The United States of America faces its most exciting, decisive and probably divisive election as it gears up to elect its 46th President on November 3rd. The world’s most powerful country will choose been incumbent Republican President Donald John Trump and Democratic nominee and Barack Obama’s Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden. Let’s dive in.
How does the political system in the USA work?
The basic system of politics is similar yet different to ours. It has a two-party system, namely the Conservative ‘Republicans’ and the Liberal ‘Democrats.’ The executive is run by the President and his Cabinet, while the legislature is an independent entity.
The legislature is split into two chambers, the Senate (upper house) and the House of Representatives (lower house). They are similar in function and hierarchy to India’s Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively. The term for members in the Senate is six years while, in the House of Representatives, it’s two years.
The judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court. The key differences are that the upper house wields more power, the powers between the executive and legislature are clearly separated and the Supreme Court has a much wider scope of authority.
Fun Fact: The colours of the political parties in the USA are not their official hues. For the ease of viewers and the advent of colour television, a map was devised with red and blue colours for Republicans and Democrats respectively. Today, the scheme continues and states are often referred to as ‘blue’ or ‘red’ states to identify the political party in power.
Meet the Presidential candidates
President Donald Trump: Republican Candidate The incumbent president entered politics 5 years ago and he’s been President for 4. His lack of diplomacy and political diktats have earned him notoriety. While his statements may come across as animated and stigmatising, he has kept the election promises he made in 2016. His 2016 campaign had four major points -- to create more jobs, to improve international relations, to introduce tax reforms and to build a wall between the US and Mexico. As President, however, his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic has faced much criticism. This includes Trump’s insistence on flouting social distancing norms and reluctance to mandating masks despite contacting the virus himself. Under his leadership, the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate accord; he is an avowed sceptic when it comes to climate change. He has promised USA will withdraw from WHO by 6th July, 2021, which could have devastating effects on the international body. His zero-tolerance immigration policies have separated children from their parents.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden: Democratic Candidate He has been re-elected in the senate six times and has spent most of his life in politics. As VP from 2008-2016, he oversaw infrastructure spending to counteract the 2009 recession. He helped pass a Tax Relief Act in 2010 by gathering support from the Republicans. He has been awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which honours those who have made extraordinary contributions to national and international security, world peace and public endeavours. Biden’s candour and to-the-point approach has been widely appreciated. When he was VP, a different pandemic -- H1N1 or Swine Flu – swept through the USA. An early vaccine and lower mortality rate helped the administration face the crisis. Even the WHO acknowledges that the USA got ‘lucky.’
Fun Fact: The 46th US President will be the oldest ever take oath in the USA; Trump will be 74 while Biden will be 78!
Vice Presidential nominees
This year’s nominees have more significance than usual. Mike Richard Pence and Kamala Devi Harris are the “right-hands” to Trump and Biden respectively. The VP’s role will be important due to the age of the President. Pence has served six terms in the House of Representatives. Harris has served as attorney general for California and has been part of the Senate since 2017.
Fun Fact: Kamala Harris’s mother was Indian; her aunt lives in Chennai.
How does voting take place in the US?
The President is not directly elected. An electoral college forms every four years with the sole purpose of electing the next President. The members are chosen by the state based on the votes that have been cast by the citizens or the ‘popular vote.’
This essentially means that the people vote for the candidate their state will support. The 538-member college, in which the states are represented disproportionately, then votes for the President. This year the electoral college will vote on December 14th.
Hence, it is not necessary that the candidate who secures the popular vote will be the next President. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, by a margin of 3 million votes, but still lost the Presidency.
How do citizens vote?
Fun Fact: President Trump was accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. However, the impeachment process against him was unsuccessful and he was acquitted of all charges.
‣Trump – ‘Promises Made, Promises Kept’
Trump has repeatedly stated he will fast-track the US’s economy to a level greater than pre-pandemic times. He has repeatedly spoken about the need to open up the economy to “save America from downfall.”
He promises a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of 2020 and a return to normalcy by 2021.
In order to get companies to manufacture in the US, he’s proposed tax credits. Additionally, his government won’t sign federal contracts to companies who outsource to China. He has also said he will prohibit American companies from replacing US citizens with low-cost foreign workers.
Stop illegal immigration from becoming a liability on the country. End ‘Sanctuary cities,’ where immigrants are relocated to help protect US families. To require all incoming immigrants to be able to financially support themselves.
‣Biden – ‘Build Back Better, Unite for a Better America’
He promises to undo all the wrongs done by Trump. He proposes to mandate masks, ensure social distancing and help save lives of millions of Americans. Once a vaccine is available, he will ensure it’s free.
He pledges to re-join the Paris Climate Accord and calls climate change the ‘number one issue facing humanity’. He also plans to invest heavily in renewable energy.
He plans to increase federal minimum wage to $15.
He proposes to end the ban on travel from seven Muslim majority countries and undo the separation of children from parents at the US-Mexican border.
Fun Fact: Biden made two unsuccessful attempts for the Democratic Presidential nomination. His 1988 campaign was marred by accusations of plagiarism and an exaggeration of his academic record. In 2008, he eventually joined forces with Obama.
How will it affect India?
He has met China’s aggression head-on. His administration made its military presence felt in the South China Sea region, favoured Taiwan and stripped Hong Kong of its special status. Trump has also offered to mediate between India and Pakistan.
Trump’s stricter H1-B visa norms shattered several Indians’ hope of working in the US.
He has criticised India’s passage of the CAA and NRC into law as well as the choking of citizens’ rights in Kashmir.
He will roll back the visa restrictions and open the gateway for Indians looking to migrate to US.
However America votes, India’s relation with the US is poised to grow. Both countries see each other as strategic allies in trade and against an increasingly powerful China.
Fun Fact: The Republican Party’s symbol is an elephant while the Democratic Party’s is a donkey!
This has been a bitter election and the next US President faces huge challenges. He will inherit a country reeling from an economic downturn, extreme strain on the medical system owing Covid-19 and the looming threat of China. Will the economically driven ‘reds’ defend their reign or will the socialist ‘blues’ take over? This election could forever change political and economic landscape in the USA, its international standing, global relations and more…