American Elections

Political discord in the United States is obvious as the nation moves into the eight months of campaigning before its presidential election in early November 2024. Barely hidden by the sound and fury on both sides is the battle to keep democracy as a governing principle, or erase its meaning with an all-powerful single executive

By Kenneth Tiven

The traditional horse-race mentality of suggesting which candidate leads is employed by both politicians and the news media. This measuring system tends to elevate the inconsequential and downplay what is seriously important. Protest votes of “uncommitted” by people upset with President Joe Biden’s efforts in the Israel-Palestine conflict were visible. The playing pitch for much of this has been in the courtrooms of America, and former president Donald Trump broke his losing streak this week with a favourable ruling from the US Supreme Court. 

The nine justices unanimously decided Trump cannot be denied a ballot position by any American state applying the insurrection clause of the US Constitution. Section 14.3 says no one who violates an oath of office by insurrection can hold federal office again. The decision focused on the chaos that would result, never touching the issue of whether Trump’s behaviour associated with the assault on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection.

The three liberal justices—Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Elena Kagan—wrote a concurrence to the unsigned majority opinion criticising the Republican-appointed justices for going too far: “By resolving these and other questions, the majority attempts to insulate all alleged insurrectionists from future challenges to their holding federal office. Amy Coney Barett in her own note was critical of her Republican colleagues, saying: “This is not the time to amplify disagreement with stridency…. the Court should turn the national temperature down, not up.” Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife, Ginni, participated in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, notably did not recuse himself from participating in the case.

Super Tuesday is when 15 states conduct their primary elections on the same day. Obviously, Trump and Biden easily won nominations. Yet, only in tiny liberal Vermont state, Nikki Haley appeared to have edged Trump by single digits. She had 49.9% of the votes, while DeSantis received 1.6% despite having dropped out weeks ago.

These are primaries for political parties and a close look indicates that in some states 30% of the Republican voters are not enthusiastic about Trump.  Where do those votes go in November is an unanswered question for today.

On an average, around 60% of eligible Americans vote. This means 85,000,000 people don’t participate, thinking voting will not help their personal situation. Trump needs roughly 17% of the independents and dissatisfied Democrats to win. He lost to Biden in 2020 by 9 million votes. He cannot afford to lose too many disaffected Republicans. 

For a variety of reasons, legal proceedings against Trump have been slowed, but his major problem right now is finding nearly a half a billion dollars in fines, and interest on those fines, from losing civil suits over business practices in New York state courts. He also could lose his license to work in New York State real estate. Winning back the White House is crucial because he believes as president, he can make the pending 91 federal criminal indictments disappear.

The Palestinian conflict is a critical issue for many voters, as is support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion, abortion and individual rights, immigration, candidates age, the environment, the economy, crime and guns, and the nation’s changing demography. It’s complicated here and abroad, as Iran has a big stake in its support of Hamas in Palestine and the Houthi rebels attacking international Red Sea shipping from a base in Yemen to destabilise the Middle East.

Seymour Hersh, a veteran journalist with an acerbic style wrote this week: “The best America can offer, alongside our bombs and other weapons still flowing to Israel, are air-dropped military MREs (meals ready-to-eat); a president who babbles about an imminent ceasefire without applying sufficient pressure to make one happen; and a vice-president who is sent out publicly to urge Hamas—not Israel—to agree to a six-week ceasefire in Gaza. Fat chance.”

In the primary election in Michigan, a state with a large Arab-American population, 17% of Democrats voted “uncommitted” to emphasize their unhappiness with Biden’s handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Defeating Biden in big states whose electoral college votes are substantial helps Trump because the electoral votes are state-based, meaning a candidate who wins the popular national vote can still lose the election.

Nihad Awad is a Co-founder and National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He doesn’t welcome a second Trump term, but he is prepared to accept that outcome for the sake of punishing Biden. “I am going to live under Trump, because I survived under Trump, because he’s my enemy,” he says, adding: “I cannot live under someone who pretends to be my friend.”

However, not voting for Biden to make a point seems perilous because of the close Trump-Netanyahu relationship in style and attitude. This week Fox News asked Trump if he supported the way the Israel Defense Forces are fighting in Gaza with thousands of civilians killed and community infrastructure demolished. Trump said: “You’ve gotta finish the problem. You had a horrible invasion [that] took place,” adding without any rationale for his impact on Hamas, “It would have never happened if I was president.” Muslim voters in America and others opposed to the Middle East conflict are going to have some hard thinking to do on election day when the votes count.

Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel throughout his long political career. Whatever restraint he has urged on Netanyahu has been ignored by a prime minister who faces a previously filed criminal trial if he loses his leadership immunity in Israel. For Netanyahu, holding onto his right-wing coalition that is anti-Palestinian requires risking the wrath of American politicians and long-standing financial and military support. Trump is close in political behaviour to Netanyahu. Biden’s initial approach was full public support for Israel. The lack of calls for restraint were tactical to gain leverage with Israeli leaders in the hope of privately influencing them. If this was the intent, it failed, despite Biden’s trip to the country and joining a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet.

Reflecting a broader mood in much of the Arab world, King Abdullah II of Jordan, a close American ally, said: “The message… is loud and clear: Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives. The application of international law is optional. And human rights have boundaries—they stop at borders, they stop at races, and they stop at religions.”

Shibley Telhami is an American professor in politics at the University of Maryland. He wrote that the American strategy of “hoping that Palestinians and other Arabs would be so struck by the awfulness of Hamas attack that they would be angrier with the group than with Israel is a fantasy. For such a strategy to have had any chance at all, it would have to offer a credible path towards freedom from 56 years of occupation. Biden did little to defend them or offer a credible path forward… Biden prioritized mediating a deal that would leave occupation intact. He fuelled Palestinian despair instead of hope. It was improbable that Palestinians and Arabs would broadly and suddenly trust what Biden had to sell.”

The question for American voters is which presidential candidate is selling reality? That answer will definitively arrive on November 5, 2024. We started with the Supreme Court, we end there with this note from legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern, who wrote that when Sen. Mitch McConnell was Senate majority leader, he “realized you don’t need to win elections to enact Republican policy. You don’t need to change hearts and minds. You don’t need to push ballot initiatives or win over the views of the people. All you have to do is stack the courts. You only need 51 votes in the Senate to stack the courts with far-right partisan activists…[a]nd they will enact Republican policies under the guise of judicial review, policies that could never pass through the democratic process. And those policies will be bulletproof, because they will be called ‘law.’” 

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels

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