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Can Biden heal a divided America and forge unity?

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Pressure is building up on US President Donald Trump to concede the clear victory of former Vice President Joseph Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential race. Despite the electoral protests his campaign team has filed in a number of states, he hasn’t produced any evidence for his claims of fraud or irregularities in the vote count: that the Democrats have “stolen” the 2020 elections from him.

The New York Times has reported that it had talked to the electoral officials in all the 50 states; all have affirmed that there was no proof of any fraud or irregularity. In fact, state courts have already ruled against a number of the protest suits for sheer lack of evidence.

As of Thursday, Nov. 12, the continued tallying of popular votes in certain states showed that Biden had received 77,170,779 direct votes, or more than five million over Trump’s 72,057,565.

These numbers have been acknowledged as the highest, on both sides, in the history of America’s presidential elections. They indicate an unusually high turnout of voters of around 150 million – a commendable show of civic duty – despite the severe onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But more importantly, they reflect a deeply politically-divided nation, and that the American people are far from having thoroughly repudiated Trump’s gross misgovernance and detestable personal conduct. He got eight million more votes than he did in 2016.

Unlike in most countries including ours, in the United States elections the popular votes do not decide the presidential winner. It’s the so-called electoral college system, as provided in the 1787 US constitution, which finally elects the winner. The candidate who garners at least 270 out of the 539 total votes wins.The votes are variably allocated to the 50 states, plus Washington DC (the nation’s capital).

Per the latest tally of electoral college votes, Biden had already collected 290, while Trump had only 217.

States have different deadlines for confirming the election results. But all electoral disputes must be resolved by Dec. 8, and the electoral-college electors (chosen in each state) will meet on Dec. 14 to cast their votes. The candidate with the most number of popular votes in each state normally takes that state’s allotted electoral votes.

Thus, with Biden’s big lead over Trump, it’s almost certain that he will be confirmed as president-elect on Dec. 14. The turnover of the presidency, or Biden’s inauguration, is set by the constitution on Jan. 20, 2021.

Contrary to its prompt action in previous elections, the federal General Services Administration, now headed by a Trump appointee, has withheld certifying Biden’s all-too-evident victory. The delay is deterring Biden’s transition team from accessing public funds and from conducting background checks and obtaining security clearances for prospective appointees to the incoming administration.

He’s also denied the reglamentary intelligence briefings for an incoming president. Somehow sensing the unfairness, seven Republican senators, led by Senate intelligence committee chair Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, have spoken out for Biden’s right to the briefing. The seven, however, have refrained from acknowledging him as president-elect in deference to Trump’s refusal to concede.

Meantime, after dismissing his defense secretary Mark Esper (who had defied his order to deploy military troops during the Black Lives Matter protest actions near the White House), Trump went about replacing sub-Cabinet level officials at the Pentagon with “extreme Republican partisans.” The one he named as defense undersecretary for policy, the Guardian has reported, is a retired brigadier general who, as Fox News commentator, had called former president Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” (sounds familiar hereabouts).

Besides being concerned over what Trump can or will further do till the January inauguration rites, Biden, the Democrats and their volunteer grassroots campaigners have to do their best to win the two run-off senatorial races in Georgia on Jan. 5. Winning the two seats would produce a tie in the Senate membership. (As of now, Republicans hold 50 seats, Democrats 48.) With Kamala Harris as vice president presiding over the Senate, she can tilt the vote in favor of the Biden administration on every contested legislation or issue in the chamber.

As was shown during the two-term Obama administration, Republican control of the Senate hobbled the passage of Obama’s key legislative measures. The Democrats have retained control of the House of Representatives. (Democrats hold 218 majority seats; Republicans have 202.)

Biden has maintained a tiny vote lead in Georgia: 49.5 percent over Trump’s 49.2 percent. The state was solidly Republican when Trump took office in 2016; it has edged closer to the Democrats in 2020 mainly because of the assiduous groundwork of Black women voters, led by Stacey Abrams (whom Biden had considered for running mate).

Abrams, along with organizers of Black Voters Matter and various other groups, have not only carried out relentless organizing and registering people of color in Georgia but in other states as well. Their work, combined with the organizing and campaigning for the Biden-Harris team by progressives (led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “squad”) who had supported the candidacies of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the primaries, accounted for the huge increase in Democratic votes among people of color, including Biden’s winning in Pennsylvania and Arizona. But Trump has also won more Black men and Latino support, particularly among Cuban-Americans in Florida.

These groups have realized the power of grassroots organizing transformed into electoral votes to push for progressive changes in government policies and programs. With the projected increase to 51 percent share in US population by people of color in 2030 – including Filipino-Americans – one can imagine their potential role in the nation’s politics and in society henceforth, as they sustain their organizing and mobilizing on several fronts: against worsening inequality, racism, policing and police brutality, and for confronting the climate crisis, among others.

The progressives have already served notice that they want significant participation in a Biden government. This has raised concerns among the liberal and conservative Democrats. Biden – who has promised to unite the American people and to heal the divisions among them, exacerbated under the Trump presidency – has to start by resolving the differences within the Democratic party.

It’s a big challenge to the veteran politician, who spent 36 years as senator and eight years as vice president, with a reputation for consensus-building and moderate views.  His next moves will be closely watched.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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