“Biden’s Chances Are Good”
An interview with RWTH political scientist Emanuel Richter on the US election. With just a few days to go until November 3, 2020, RWTH professor emeritus Emanuel Richter, a political scientist, gives his assessment of the US presidential election. The interview was conducted by Jens Tervooren for Bürgerforum RWTHextern, of which Richter was chairman for many years.© Peter Winandy
RWTHextern: One question has been discussed at length: What happens if Donald Trump won’t accept a narrow defeat in the election?
Richter: Then the electoral votes are counted until a narrow majority is reached for one of the two candidates – in a worst-case scenario, both will get the same number of electoral votes. The situation is aggravated if irregularities are found with mail-in ballots. Trump has long been conjuring up a scenario where the Chinese are supposedly forging absentee ballots and rigging the election. So if any irregularities occurr, the election will be contested, immediately and directly by Trump's lawyers. It would then be necessary to wait for a judicial clarification, which could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
RWTHextern: What would the consequences be?
Richter: Trump would not leave the White House, thus preventing the electors’ meeting on December 8 and their casting of ballots on December 14. This would endanger a transfer of power to a new incumbent on January 20, 2021. Something that has never happened before in the history of the United States.
It is also conceivable that militia groups or armed citizens take to the streets who would either want to defend their president or want Trump to leave the White House. This could result in riots, civil unrest, and violence.
RWTHextern: If the election results show a clear majority, on the other hand, do you assume that Trump would then accept the will of the people?
Richter: It is safe to assume that Trump wouldn't accept a defeat without comment, but would instead unleash a barrage of Twitter messages. But he'd probably grudgingly leave the White House in the end.
RWTHextern: The United States has been celebrated for its democracy and freedom of speech. Is this when the “leader of the free world” will lose its status as a role model?
Richter: Historically, the United States has weathered severe crises on several occasions. The country was even divided during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. In an interview, the renowned American writer Paul Auster said that he was embarrassed to be an American right now, given the current circumstances. In my estimate - and I am in close contact with many Americans - almost half of the population feels this way. They see themselves governed by an erratically acting, sometimes simply ridiculous president. With his national and international policies and particularly his America First stance, Trump has squandered much of the country’s global standing.
RWTHextern: Is Trump alone to blame for this development? Or is this just an effect of a process that has already been set in motion in the United States a while ago?
Richter: It is undoubtedly a product of conditions pointing to structural conflicts or deficits. Trump is a voice for the interests of the nation’s white population and stands for the predominance of white Christian Americans. The latter has recently been threatened by the growing numbers of minorities, as they are - still - called, such as Hispanics, Black Americans, or Asian Americans. For some time now, there has been a discussion about when the white majority will end in the United States.
Given the population trend, white Americans, who are considered the nation’s founders, will eventually be in the minority. Presenting himself as a successful white entrepreneur, Trump has built his campaign for president around the promise to strengthen this group’s position in the country again. I’m exaggerating now, but by doing so, he may well epitomize the last rebellion of whites fighting against the loss of their supremacy.
RWTHextern: And Joe Biden?
Richter: Biden also belongs to the white elite. But he is more gentle and understanding, does not want to polarize, and would therefore be a much more intelligent, prudent, and presidential representative of white America.
RWTHextern: Why didn't the Democrats put up another, younger candidate?
Richter: The big parties have traditionally been dominated by white elites who have always had a lot of influence and have now aged - as has Biden. Political dynasties have also played a role in the Democratic Party. For example the Kennedys or Clintons, similar to the Bush Republican family. Biden also looks back on a long political career; he was a senator as a young man and a vice president under Obama. Party elites tend to prevent ambitious, younger politicians – who certainly exist – from getting better opportunities.
RWTHextern: Biden's Vice President Kamala Harris would be someone like that. How important is she to Biden's campaign?
Richter: Very important! We saw that with Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016. Partly to blame for this defeat was certainly her lack of support from within the Democratic Party. Younger voters strongly criticized her because she did not represent the whole party spectrum. Kamala Harris is an ideal choice because she has a nonwhite background with an Indian mother and a Jamaican father. She is a successful, comparatively young woman with a lot of experience in politics as a public prosecutor and senator. Harris represents the young, progressive, and multicultural forces within the Democratic Party. She brings to Joe Biden’s ticket what he is not.
RWTHextern: Biden is 78 years old. He would be the oldest president ever elected in the United States. Does his age perhaps guarantee an imminent change? He has always stressed that he will not seek a second term.
Richter: Biden would probably relinquish the presidency after four years and turn it over to someone representing a broader swath of the social and ethnic spectrum. Set to remain for the time being, however, is the deep divisions in American society. These divisions also lead to the prevailing political polarization among voters. About 40 percent of them support Republicans while 40 percent vote for Democrats. The remaining 20 percent are undecided.
epublican supporters dream of a white-dominated America where supposedly anyone who just works hard enough can succeed and live a happy life. The other side wants change and equal opportunities for everyone. This would require numerous innovations and social achievements, for example in education, labor, or health policy. In simple terms: A conservative white America is pitted against a reform-minded, multicultural America. And Trump exacerbates this polarization.
RWTHextern: What impact does the COVID-19 pandemic have on the candidates' chances?
Richter: It plays a considerable role: In a pandemic, we like to have a government and president who act prudently. Americans complain that Donald Trump only creates chaos. The rates of infection and deaths underline this drastically. I am confident that Trump is losing voters because of his poor crisis management during this pandemic.
RWTHextern: The second major concern is the wave of civil unrest, comprising protests and riots against systemic racism, most recently triggered by the violent death of George Floyd during a police operation. Among other things, the US president sent armed federal police to Portland. There have even been claims that Trump would win the election rather than lose should this civil unrest continue.
Richter: Many whites believe that black Americans are prone to criminal behavior, have no distinct American identity, and are not interested in attaining a better social status. Trump is taking white supremacists' side when he calls the protesters enemies of the state who should be treated as criminals. There are also private militia groups who are happy to take to the streets with various dangerous firearms legal in the US.
RWTHextern: What is your prediction for the election on November 3?
Richter: Biden has a good chance of winning the election. His win would defuse the potential for conflict, but it won’t result in a different America overnight. The social problems and racism will, of course, continue to exist for the time being. But Biden and the Democratic Party have a better feel for the situation, and they are likely to tackle the structural problems in a more thoughtful way. In this, I actually see a potential for transformation in the United States. The country will, however, no longer be that shining example of a democratic, ethnically colorful, global power. The United States will be dealing with its own issues, and it will lose its image of being a pioneer and role model.