh Rushing/Al Jazeera]

Last week, one of Donald Trump’s closest advisers signalled that the president has no plans to leave the White House.

“We are moving forward here at the White House under the assumption there will be a second Trump term,” said Peter Navarro, White House trade adviser, in an interview with the Fox Business Channel. This came days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said essentially the same thing.

Even though President Trump is refusing to concede, the 2020 presidential election is over. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris clearly won in a close election, winning back states Hillary Clinton lost four years ago. It appears that the Democrats were able to win over enough independent support in an election where voter turnout surged – and this during a pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

A strange election season

The 2020 election season has been a tumultuous one in the US. There have been so many subplots that at times it is hard to follow all of the turns. From the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just six weeks before the election to the New York Times obtaining the President’s tax returns showing he barely paid any, to a right-wing militia plot to kidnap a sitting governor in Michigan, it was a strange election season, to say the least.

“And then the president ends up in Walter Reed Hospital with the very disease he called a hoax, it’s almost as if each of these stories could turn an election themselves,” said Trevor Potter, a former commissioner and chairman of the United States Federal Election Commission.

“The reality is that if you put this together in a description for a novel, the publisher would send it back to you and say it’s too unbelievable – that you can have some of these, but not all of them in your book.”

In line behind Biden

Fault Lines began covering the elections this year in South Carolina during an intense Democratic primary at the end of February.

At the time, Joe Biden was way behind in the polls but utilised a strategy relying on Black voters in the Palmetto State to catapult him to the front of the race. Our crew was on hand at a Biden rally the day he received an endorsement from a powerful party broker, Congressman Jim Clyburn, which breathed new life into his campaign.

“I hadn’t planned on running again. What made me realise that something had to happen was when I saw those folks coming out of the fields in Charlottesville carrying torches,” Biden told a small crowd at a historic hall in Georgetown, South Carolina.

“When the press asked him [Trump] ‘what do you think Mr. President’ he said ‘there are very fine people on both sides’. No president has ever made that moral equivalence. That’s when I realised it was so much deeper.”

The Democratic establishment quickly got in line behind Biden after he handily won the state and propelled him to the nomination with a dominant performance on Super Tuesday.

‘Trumpism won’t be gone with Donald Trump’

The general election showed us that President Trump remains extremely popular with wide swaths of the American electorate, winning more than 70 million votes in his losing effort. The phenomenon he spawned, sometimes referred to as “Trumpism”, doesn’t appear to be fading anytime soon.

A Donald Trump supporter wears a Donald Trump mask on the Rappahannock River in Urbanna, Virginia on September 26 [Josh Rushing/Al Jazeera]

“Trumpism won’t be gone with Donald Trump, Trumpism isn’t going to disappear, it’s going to be back in a few years in a new form,” explained Thomas Frank, who writes about American politics and culture.

“If it comes back with someone smarter at the head of the movement, someone who doesn’t gratuitously insult people or boast about how they have abused women, Trumpism could be very tough to defeat.”

For the time being, the president seems intent on staying where he is in the White House and pushing a false narrative that the election was stolen from him. He is raising money from his droves of supporters that will be lining the coffers of his Super PAC “Save America” and the Republican party.

The keys of the Republican party

The GOP has essentially handed the keys of the party over to Trump. At the convention this year, for the first time since the party was founded in the 1850s, it decided not to adopt a policy platform, instead backing what it called Trump’s America First agenda.

“It was really unprecedented because party politics are one of the core institutions of American democracy,” explained Jennifer Nicoll Victor, a political science professor at George Mason University.

“It signals the weakness of the Republican Party, that it would give up that quadrennial power to articulate a platform, but it also speaks to the way that President Trump has really kind of captured the Republican party in a remarkable way.”

‘We need a psychic political break’

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are moving ahead with their effort to build a transition team to prepare for a series of challenges next year when they take office.

A Joe Biden supporter expresses herself outside of an early voting site in Fairfax, Virginia on September 24 [Josh Rushing/Al Jazeera]

There are still two senate races in Georgia that are heading for a runoff in January. The results will determine if the Republicans can maintain control of the Senate which could make it hard for Biden administration to get things done in Washington.

As another wave of the coronavirus sweeps across the country, the White House will have a bevvy of challenges left behind by the Trump administration that a new administration will need to address.

“America just got this curious thing, we are always in a crisis to some degree, we are always in a battle for this democracy,” said Reverend William Barber, a political and spiritual activist with the Poor People’s Campaign.

“But, in this moment, we need a psychic break. We’ve got some stuff we have to do after all the votes have been counted during the election season, but we need a psychic political break from what we see now.”

Source: Al Jazeera