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Every vote counts

The American Studies Professor Sieglinde Lemke on the outcome of the presidential election in the USA

Freiburg, Nov 09, 2020

In an interview with Jürgen Reuß, Prof. Dr. Sieglinde Lemke, Professor of North American Studies in Freiburg, is confident that the USA will develop well under the leadership of election winner Joe Biden and his strong Vice President Kamala Harris.

Important signs against Donald Trump's “Stop the Count:” Governors in key US states want to make sure that every casted vote counts. Photo: Halfpoint/

Ms. Lemke, Joe Biden will be the new President of the USA. What was your first reaction to the election results?

Sieglinde Lemke: For me, it was a sigh of relief after a long political impasse, not only for the people in the USA, but all over the world, but in a mixture of joy and skepticism.

Skepticism? Do you think that the election results could still change?

Donald Trump brought the term "fraud" into play early on, recounts will be demanded in some states, and both sides have mobilized their lawyers ... all of these proceedings could possibly have an impact on the outcome. But I hope not because if such maneuvers succeed and prevent votes that have been cast from being counted, it would have drastic consequences for our democracy.

Will a recount not lead to the same result?

I assume so. Everything indicates that the election was conducted correctly and that the democratic procedure was respected. The governors in the decisive states have assured that they will make sure that every casted vote counts. There are also election observers from both parties who monitor the process on the ground. But certain predictions about American policy in general and this election in particular have become more difficult.

Could it take longer than usual for the election winner to be declared president?

Not if it is done correctly. There are guidelines: On December 8, 2020, the president must be announced, on January 3, 2021, Congress must convene, and on January 20, the inauguration takes place. But it remains interesting to see whether the expected legal battles will lead to complications and riots.

What will Biden do as election winner under these circumstances?

To thank his voters and find healing, conciliatory words for the nation - part of his campaign promise was to cure the American soul.

Does Biden have the right stuff for it?

There is no alternative. Biden is the only hope to get out of the current plight and extreme division of the nation. National unity has suffered greatly in the last four years due to the scandal-driven discourses and the rise of right-wing populism. Another Trump term would have only made things worse. Biden has at least declared his intention to restore mutual respect and civil decency. He is the only public figure who has a majority vote and thus the mandate to restore unity behind him. In the face of hyperpolarization, this Herculean task is existential.

What initial measures do you expect from him?

That he is pressing ahead with the fight against Covid-19, not firing top virologist Anthony Fauci - contrary to what Trump announced - and restoring relations with the World Health Organization (WHO). That he is absolutely committed to the economy, putting together infrastructure packages, putting up rescue parachutes, but also tackling tax law. Trump had reduced corporate tax from 35 to 21 percent. Biden has announced that he will reverse this reduction and raise the tax to 28 percent. He also wants to increase the top tax rate by 2.6 percent. These are important prerequisites for tackling the issue of growing economic inequality.

For Sieglinde Lemke, the designated vice president Kamala Harris is the secret star of the presidential election in the USA. Photo: private

Trump has brought neither more jobs nor improvements for the middle class. Why have so many people given him their vote when the economy is so crucial?

True, the Trumpian narrative that he created jobs, that the economy is doing better than ever before, is nonsense. Due to the rising cost of living, many in the lower middle class are unable to achieve economic security. The majority is in debt and the proportion of people in the population who cannot even come up with 400 dollars overnight is 40 percent.

Nevertheless, people prefer to choose people who tell them that they are better off than those who do something about it?

Apparently. The majority of those who are financially unwell - after all, about one-third of the population - have elected a president who, contrary to their economic interests, makes the poor poor poorer and the rich richer, but in return tells them how great they are, how outstanding the economy is and how great the United States looks. Unfortunately, that worked. The cultural narrative and Trump’s suggestive power have triumphed over the socio-economic facts. All studies on poverty and inequality paint a well-supported picture of the economic suffering of the population. However, such facts rarely make it into the media. Against this background, Biden's election victory means that millions of voters have realized that Trump did not deliver.

Despite common suffering, the country is extremely divided...

The rise of right-wing extremism and populism, with Trump as the supreme polarizer, is ultimately a symptom of an economic development that began with the deregulation of the economy in the 1980s. It has fueled the omnipresent lobbying in Congress and subjected society to the needs of the market. Now that the market has become the all-important factor that determines all areas, it was only logical that a billionaire should be elected president. Biden's task will now be to think about how to stop deregulation in the coming decades.

An old man as bearer of hope for the long haul ahead?

Biden's decision to appoint Kamala Harris as Vice President sends a signal. I think Harris is the secret star of the election. At 56 years of age, she embodies the new generation compared to the two old gentlemen. She is a sympathizer and fights for a different America. The fact that her mother is from India and her father from Jamaica also makes her an important integration figure for non-white Americans. As an attorney, she fights for the law, but not for that of the strongest. She fights against sexual violence, the death penalty, for the rights of People of Color and the LGBTQ community. Harris is the first female vice president in US history.  Despite the close election results and the expected paralysis in the Senate, it is not unthinkable that the presidency under Biden and Harris will set the course for a different, green future.

Along with Trump, even the boorish, boastful posturing will disappear?

It has served its time as a model for success. In my opinion, it will not be possible to win elections with harshness in the future. New figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the Democratic Party are ready. Biden will gather a good team around him and also include younger politicians. New green deal, black lives matter - something is emerging in the USA.

If Trump doesn't start a civil war after all...

No way, the apocalypse has failed to materialize and democracy has triumphed for the time being. This close neck-and-neck race shows once again how important the basic rule of democracy is: every vote counts.