After a year of profound disturbances, the United States is preparing to hold a presidential election that will give its verdict on the country’s role in the world and the direction of its economy, its will to contain an escalating pandemic and its ability to face the systemic racism.
But the two contenders, President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, offer more than different solutions to the country’s most pressing problems. It is in fact a referendum on the role of the presidency itself and the strength of democracy. The president has questioned the legitimacy of the result ahead of election day, and law enforcement is bracing for the possibility of civil unrest.
“This is more than the usual ideological difference between the two candidates. There is a fundamentally different view of what the presidency is and what leadership means to the nation, ”said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Presidential History Center at Southern Methodist University.
Voters seem to be aware of this: more than 86 million people have already cast their ballots, an absolute record for early voting.
A Trump victory would deepen the anti-establishment, nationalist approach to tackling the country’s problems that he has pursued for the past four years, an approach that the president’s supporters adore and his detractors detest. The courts, for which Trump has appointed a host of conservative jurists, would veer further to the right.
A Biden victory would be a repudiation of the president as much as a victory for the veteran Democratic politician, former vice president and senator. Although the plan presented by Biden envisions a more energetic role for the federal government in American life and a more aggressive campaign against the pandemic, the axis of his offensive has been the contrast of his temperament with that of Trump.
Control of the Senate is also at stake, as Democrats have a chance to regain a majority. Democrats are predicted to retain their majority in the House of Representatives.
American society is divided into bitter camps, and whoever wins the White House will face the challenge of governing amid such deep divisions. The campaign has shown how stratified the country has become. Trump’s base of support is among white voters, with lower income and lower education levels. Voters with higher education, especially women, and voters of color, especially African-Americans, have practically left the Republican Party during Trump’s four-year term.