[Column] Divisions in American society likely to continue after presidential election

Posted on : 2020-10-30 17:07 KST Modified on : 2020-10-30 17:07 KST
Trump and Biden supporters seem to be living in different realities.

In a recent CBS poll of voters in Florida, one of the main battleground states in the US presidential election, 59% of Trump supporters said they’re worried the US is sliding toward socialism. Meanwhile, 58% of supporters of Democratic candidate Joe Biden said they’re concerned about the US becoming a totalitarian state.

While the top election issues for Biden supporters are COVID-19 (91%, multiple answers allowed) and the candidate’s character (80%), Trump supporters prioritize the economy (96%) and immigration (79%). The gaps between the two sides on gun rights, abortion, and LGBT rights hardly need to be mentioned.

Members of the two parties also have strongly negative views of each other. When I asked Trump supporters at his rallies what they would do if Trump loses the election, their answers were generally similar.

“We’ll accept a fair outcome. We don’t resort to violence.” “When Trump won four years ago, the people who were setting fires on the streets were the leftists, not us. We’re even more scared about that this time around.” “Why is the press asking us that question? It’s the Democrats who are causing chaos. They’re the ones who didn’t accept the results of the last election and tried to impeach Trump over these past four years.”

On the other hand, Democrat voters are worried that, if Trump loses, far-right groups will grab their guns and occupy the streets. In fact, there have been news reports about people being threatened over lawn signs for particular candidates, gun sales increasing over fears of unrest after the election, and panic buying of necessities.

“Four years ago, there weren’t any armed hooligans out in the streets,” observed Kim Dong-suk, president of the Korean American Grassroots Conference, who has been following politics in the US for nearly 30 years. Kim is worried about the widening polarization of American society.

According to a poll carried out on Oct. 13-20 by Reuters and Ipsos, four out of 10 people said they wouldn’t accept the election results if the other side won. That was the response of 43% of Biden supporters and 41% of Trump supporters. A lower percentage of voters said they’d take part in protests or other action: 22% of Biden supporters and 16% of Trump supporters.

But if the election results are close and the count of mail-in ballots is delayed, a handful of errors could make things much worse. Some are even predicting that the US could end up in a civil war.

There are two scenarios that would preclude that kind of chaos. The first is a landslide victory that would put the outcome beyond any possibility of debate. The second is a close race in which the losing candidate clearly accepts defeat.

But one Trump supporter whom I met in Pennsylvania told me that “Trump won’t concede even if he loses.” Both sides have already set up teams of lawyers to prepare for a battle in the courts.

Whichever side ends up winning the election, the US will probably be racked with confusion for some time. President-elect Biden would face not only a backlash from the conservatives but also pressure from both the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party.

That would probably force him to expend a great deal of energy on hammering out his policy agenda. Needless to say, foreign policy would take a back seat to restoring order at home for some time.

If Trump wins reelection, he’s likely to face sharper conflict with the Democrats in Congress as he pushes ahead more boldly with his current policies, buttressed by a definite conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Thus, the US has become a source of anxiety for people around the world. The South Korean government needs to find ways to maximize Korea’s national interest and role while bearing in mind the chaotic period that will follow not only the US presidential election but also, assuming that Biden wins, the inauguration of a new administration next year.

Hwang Joon-bum
Hwang Joon-bum

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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