The record-high voter turnout in the US gave the winner after several days of counting the ballots. This is Joe Biden, who will most likely be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. He received more than 75 million votes, the highest in the history of the US presidential election. The second place on this ranking scale – with four million votes less – is occupied by this year’s loser Donald Trump.
This year’s turnout was driven not so much by sympathy for the chosen candidate and his ideas, but more by antipathy towards the opposite side. Just as Trump united an electorate in antipathy towards the Democratic elite in 2016 with Hillary Clinton at the helm, so this year Joe Biden created a winning coalition of voters based on antipathy to Donald Trump and a desire for a new president, whoever that will be.
In this context, the fear of the opposite side winning was also a high motivator for voter turnout. At the ideological level, Democrats persuaded voters that the choice is between freedom and fascism, and Republicans warned that it was a choice between freedom and communism. Both sides are convinced – each for themself – that they are defenders of the true “American way of life”, although they imagine it completely differently. The record high turnout in the US can thus be understood as the mobilization of citizens in support of democracy, which both sides feared were in jeopardy. And here the story gets complicated.
Before the country really fell asleep after an undecided election day, Trump declared victory and claimed that any other result would mean electoral theft. This scenario was expected, as Trump began imposing on the public as early as the summer the idea that the election would be stolen due to mass voting by mail. Mail voting was otherwise, for many Americans, the best solution to express their political will during the covid-19 epidemic.
Instead, he could have assured the American people that, as President of the United States, he will do everything in his power to ensure that the election is fair and adequately infrastructurally supported. He did everything but that, because it was in his interest – especially in the case of electoral loss – to have as many irregularities and complications as possible with postal ballots, on the basis of which he could challenge the result. Opinion polls (correctly) predicted his defeat, and Trump, as a proven political strategist, prepared for the most likely election day scenario early in the campaign.
Trump’s announcement of victory while simultaneously declaring electoral fraud should come as no surprise. Nor did his quick response, which sent a strong rhetorical message to the public at a time when most people were just beginning to get an impression of what had happened. In such situations, it is effective to be first. We can still see the effect of this performance today, as Trump supporters are still nervously gathering possible evidence of electoral fraud, which they will believe even if they do not find the evidence. The right-wing side of the internet has thus once again become a breeding ground for conspiracy theories backed by fake news.
Only 7% of Americans, though, still believe that electoral fraud has taken place, and 13% believe that it is necessary to wait a little longer to announce the winner. 80% of Americans – including the right-wing television station Fox News – have already accepted the election victory of Democrat Biden, and most world leaders and heads of states have congratulated him on his victory. One of the bright exceptions is Slovenia, which is not surprising.
On Twitter, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulated Trump on his victory and supported his message about electoral fraud. Janša obviously wanted to become Luka Dončić of Slovene politics – something that Marjan Šarc never succeeded in, even though he was described as such by “lamestream” media. Overnight, he became a “star” on the American and international political scene, but unlike Dončić, he did not gain general admiration and respect. At most the opposite. The whole world is wondering if Slovenia has a fever.
At first glance, the Prime Minister’s action seems impulsive, but it nevertheless satisfies two strategic goals. The reason for this act, which hurt the international reputation of the Republic of Slovenia, is not only in raising the international recognition of Janez Janša’s own brand. It is also a maneuver with a domestic political goal, with which Janša is trying to place himself in the minds of his supporters in the same (prestigious) compartement where Trump is.
Both characters – the Slovene and American versions of right-wing populism – sell to their base the story of the heroic fight against the radical left and immigrants as a threat to the Judeo-Christian civilization of the West, ruled by perverted liberal elites who steal elections. Right-wingers in Slovenia are easy prey to such conspiracy theories, as they have been fed similar stories by Janša for decades.
So if Janša’s supporters believe – and it is characteristic of cults that followers believe everything the leader says – that Donald Trump, as an international hero of the new right-wing movement in the West, was a victim of electoral fraud, this puts him alongside Janša as a heroic martyr. Or more precisely – in the context of their imagination, this puts Janša alongside the heroic Donald Trump, and the association with Trump’s political brand increases Janša’s political capital in the fight to maintain the loyalty of his base in the next elections.
In terms of the dominant symbolic struggle, this year’s US elections were also remarkably similar to all Slovenian parliamentary elections in the last decade, in which two camps were always formed, with the identity of the center-left camp largely based on the rejection of Janez Janša’s character and policies, and the latter has always built his coalition of voters on antipathy to the “udbomafia” left elite. In Slovenia, too, the rhetorically constructed threats of communism and fascism (Janšism) are symbolically opposed. Janša’s connection to the US election story is thus not accidental, but strategic.
So what can we conclude about the future of the USA based on the experience from Slovenia? One could argue that national reconciliation is impossible as long as the high polarization of society benefits politicians in their struggle for power. Unlike Slovenia, society in the USA is so polarized that a conflict between two opposing parties with completely different visions of society can get out of hand if Biden fails to overcome the economic recession and bring both sides closer in the field of culture.
As for Trump – he will most likely not leave quietly, nor will he really withdraw from public life, as is the case with former presidents. He will continue to communicate via Twitter and take advantage of the influence he has on his supporters. He will try to preserve the value of his brand, which is the main source of value of his “business empire”. He will probably try to pave the way for one of his children to a possible Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024. No doubt he will – out of malice – harass for months or years to come those who defeated him in the elections – because that’s just what narcissists with a wounded ego do.