I love writing. And playing with words. Creatively. Literarily. I am not good with poetry, I prefer essays. Alliteration occasionally helps to drive home a message. It has beauty e.g., “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”, “black bug bit a big black bear”. So, I searched for a befitting headline on how President-elect, Joe Biden, defeated President Donald Trump in a most humiliating manner.
So humbling that, to date, Trump has refused to wake up from his deep slumber of defeat. He still builds castles in the air. He maintains his false illusion of grandeur. He drags America – great America – down the despicable nadir of a Banana Republic, refusing to concede defeat.
Trump still sulks, broods, whimpers, yowls, whines, screams, bickers, quarrels and tweets, like a child whose candy has been snatched away by angry parents. Yes, Americans were angry with Trump. They were even tired of him – Democrats and Republicans alike. The ballot shows it. So, ‘Trumping Trump through Binding Biden’ was the best alliterative heading I could find. Yes, Biden bound Trump.
As at last count, Biden had trumped Trump by amassing a historic over 80 million votes, the highest in U.S history. And still counting. Biden indeed, exceeded Barack Obama’s record by more than 10 million votes, after Obama had garnered over 70 million votes in the 2008 election. None, (Obama in 2012, Trump in 2016, or Hilary Clinton in 2016), ever had this humongous number.
The Biden/Harris ticket has gained over 51% popular votes, as against the slightly over 47% votes of Trump. Biden has 306 electoral votes, to Trump’s 232.
I never hated Trump. But, I didn’t like him either. Just for one fundamental reason: he debased, cheapened and demystified the American Presidency, so much, that it has virtually lost its aura of serving as a bench mark and thermometer of global gauging of free, fair and credible elections.
For the first time, I beheld, stupefied, Trump’s political machine renting crowds to protest against Biden’s victory. Like in Nigeria! I watched, with awe, blue and red supporters, engage in disgraceful free-for-all fights on American Streets. Just like we witness in 3rd world Banana Republics of Presidential sit-tightism!
We saw Trump hold on to false and baseless allegations of rigging and votes manipulation, especially in swing States. We watched with horror, as Trump lost all his legal battles across America, to upturn and steal the American people’s will. Can someone please tell Trump to fly down to Nigeria, and take some lessons from President Goodluck Jonathan on patriotism and electoral behaviour! Trump has put himself first, over and above the larger interest of Americans. His sheer arrogance, narcism, grand standing, vain-gloriousness and chest-thumping self-adulation irritates the world. Including humble me.
The Politics of Concession
Trump is the first incumbent President to lose re-election since George H. W. Bush, who was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992. Trump has refused to concede defeat. But, does concession really matter, when America and the world have since moved on?
A formal concession speech of defeat (such as did Jonathan to President Buhari, while the 2015 Presidential votes were still being counted), has always played a vital role in US elections. Right from the civil war era, to Bush v Al Gore, Trump v Clinton, concession played a significant role in calming nerves and balming a bleeding and divided nation, especially after a hotly contested election.
The Bush v Al Gore episode was historic. Al Gore had called Bush to concede defeat in the early hours after election night, only to call back and retract his concession, when he noticed that the race had unexpectedly tightened up. The first concession was cordial and friendly. The second was tense and combative, with Al Gore famously telling Bush, “you don’t have to get snippy about this”.
John Adams became the first American President to lose re-election bid. He hurriedly vamoosed from Washington D.C on an early morning stagecoach, to avoid attending the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson.
It was in 1896 that formal concession became normative, when Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat, William Jeannys Bryan, who immediately sent a telegram to McKinley. He wrote the famous words: “We have submitted the issue to the American people, and their will is law”. Today, Trump thinks otherwise. The American people’s will means nothing to his over-bloated ego. But, Biden’s words are therapeutic, as he grapples with the task of unifying a gravely fractured country, where sharp daggers are drawn. He believes he and Trump are not enemies. The only common enemy he sees, is the corona virus. But, will Trump concede defeat? That will surely be the 8th wonder of the world.
In 1912, President William Howard Taft (Republican), conceded to Woodrow Wilson (Democrat), at 11pm of election night. Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover telegraphed his Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), congratulating him just a day after the then New York Governor unseated him from power.
In 1960, Republican Vice President, Nixon did the unusual, when, in his role as President of the Senate, he counted and confirmed his own electoral defeat to popular John F. Kennedy (of the “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, fame).
But, some past US contestants had been quite bitter. It took Charles Evans Hughes (Republican) two good weeks to congratulate incumbent Democrat President, Woodrow Wilson. The votes had initially, been erroneously called in Hughes’ favour. Thomas Dewy would not easily concede to FDR in 1944, and merely conceded defeat through the radio; not by a telegram or call. This forced FDR to send a telegram to Dewey over his snubbing attitude – “I thank you for your statement, which I heard over the air a few minutes ago”.In the rancorous 2000 election, which dragged into 36 days of suspense, counting, RECOUNTING and legal challenges up to the US Supreme Court, Vice President Al Gore made a television concession speech, right from his White House office, thus: “partisan rancour must now be put aside”.
Refusal to Concede – Any Legal Implications?
Concession is not, legally speaking, a formal part of an election process. It holds no legal consequences, or bar to an incoming President. It is not a binding contract, nor part of the Constitution. It is merely, convention. Once there is official certification of election results from Congress, it is all over. Though quite remote in contemplation, a bull in a China shop, such as Trump, may refuse the final resolution of disputes and certification of results by December 8, to enable the Electoral College cast their votes by December 14. He may even refuse to vacate the White House altogether. This could lead to a constitutional crisis. However, if Trump tries this, he would have become a trespasser at the White House. He will contend with the American set system and the resolute Biden Campaign team, which has already issued a stern warning, “the United States Government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House”.
As a writer (Mr. Vile), notes, though concession is of no legal consequence, it however, shores up democratic values, deepens its practice and gives democracy legitimacy, especially when elections are highly emotive and divisive, as the Trump-Biden one. Said Vile, “when it comes down to it, it’s not the Army or Navy that keeps the United States together. It’s the notion that we are bound together by certain great principles, and that our similarities are more binding than our differences”. Will Trump read this? I doubt.
Reasons for the Trumping of Trump
Trump had escaped defeat in 2016. He literally bragged his way through. With serial allegations of dodging tax, groping women’s buttocks, racist tendencies, disrespect for the disabled and minorities, Trump literally tweeted his way into power. No world President has tweeted more than Trump. It is his early morning pastime. He worships the goddess of tweets.
Many reasons aggregated, to send Trump packing from the White House. In spite of his cult-like followership and incredible connection with his near hypnotised followers, such as did President Buhari before the 2015 election (NOT ANY MORE), Trump was roundly trashed by Biden. This makes him one of only four incumbent Presidents in modern times, to have lost a re-election bid. Indeed, he is the first President ever to lose the popular vote in two consecutive elections, having lost same to Hilary Clinton in 2016, by over more three million votes.
The reason of his being an unusual non-conformist outsider that heralded him into the White House in 2016, is the very reason that has showed him the red card – saying things hitherto considered ineffable, unsayable. So popular has Trump been, that many believed he would surely win, even if he shot dead a person on Fifth Avenue. But, his persistent tantrums, aggressiveness, needless confrontations, bellicosity, belligerence, unconventional behaviour and unpresidential carriage and utterances, have combined to dampen the enthusiasm of even his most ardent supporters, especially the highly educated Republicans.
Trump became loathed for his hardly veiled racism, infantile expletives, white supremacy, side-lining of America’s traditional allies, and his open support for dictatorial autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia. His narcism of regarding himself as a “genius”, and the “best” in everything and anything; his conspiracy theories, deployment of very foul language, and his isolationist governance style that made him look like President of the Republicans alone, deeply bruised his image. Trump became regarded as the most divisive President in 100 years. Trump never wooed the 20 blue States that voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016. Americans then looked forward to some form of normalcy; some decency. Even among the mad, there is order. Trump tried, but could not demonise or diminish Biden, who has a strong character, a personable charming baby face, and an urbane spartan-like carriage. Then, came Trump’s biggest nemesis – the Coronavirus. Before the virus, Trump was still strong. Having survived his impeachment, his approval rating still stayed at its highest – 49%.
The economy was stable. He enjoyed the power of incumbency. Then came Covid-19. Tump was no Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who rescued America from the “Great Depresion”; or a George W. Bush, whose great response to September 11 (9/11) shored up his popularity.
Trump trivialised Covid-19. He blamed everyone and everything, except himself. But, even then, Gallup had released a poll showing that 56% of Americans still believed Trump would be re-elected, though the only President in a polling era not to have majority approval. But, Covid-19 sent the economy on a downward spin. He mishandled the virus pandemic, played it down, and refused to wear a face mask and observe social distance. He had only been tested on Hurricane Maria. But, Covid-19 humbled him. He took ill, showing he was mere mortal after all. Indeed, Trump remained a businessman and non politician President. He was weak on inter-party politics, and never expanded beyond his narrow vociferous support base, even as Democrats rebuilt their battered party; snatching nine governorship States won by Trump’s Republicans in 2016.
Indeed, some Republicans, tired of Trump’s personae, voted against him, even as they simultaneously supported Republican House candidates nationwide. Trump could not prod Republican Senators to deliver on further fiscal stimulus, after the initial $1,200 cheques (checks, American version).
To make matters worse, Trump lacked any fresh message, as he did with his 2016 “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. The new “KEEP AMERICA GREAT” message, possessed no gravitas. It never resonated with a highly politicised and ruptured country. Was Trump meaning “keep America Great” in crises, white supremacy, segregation, Covid-19 and a downward economy? Trump’s labelling of Biden as a “radical socialist”, did not stick either.
Where Biden connected with Americans, with empathy and understanding in a dire pandemic era, Trump distanced himself with his false, provocative and self-adulating morning tweets, that irritated and annoyed Americans to great length. While Biden preached unity and inclusiveness, Trump hollered disunity and ill temper. Trump abused and denigrated the press and civil society. Biden cuddles them.
Trump’s Uncertain Future
Perhaps, Trump wants some concession leverage before departing White House; or perhaps, build a strong loyal base and post-Presidency career. But, his actions so far, have terribly diminished the American Presidency, sowed seeds of discord and created bad blood.
But, on January 20, 2021, whether he likes it or not, Trump must vacate the White House. Voluntarily or by force. Because Americans have spoken through the ballot. Because binding Biden has trumped Trump.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” (Albert Einstein)