American voters have been repeatedly told that 2020 is the most important election in decades.
Certainly, when I moved to the US from the UK two months ago, 3 November was a date I’d circled in the calendar. “What a time to be in America!”, everyone had said to me as I wished them goodbye.
On Tuesday, election day, I received several messages from friends asking what the mood was like on the streets and whether I was worried about the possibility of rioting when the results were announced. I would have loved to have impressed everyone back home by sharing a pithy story that encapsulated a wave of feverish public sentiment.
Yet in reality this Tuesday felt no different to any other. The streets were quiet on a beautiful, cloudless day, and if you avoided the television coverage the election could have passed you by entirely. Occasionally I overheard people talk about it in the park, but it was merely to confirm to each other they’d long since sent their postal vote. The sense of fulfilment at having conducted their civic duty had already dissipated, leaving a void on the day itself.
All they could do was wait. California has voted Democrat at every election since 1992, and was correctly predicted to do so again. While I drove past a Trump rally a few weeks ago in the east of the state, in Silicon Valley where I live, you would be hard pushed to find someone hoping that he will be reelected. And if you did, they wouldn’t have a campaign poster on their front lawn, as so many Biden-supporting neighbours have chosen to do in recent months.
Going into the election there were two overriding trends from the people I’ve met here. The first concerned their frustration with the Electoral College and the fact that the fate of their preferred candidate lay in the hands of citizens in just a handful of states. The second was the fear that, if he did lose, Trump would not go quietly. Like a drunk uncle at a wedding they hadn’t wished to invite in the first place, they wanted Trump to be shown the door with the minimum of fuss.
Judging from his comments on Tuesday night – where he alleged, without evidence, that there had been “major fraud on our nation” and indicated his intention to see the matter resolved in the Supreme Court – the worry is if he is kicked out of the White House, he’ll go down swinging.
People here and around the world hoped that this election would deliver a powerful rejection of Trump’s policies and leadership style. That evidently hasn’t been the case.
Where that leads remains to be seen and the uncertainty weighs heavily on people across the country. What appears most likely is that weeks of court cases and legal appeals lie ahead. Following such a long and bitter campaign, many people here are already weary of the election – they urgently need the long-awaited new stimulus package to help protect jobs and to fund programs designed to limit the spread of Covid-19. But no progress will be made on this front until questions over the election result are answered.
Should Trump wish to kick up a storm, we have seen that in his time in office he will leave no stone unturned to get his way. At this stage, if he was to tell his supporters to go on strike or protest the result in the streets, would anyone really be surprised?
People in the US and around the world hoped that this election would deliver a powerful rejection of Trump’s policies and leadership style. That evidently hasn’t been the case. Instead, if Biden does enter the Oval Office, I’m concerned he’ll face a battle to gain the trust of half of the population, many of whom will feel disenfranchised and worried about what the next four years will hold for them.
In Silicon Valley, residents here were hopeful Biden would gain a clear-cut victory. The fact that it’s close gives Trump the leverage to act with obduracy. No one wants to see a repeat of the controversy that surrounded the Bush versus Gore election result 20 years ago, but the longer the uncertainty continues, the higher the anxiety levels will rise.
Chris Atkin is a freelance journalist