January 22, 2021

The 2020 election and its aftermath

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In my last column, I wrote I would be commenting on the election.  I had no idea how much there would be to consider, both pre-November 3 and post.  So, this column will be actually two.  And by the time it’s published and distributed, it may well be superseded by rapidly advancing events.  But here goes.

I supported Joe Biden from the very beginning of the campaign.  I believed his vast experience, moderate approach to politics and record of achievement set him up to be the best leader for America.  As a House staffer in the 1980s, I worked with Mr. Biden’s Senate office and became aware of his life-long association with Ukrainian Americans and his deep commitment to Ukraine.  Later, as director of the Ukrainian Museum-Archives, I was able to tap into those contacts when Mr. Biden facilitated passage of legislation directly important to us.  And, as a Democrat, I thought Joe Biden would be the best candidate to defeat President Trump, whose obsequiousness toward Vladimir Putin I despised. Mr. Trump obviously also saw Mr. Biden as his most formidable challenger.  Hence, the president’s shakedown of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which led to impeachment.  Hard to recall now, but that drama played out just a year ago. And then just three weeks after Mr. Trump’s Senate acquittal early in February, Joe Biden won the South Carolina Democratic primary, paving his way to the Democratic presidential nomination and going on to win in the general election.

 

Pre-election campaign

The 2020 presidential campaign will be remembered for its outcome, of course, but also that it was conducted during the worst health crisis in a century.  President Trump downplayed the pandemic, initially calling it a “hoax,” then predicting it would be gone by Easter, followed by assurances that a miracle would make it go away. He mocked people for wearing masks, recommended drinking bleach and held big campaign rallies, which led to infection spikes over the months.  Many Trump officials were infected, including the president himself.

By contrast, Joe Biden told people to take the virus seriously, wear a mask and practice the social distancing guidelines which the president’s own health authorities released and he dismissed. No surprise, Mr. Biden’s inner circle was spared infections. Since the election, Trump supporters told me with regret that had the president seriously addressed the pandemic, he would have easily won re-election.  Instead, he lost, his legacy forever blackened by millions of coronavirus infections, hundreds of thousands of deaths, the worst peacetime loss of jobs since Herbert Hoover 90 years ago, tens of millions of students substantially losing a year of their education and a nation deprived of social interaction, with wedding receptions canceled, theaters darkened, funerals restricted to a handful of mourners. Some hoax…

The summer of 2020 was also dominated by massive demonstrations and urban violence not seen since the late 1960s. Absurdly, Mr. Trump campaigned as a “law and order” advocate, vowing to address the disorders which erupted while he was president.  Candidate Biden, for his part, condemned both the root causes of the social unrest and the widespread violence that ensued.  If elected president, he promised to implement policies to remedy America’s problems.

During the campaign, President Trump used every advantage his office provided – both legal and illegal – to promote his re-election.  When the highest levels of U.S. Intelligence reported that Russia was working hard to try to defeat Mr. Biden and help Mr. Trump win re-election, the president ordered the report be changed to downplay Russia’s role and inflate China’s – false and deliberately misleading. When Democrats made it known that their focus would be on early voting and mail-in ballots because of Coronavirus, he appointed as Postmaster a supporter who proceeded to dismantle mail-handling machines and downgrade staff, obviously to delay delivery of absentee votes.  No proof of a crime, I suppose, but election sabotage to be sure. And, having canceled the GOP Convention because of COVID-19, President Trump used the White House itself as a venue for his nomination, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appearing at the American embassy in Israel as a live-television re-election platform – both clear violations of the Hatch Act and illegal.

Despite these and other efforts, Joe Biden, of course, went on to win the Electoral College, 306-232 – coincidentally, the same total Mr. Trump received in the 2016 election, even after losing the popular vote by three million votes.  But it’s the Electoral College that counts. Mr. Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by fewer than total 80,000 votes, states where Ukrainians have a visible presence, particularly the latter two.

In 2016, Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes.  Mr. Biden doubled that with 80,000 in 2020. Mr. Trump won Michigan in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes; four years later, Mr. Biden won the state by 154,000.

Based on many issues but particularly disgust with Mr. Trump’s obeisance to Russia, a handful of activists organized Ukrainian Americans for Mr. Biden to promote his election. (Full disclosure:  I was a member of the ten-person steering committee.) Ukrainian-Americans nationally are a relatively small demographic, but in 2020 I believe we made a difference. Ukrainian-American activism contributed to the relatively narrow but enormously significant Biden-Harris victory.  The UAB committee met regularly by Zoom, strategized how to mobilize our community and regularly took out ads in The Ukrainian Weekly.  One of the first ads was signed by more than 300 people from a couple dozen states, inspiring life-long Republican and Ukrainian Weekly columnist Myron Kuropas to write: “Wow!  Very Impressive!”  A few weeks later, another Biden ad appeared with more than 550 signing on. Impressive indeed. Ukrainian-Americans for Trump responded with ads of their own, with not a single person signed on.  As for the folks who signed onto The Ukrainian Weekly Biden ads, many didn’t just lend their names; they worked to mobilize voters in our community and beyond.  I know my wife Chrystia did.

Almost every day during the campaign, I’d get e-mails from Ukrainian American supporters of Donald Trump. I’ve known a number of them for decades.  Like me, they’re mostly in their 70s now, no doubt receiving Social Security and billing Medicare for their health care. I like Medicare and I bet they do, too. Socialism? No – it’s a bedrock of American society.  Anyone campaigning to eliminate those is sure to lose. Indeed, Mr. Trump in 2016 campaigned to preserve both programs. And yet a cornerstone issue of the Trump campaign was to link Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris with Socialism and Marxism, a political message crafted and distributed by slick political advertising firms syphoning hundreds of millions of dollars to stoke the beliefs and prejudices of Donald Trump’s radical base. What was at stake was power and privilege.

And so, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won. Unlike every election loser preceding him, Donald Trump refused to concede.  Further thoughts…

 

Post-election

How cynical that Mr. Trump, basing his message on saving America from Marxism, would take a page from Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin’s playbook. Consider: soon into his tenure, Mr. Trump labeled America’s mainstream media “enemies of the people.”  Ukrainian and other ethnic Americans will recognize that phrase as a label leveled against millions of Soviet citizens, which led to mass starvation, Siberian labor camps or a bullet to the back of the head. A free press is a foundational component of America’s freedom and democracy and, unlike Stalin, Mr. Trump could not kill the messenger whenever the news did not comport with his version of reality. Nor could he silence the messenger – again, this is America. But with his tweets, he sought to discredit the messenger. “Fake news!”  How many times have you heard that in the last four years?

And so, having lost the election in critical battleground states, Mr. Trump and his supporters shouted “fraud” and, seeking to retain office and power, advocated throwing out tens of millions of votes. That’s another Lenin/Stalin tactic: the Big Lie. In support of that lie, Mr. Trump’s campaign filed more than 60 lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results.  With one minor exception, 60-plus were rejected, including two in the Supreme Court.  The top election official at the Department of Homeland Security asserted that the 2020 election was fair and secure. Attorney General William Barr also said there was no significant election fraud. In a futile effort, President Trump summoned election officials from Michigan to try to convince them to throw out millions of ballots and declare him the winner.  He called on Pennsylvania election officials to do the same.  He demanded the Georgia secretary of state “find” enough votes to overturn the result. Election fraud, anyone?

Anticipating the solemn certification of Joe Biden as president-elect in the Senate on January 6, Republican pollster Scott Rasmussen cited a famous Joseph Stalin maxim:  “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”  Discard the certified votes of tens of millions of Americans, Mr. Rasmussen advised Vice-President Mike Pence and declare Donald Trump the winner. Weeks earlier, the Supreme Court in a single paragraph summarily rejected a petition submitted by 160 Republican congressional representatives to allow Mr. Pence to do just that. To his credit, Mr. Pence along with responsible election officials honoring their oaths of office – mostly Republicans in all the battleground states – rejected that approach.

Going back a century to 1918, the Bolsheviks lost the election for the Russian Constituent Assembly. Lenin denounced the results and resolved to support the Russian Constituent Assembly only if it were so composed to reject the “counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.”  He had already seized power months before with an armed coup in the Russian parliament – a lamentable event celebrated for decades as the “October Revolution,” which brought misery on the world for generations.  Mr. Trump to his eternal shame tried to do the same.  Like Stalin, he’s created a personality cult which millions have embraced.  As Vice-President Pence and the House and Senate were preparing to officially count the Electoral votes, Mr. Trump exhorted his supporters to go to the Capitol with the mission of pressuring Vice-President Mike Pence and Congress to overturn the election. Well, America is not Russia.  Mr. Pence fulfilled his constitution duty as did the overwhelming majority of the House and Senate. It’s dismaying that a majority of House Republicans and eight Republican senators voted to throw out the votes of tens of millions.  Even eight representatives from Pennsylvania who took the oath of office on January 3 claiming to have won their election in 2020 (they did), three days later voted to invalidate that very same election when it came to certifying Joe Biden as the winner in their state.  Cynicism and hypocrisy are common. Would that there be an equal measure of shame.  But power and prestige, whatever sliver of it you have, is intoxicating.

 

The next four years

Joe Biden, now our president, faces horrific calamities. I supported him during election and as an American will support him as he works to undo the damage of the last four years and restore a normal course. All the best to him and the United States of America.  As for Donald Trump: history will remember him for the chaotic years of his administration, the riot he incited two weeks before he left office and the coup d’etat he tried to orchestrate, the shame of being the only president to have been impeached twice and the damage he’s done to the Republican Party brand for a generation to come.

 

Andrew Fedynsky’s e-mail address is afedynsky@gmail.com.