I’ve been hamstrung over what to write about today.
I mean, obviously, there’s really only one story on anyone’s agenda. But what can I say that hasn’t been said?
What can I say that isn’t already the subject of frenzied, endless debate on every global news channel across the globe? That hasn’t been on a ticker since midnight, or won’t be dissected endlessly until whichever seventy-something white man is finally invited to take up residence in the White House for the next four years.
I am not a Washington correspondent. I’m not an American. I’m watching on my TV the same as anyone else. I feel obligated to try to give some insight here – it’s my job, after all. But for once, I am speechless. I have nothing to add.
Nothing, that is, except this admission: I am scared.
To be clear, my fear does not come from a lack of hope. I’m still fairly confident that Biden – himself far from a perfect candidate – will win out in the end.
While America’s pollsters must surely be sharpening their Linked In profiles today, having turned in predictions, inexplicably, even less accurate than in 2016, I still have faith that they were broadly on the right track.
Biden appears to have won the popular majority. He is on track to victory, even if it is by a whisper. And if he wins, he’s already said he’ll be a bridge candidate – a one-term president who will hand over the reins to a younger successor after four years, most likely the far more optimism-inducing Kamala Harris.
That in itself is reason to be cheerful. We can but hope it plays out that way.
But what I’m afraid about is the margin. I am afraid about what a result so close says about society. And, despite being British and a long way from the frontline of the American election aftermath, I’m afraid about what it’ll mean for the world as a whole.
That the USA could vote for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, who mocked a disabled journalist, denied the realities of climate change and showed himself to be little more than a classless bully from the outset, was shocking. That he could potentially be voted in again, after months of denying the impact of coronavirus, after threatening to withdraw the security of affordable health care amid that same pandemic, after sounding every racist dog whistle available to him over the course of four years and refusing from the outset to commit to respecting democratic will, is unthinkable.
And yet, here we are, still contemplating another four years. Gazing, open mouthed at our TVs as he proclaims himself the winner of an election still very much in play. As he threatens to call on the supreme court to deny the legitimacy of millions of votes.
The bigger picture
The longer I spend working in news, the more I see clearly the realities of the political see-saw, and how its endless tipping has a global impact.
When a heavy man such as Trump tips the balance to the right, no one can tip it back from the centre ground, and the conversation becomes more polarised, more extreme. It also – because where America leads, others follow – becomes global.
It’s easy to sit back and believe that our distance from the USA affords us protection from its extremes. But the impact of his presidency, his normalisation of selfishness, aggression and unrest, is easy to spot at home if you look closely enough. His every-man-for-himself rhetoric might be off-putting in its brashness – but a more ‘British’, more sanitised yet no less insidious version of the same messaging is present right here on home turf, in the approach of the Brexiteers, in the conversation around free school meals, in Priti Patel’s ‘build a wall’ response to migration.
Then there’s the more literal impact of America defunding the World Health Organisation, of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, of cutting its contribution to NATO. We didn’t get a vote – but any pretence that the result of this election won’t be felt acutely across the globe is dangerous in its naivety.
When extremist views emerge from what we so condescendingly view as developing nations, we shrug and other. When they emerge from the USA, they become normalised in the west, and we all feel the consequences.
Fear and loathing
So, that’s why I’m scared today. But that’s not the whole picture either.
Because in truth, it’s not the man himself that scares me, but the fact that so many people voted for him. That in a world where we have access to information more readily than at any other time in history, so very many people lent their support to a man who promised them lower taxes, without considering that he’s also a man who wants to leave millions without their healthcare, their bodily autonomy or their right to walk the streets without fear.
I’m scared that while he might look like a deranged racist powermonger to liberal progressives all over the world, he clearly has an audience who believe his approach is right. A sizeable audience, around 70 million people strong.
I’m scared that I’m raising a boy in a world that still elects men raised to hate and belittle women, to deny the equality of Black and brown people, to encourage violence and unrest when it will aid his own ends. That believes wealth to be his birth right.
We’re all waiting to see if he wins. But whether he does or he doesn’t is barely even the question any more. Tens of millions of people voted for him. Whatever the outcome, we need to understand that reality.
The question is no longer who will win. It isn’t even how we got here. The question now is where we go from here. And on that, I’m afraid, I have no answers.