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A legitimacy crisis in the US | HT Editorial – editorials


The next United States (US) president will be decided through a counting process that is likely to continue through this week and, in turn, likely to end up in the courts. The electoral college system used to select the country’s chief executive, in which a majority win in each state results in all the electoral votes of the states being awarded to one candidate, means the final verdict will boil down to three or four states which will count their numbers cautiously. Knowing that late ballots are postal and mostly blue, President Donald Trump has restarted his warnings of election fraud. One element of the Republican Party strategy envisaged a legal attempt to disqualify ballots counted after Election Day. Mr Trump has decided to go ahead with this unethical, unconstitutional, and legally dubious path.

Democrats, looking at the consistent, if slim, polling leads in most battleground states for Joe Biden, had hoped for a decisive victory that would have pre-empted any legal challenge. But the hopes for a deep blue wave dissolved into a series of shallow, purplish puddles. The US electorate has revealed itself to be marked by even more fault lines than before. Initial results show a more pronounced shift by suburban middle-class Americans to the Democratic Party, while the few White workers who voted blue in 2016 have all but disappeared. The Democrats found their minority voting bloc is splintering with Mr Biden pulling in a record low number of Latino voters for his party. Mr Trump, on other hand, seems to have lost favour with women voters of all varieties.

This election may result in the worst of all worlds — a weak and disunited States of America. No matter who wins, Mr Trump or Mr Biden will serve for only four years in the White House, meaning they will be lame ducks quite early into their terms. The Democrats will control the lower house but the Senate will be evenly divided. The judiciary is firmly on the Right. All this means the next US president will be hemmed in by other arms of government, especially when bipartisanship is all but dead. Mr Trump has signalled his second term will be about settling scores more than realising a national vision. The US will be a house divided with a leader seen as illegitimate by half his people, no matter who wins.

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