The divided states of America: Can the US heal the scars left by a chaotic presidential election?

While the winner of the US presidential election has yet to be called, there are more than 67 million reasons why Mr Trump is not a loser.

The US is divided like never before, experts say

The US is divided like never before, experts say Source: SBS News

If there’s one thing the US election results so far have shown, it’s that the country remains a conflicted and deeply-divided nation.

“There are entire cities where the vote is split by 8,000 - it only required 4,000 people to go one way or another, and it would have turned entirely,” says Deakin University senior research fellow Josh Roose. 

“That's a serious problem, it shows how deeply divided the United States is."

Donald Trump's reign deepens the divide

As experts have noted, there are now broadly two polarised camps of Americans: the ones who love Mr Trump and the ones who loathe him.

David Smith, a senior lecturer in American politics at the University of Sydney, says the strong turnout from both Republicans and Democrats was driven by their attitudes towards the president.

“What it shows is that tens of millions of Americans really love Trump but even more millions of Americans really hate him. I think that the turnout was driven by what a divisive figure Trump is,” Mr Smith told SBS News.

“Republicans who are against Trump have effectively become Democrats. Democrats who are in favour of Trump have effectively become Republican.”

The blue wave that never came

Significantly, polls leading up to election day had predicted a “blue wave” - a decisive and overwhelming victory for the Democrats. But it never arrived.

The death of 220,000 Americans to COVID-19, the damaging rhetoric around race and the emboldening of white supremacists were just some of the policy failures they were clinging to as proof.

To their shock, critics of Mr Trump - hoping for a clear repudiation of Trumpism and the last four years - got something else. They saw, instead, an endorsement.

At just over 67 million and counting, Mr Trump gained four million more voters than he did in 2016. Exit polls also showed he also gained a significant portion of non-white voters.

Eddie Glaude, a professor at Princeton University, described the lack of repudiation in a series of tweets.

“The so-called moral outrage around Trump’s presidency did not produce any substantive shift in his Republican support,” he wrote.

“In fact, he expanded his base among white voters. Trump continues to flourish in the intersection of greed, selfishness and racism.”

'They love Trump because no-one loves them'

Two days ago, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made an observation that is now being seized on by those soul-searching for an explanation behind Mr Trump's enduring popularity. 

Carlson spoke about support for the US president in the former industrial town of Butler, Pennsylvania. He said a vote for Mr Trump was a vote against America's professional class, which many Americans felt abandoned by.

"Millions of Americans sincerely love Donald Trump," the TV host said in a monologue.

Fox slams 'ruling class' for dismissing Donald Trump supporters

"They love him in spite of everything they've heard. They love him, often, in spite of himself. They're not deluded. They know exactly who Trump is. They love him anyway.

"They love Donald Trump because no one else loves them. The country they built, the country their ancestors fought for over hundreds of years, has left them to die in unfashionable little towns, mocked and despised by the sneering halfwits with finance degrees - but no actual skills - who seem to run everything all of a sudden."

It appeared the same voters who despised Hillary Clinton for calling them "deplorables" in 2016, continue to cling to Mr Trump.

Divide and conquer

Tom Buchanan, an American academic in Adelaide, said the numbers so far from the rural areas and smaller cities were “astonishing”.

“I mean, just massive margins. And it didn’t used to be that way. Now, it's become almost disreputable to be if you're a Democrat, and you're, you know, running in a rural area. Gosh, everyone's going to make fun of you,” he said.

Dr Roose said Mr Trump has managed to mobilise significantly more of his base than most pundits gave him credit for.

He says that’s because Mr Trump has given the religious right what they wanted - going hard on freedom of religion, attacking LGBTQI+ rights and securing conservatives on the Supreme Court.

“He's been very successful at mobilising and polarising society,” Dr Roose said.

Mr Smith believes Mr Trump managed to secure his base not because of anything he’s said or done, but what they think he stands for.

“A lot of Americans see him as a kind of religious figure; they see him as someone who is doing God's work. And I think for a lot of Americans he just represents ‘us against them’," Mr Smith said.

“So, it's not particularly about policy. It's not about results. It's not even about what is happening to the country. It is about this division between Trump and anti-Trump.”

Win or lose, experts say Mr Trump has achieved one thing: dividing and conquering. The Trumpism movement isn’t going anywhere.

Mr Buchanan says while the political divisions go back to the civil rights era, it’s taken a heightened sense under Mr Trump.

“There's going to be continued problems and, you know, violence in America, political violence, which is something that … ten years ago wouldn't seem possible.”

Published 5 November 2020 at 7:45pm, updated 6 November 2020 at 9:17am
By Rashida Yosufzai