Commentators always like to use grand words when talking about American elections but, indeed, this Tuesday vote can really be the most important one in the recent history of the United States. What is at stake is no less than the quality of the post-pandemic economic recovery, health of American democracy, unity of the West, and the multilateral order itself.
I am writing these words on the eve of elections. The memory of 2016 is still fresh when everybody assumed that Hilary Clinton is a shoo-in. Not only presidential elections are at stake. Probably the Democrats will keep their majority in the House of Representatives. But they would need 5 Senate seats to gain majority there. It is possible that the Senate will be divided 50-50. Joe Biden seems to be the firm front-runner. Yes, majority of pollsters predict the victory of Joe Biden but they can go spectacularly wrong. 4 years ago Donald Trump vowed to “make America great again”.
Has the country been made great again? Until the pandemic broke out the American economy had been faring extremely well, with a roaring labour market and benefits of prosperity trickling down even the lowest strata of society. Some of this economic climate was due to the administration policies of deregulation and tax decreases. According to most experts, the record of economic policies of President Trump was mixed, but he could reasonably hope to be re-elected benefitting from the longest period of global economic expansion after World War II. And then the pandemic came. Unemployment sky-rocketed and with it down went consumption and economic growth. The administration was blamed for inadequate handling of the crisis with the rate of infections highest among the developed countries.
This is the sombre backdrop of the current elections. The tensions are enormous. The presidential debates were a very nasty affair, full of invectives that the presidential candidates were throwing at each other. America is in the grip of bitter polarising debate with Republican and Democrat party supporters as far from each other as they could be while the establishment of both parties veering to extremes of the political spectrum. For example, the windows of some shops in New York have been boarded up in anticipation of possible. The Black Lives Matter movement has exposed the dire strait of racial relations.
Results might not come along with the end of voting day. Vote by mail was conducted by a record number of 80 million citizens. It can take weeks before the results are probably counted. The opportunity of protests possibly ending at the Supreme Court is very real.
And finally, there will be reverberations across the world. Whatever the outcome of the elections the important challenges will remain: handling the epidemic and post-pandemic recovery, dealing with increasingly hostile revisionist countries such as China or Russia, restoring the trust of allies, especially that of the European countries. President Biden would probably make America return to the Paris Climate agreement, adopt carbon neutrality goal and make a quicker return towards multilateralism.
Central Europe is one of these regions where the elections are followed closely. Slovakia has been disappointed to see the overall relationship between America and the EU deteriorate in recent years. Spats on trade came at a time when the untied position of the West was essential to face the growing Chinese authoritarian tendencies in the domestic and international scene. Slovakia would welcome some of the spirit of commonality of interests that characterized the Obama years. Trump’s open and direct support for Brexit was not well received in many European capitals.
Some countries such as Poland have invested a lot of diplomatic effort into a strong bilateral relationship, some experts would argue, at the expense of relations with key European partners. The US administration was unwilling to take a stance as regards Hungary’s and Poland’s issues with rule of law and media and judiciary independence. This would certainly change in case of a Biden win. President Biden would also be a more vocal supporter of Irish arguments in the Brexit debate especially in the context of the future status of Northern Ireland. Trump’s win, by contrast, would reinforce the global trend of the disintegration of the multilateral system and abdication of America from the position of patron and promoter of democracy and free markets in the world.
The stakes are high, indeed and many people in Europe will give up their good night’s sleep to wait for some news coming from across the Atlantic.