I was in Washington last week to follow the U.S. elections. It has been almost been one year since my last visit due to coronavirus limitations. Although it was elections week, Washington, D.C., was like a ghost city. Very few people were on the streets, and the hustle and bustle of the capital vanished. And yet, something was in the air: tension and fear. Retailers boarded up their stores ahead of feared election unrest. When I asked, they said, “There will be massive protests, rioting and looting if the incumbent President Donald Trump wins the elections.”
It was a city of barriers, walls and checkpoints on the election night. When the awaited results started to show that the Democrats’ candidate Joe Biden was leading, there was relief as no protesting or violence would break out across D.C., at least for that night. However, it was remarkable that no one thought Trump supporters, who had been depicted as the Americans prone to violence, would resort to rioting if Biden would win. Indeed, they didn’t pour into the streets. Meanwhile, Biden supporters were quick to celebrate the results through crowding and ignoring coronavirus measures.
Everyone agrees that the 2020 presidential race was one of the tensest elections in U.S. history. Some even argued that something like this has not happened since the 1864 presidential election when the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln of the National Union Party defeated the Democratic nominee, former Gen. George B. McClellan in the midst of the American Civil War. Comparing an election period in the 21st century in a democratic country such as the U.S. with a civil war-era election is enough to understand that the U.S. is on the edge. The elections are over now, and it has been a week since Nov. 3. But the knife-edge results on the battleground as well as Trump’s voter fraud allegations point out that the American society will be nervous for a while longer.
During the election campaigns, both Democrats and Republicans turned the 2020 elections into something like a referendum for the future of the U.S. There was a struggle to convince the people to choose “Who is loving America more?” or “Who is putting America first?” They argued that the nation would be destroyed if the other won the election. While the Biden camp accused Trump of being fascist and racist, Trump blamed the Democrats for being socialists and communists. The election promises were not focused on how they would serve Americans or what they would do for the people when they were elected. The candidates even defamed, attacked and insulted their rival’s supporters. If we are talking about growing partisanship and polarization in the U.S. today, it is mostly because of the language used by politicians. The rival parties are polarizing society; it is not happening by itself. Unfortunately, partisanship increases when the parties claim that they are the patriots and the others are the traitors. When destroying the other side becomes the ultimate goal, we can say that democracy is on the brick of falling apart.
Imagine if such an election period was seen in another country, for example, Turkey. Washington would definitely make a statement saying that the U.S. was deeply concerned about the democracy of this country, adding that the polarization had reached a dangerous level. If the results of the election would be similar, they would urge the country to look to the will of the other half of the population. Even more, if there were allegations of electoral fraud, they would warn the state to respect the rule of law. Nevertheless, the rest of the world chose to watch this chaos in silence because the U.S. is uncriticizable, and the result of the elections would decide the fate of the world, too.
On the other hand, the 2020 elections in the U.S. brought the bias of the American media to light. Gatekeeping bias, promoting stories of the party they support and overlooking the other’s and coverage or statement bias has been common for the mainstream media. But this year, the American media has almost fought on the lines of their favorite candidate. The self-proclaimed objective, independent media has turned into campaign platforms. To be honest, Trump is right when he argues that the media has been waging a war against him. Mouthpieces of Biden have given huge efforts to wipe out Trump, and we have to admit that the pro-Trump media has remained down. Just like the politicians, the American media has been responsible for the enormous tension during the election period as well as the polarization in the U.S.
We should not forget to mention social media’s role in this terrible situation. We observed that the social media platforms, which are supposed to provide an equal base to divergent viewpoints, censored influential social media users which have objected to their favorite candidates. What has become crystal clear during the elections period is that social media networks’ monopoly power is beyond our estimation. If it wasn’t Trump, we all would have been outraged by the censorship of anyone, let alone a U.S. president. However, whether you like it or not, Trump has been representing the will of half of the U.S. population. He should not have been silenced.
Social media companies allowed people to claim “authoritarianism” by Trump; actually, it was more than that, they promoted it. However, such a policy has shown that they are actually a new kind of authoritarian regime. Will Twitter or Facebook or Google decide who can talk or what can be said? Then we are not free to speak online, we are just allowed to speak within the boundaries defined by these networks. If this is not a dictatorship, then what is? Some can defend the social media companies’ policies as a measure to stop the spread fake news and say that the post-truth era will end with Trump’s defeat. But who is the authority to decide what is true or false and how reliable are social media platforms’ fact-checking tools? That is why many Americans and people around the world have started to lose their trust in social media giants as well as other big technology companies. While the impact of technology has been appreciated over the last decades and people have gotten used to communicating and shopping online, people have recently become more critical of the tech industry and distrust the executives who run the show.
The U.S. mainstream media and social media have given a wide space for the recent mass protests over racial injustice and police brutality as it should be, but they have used these demonstrations as a tool to portray Trump supporters as racist, illiterate, intolerant people. Now, tell me, how can 72 million Americans be racist? Lumping the white supremacists with all the others together, it looks like the Democrats do not care about the Americans who voted for Trump for other reasons, such as the ones without a university education who are most vulnerable to the ill-effects of globalization. Many blue-collar workers are losing their jobs every day in the U.S., and they have no specialized skills to apply for tech companies’ job positions. That is why Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan means something to them, and his opposition to manufacturing moving overseas to countries such as China makes them sympathetic to Trump. When the Democrats talk about “climate change,” they steal the hearts of environmentalists but lose the blue-collar workers such as coal miners. When asked, these workers say: “The Democrats want to make the world a better place while turning our lives into a mess.” Environmentalists have a shocking answer for this: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
Unless this “democratic despotism” changes, Biden’s promise to be a president for all Americans will just be rhetoric. And Trumpism will not go anywhere when Trump accepts that it is time to concede. On the other hand, if Trump doesn’t do that and keeps up fighting, then a darker future awaits the U.S.