US Election

US Election Special | Letter to America (Revisited)

It was a drawn-out affair, and the ramifications are yet to fully play out, but Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s victory in the 2020 US election has sent positive vibes around most of the globe, with many world leaders struggling to conceal their relief and joy at the result. Here, leading on from our first “letter to America” that came out last week, we ask some of those writers to revisit the election.

Zoe Brigley

My six-year-old ran in to tell me the result. He was told by the next door neighbour’s kid who had been watching rolling news all morning. So many Americans were waiting, hoping for a Biden-Harris win, and we celebrated in Ohio with laughter, singing, and toasts. The result is significant, because for communities terrorised under Trump, it has been an awful, frightening, disorientating four years.

For this new hope, we can thank black women organisers like Stacey Abrams as well as organisations like Planned Parenthood who worked to “get out the vote” up and down the ballot in states like Georgia. Accepting the vice presidency as the first black woman of Asian descent, Kamala Harris said that she was “standing on the shoulders” of black women. Biden, in his acceptance speech, mentioned a coalition of support from different communities, including “transgender” people, which gives hope that this vulnerable group might be better protected.

Take note in the UK: our leaders do not have to be straight white men. Trump threw everything at the congress race in Minnesota to unseat Ilhan Omar. Due to effective organising, he failed: she won by nearly 65% of the vote. 

But other issues hang in the balance. There has been a surge in the election of Republican women, many with anti-abortion agendas, and with Amy Coney-Barrett on the Supreme Court, Roe-vs-Wade is vulnerable. I say this from Ohio, the state that tried to pass a bill making it law for ectopic pregnancies be transplanted despite it being medically impossible.

Last week, Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord despite the desperate need to avert climate disaster. It’s not clear how much can be done when the Senate race is not exactly favourable for Democrats, but at least I can tell my sons that most Americans voted at least for decency.

Zoë Brigley is a poet, essayist and associate professor at Ohio State University.

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David Llewellyn

There’s a trend on social media of comparing modern photos with Renaissance paintings, and it’s often wide of the mark. But this? This is Veronese’s Wedding at Cana, Raphael’s School of Athens, Leonardo’s Last Supper. From a portable lectern Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is hosting a press conference outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a gardening firm situated beside a crematorium and a sex shop on a rundown trading estate. 

The days building up to this moment were fraught. Election night itself was uneventful, as election nights often are. We stayed up to watch some of it, until the live coverage began to resemble an all-day piece of experimental opera by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass.

It would be days before things became clearer. First, Biden took the lead. Then, what felt like several aeons later, the networks called the election in his favour. Trump, a bloviating demagogue to the last, divorced himself from reality and declared himself the winner.

There was a moment of panic. Based on unfounded claims of electoral fraud Trump would use the courts to overturn the result. After all, the Supreme Court is tilted in his favour; even more so after he replaced the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg with Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale.

But then came that photo. Giuliani at a portable lectern in front of a garage door festooned with Trump posters. Either side of him a fire extinguisher and a coiled hose pipe. We don’t see the crowd, or even if there is one, but around him stand a mixture of his modest entourage and those I can only assume are the staff of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and not Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Hotel, some ten miles away.

In an instant, my anxiety vanished. Oh, sure, there’s still a chance Donald and Rudy will pursue this to the courts, and the MAGA Cult is unlikely to take this lying down. But there, on a Philadelphia trading estate, I saw the Trump administration in its purest form; shabby, incompetent, and desperate, and I was realised it was finished.

David Llewellyn’s latest novel is A Simple Scale (Seren).

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Niall Griffiths

Penrhyncoch, 2020, November midnight: Pennsylvania finally declares for Biden and that’s it, he’s gained over 270 electoral college seats (from that obsolete and undemocratic system that the US insists on using). We were planning on bed, drunk and wrung out as we are, but this news prompts us to crack another bottle. Feels like a candle has been lit. My phone starts to chirrup like a hungry nestling as the messages come in, mainly from America.

   Well, the fact that 3 million more Americans voted for the malign clown Trump as did in 2016, even after the shameful spectacle of the last 4 years, is pretty soul-crushing, really. And Trump, of course, along with his vicious and addled and empty clan, will, until he is officially ousted from office in January, behave in such ways that embarrass and shame humanity itself. But those worries are for tomorrow. For now, the rightwing populists have been given a kicking and there are tremors going through Tory offices. Through the manure on which they stand, green spikes are growing. Open another bottle. 

Niall Griffiths’s latest novel, Broken Ghost (Jonathan Cape), won the 2020 Wales Book of the Year Award.

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Sarah Broughton

I must confess that I viewed the election through the prism of CNN. Through the crazy days of the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I Eat, Sleep, Repeat Anderson, Jake, and John King. By the Saturday, when Joe Biden is declared President-elect, I am wild-eyed and so sleep-deprived I feel like one of the counters in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Only John King’s soothing tones telling me ‘we count, that’s what we do in America. We count all the votes. All the votes.’ got me through to be honest. Oh, and an array of brilliant female journalists who clarified, debated, and contextualised every twist and turn of the 40 odd hours between polls closing and the declaration. And my book group, reborn for the occasion on WhatsApp as WAFMY (women against four more years) – another array of brilliant women (plus one Miami-based man).  Aside of a strange, bitter, relief at Biden’s win (bitter because of the disturbing fact that more than 70 million Americans voted for the current occupant of the White House) my real joy was vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. It took a century for America to elect a woman to one of the two highest offices in the country – but at least when they finally did the world got Kamala Harris. We all got Kamala Harris. Lucky us to have a black and Asian American woman. A woman aged 56. A woman. Lucky us. Lucky America.

Sarah Broughton’s latest book is Brando’s Bride (Parthian, 2019), the incredibly true story of Anna Kashfi and her marriage to Hollywood’s greatest star.

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John Harrison

Relief.  That was my heartfelt emotion.  Then my brain began to whisper caveats in both ears.  Captain Trump has until 20 January to spin the wheel and flood the engine room.  His outbursts have been those of a child in tantrum; expect no better from his actions. But one of the most unsupportable statements came from Joe Biden: ‘American democracy is the envy of the world’ – spoken while he and the rest of the world waited days for ballot papers to be counted in five states days after vast states like California and Texas had declared.

My desire to believe American government was functional withered when moves were made to impeach President Trump.  Rank after rank of Republicans who would sit in judgement on the case thought it their patriotic duty to say no matter what evidence they heard they would not find him guilty.  These were jurors prejudging the trial.  They were not howled down by the populace.  Only 15% of Americans would condemn a politician from their own camp for electoral malpractice.

Biden may soon find himself in charge of a country but not the legislature.  A bit like being headmaster of a school but with control only over the maintenance budget, not the teaching or curriculum.  He will govern more than 70 million voters who didn’t want him, many of whom think responding to a pandemic is an assault on civil liberties.  Another 70 million, in the most polarised election ever, could not be bothered to vote.  He has a pandemic to deal with that requires public co-operation, when a map of severe COVID-19 infections is a map of Republicanism.  Good luck, Joe.  We are going to need all the other, more sensible and conciliatory things you have said since winning.

John Harrison is an award-winning travel writer and historian.

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Darren Chetty

In my chapter in The Good Immigrant, ‘You Can’t Say That! Stories Have To Be About White People’, I recount how as a primary school teacher I would encourage children to name their protagonists after members of their family. It was a very gentle way of encouraging them to write stories that featured people from the same background as them. Because, when it comes to children’s literature, representation matters.

Like Kamala Harris, I have Tamil ancestry. Her mother and my aunt have the same name, Shyamala. It makes complete sense that Harris’ achievement is marked – the first woman, the first Black woman, the first biracial woman, the first Indian heritage woman to be elected Vice President. But it doesn’t make sense to me to take too much pride or consolation from seeing people who look like us in positions of power. The Biden Harris administration should be evaluated on how successful it is in bringing freedom, justice and equality to all who live in the USA, and to its dealings with other countries. If the political narrative can be shaped into something more closely resembling the story the USA likes to tell of itself, there will be cause for celebration – but it will require a chapter quite radically different from those that have preceded it – not only the most recent one.

Darren Chetty is currently co-editing Welsh (Plural), a collection of essays about the future of Wales (Repeater Books).