Trump would have done 'terrible damage' in second term: Political experts in Canada sound off on the future of U.S. politics under Joe Biden, Kamala Harris

Elisabetta Bianchini
·7-min read

The Associated Press and a number of other outlets have called the U.S. presidential race for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as the world waits to see if, when and how Donald Trump admits defeat.

“I am elated that President Trump's administration is coming to a close,” Dr. Rachel Hope Cleves, a professor of history at the University of Victoria, born and raised in New York, told Yahoo Canada. “I think he would have done terrible damage in a second term...and I'm glad that this election, I hope, will prevent that.”

One aspect of this victory for the Democrats is the impact of Harris being the first woman, and also woman of colour, to be vice president-elect.

“I think we should celebrate the breaking of the glass ceiling in the executive office,” Cleves said. “She represents a new generation, she's only in her mid-50s, her whole career has been a series of breaking down barriers and being the first.”

“I think she brings enormous hope to a lot of young voters, and older voters, and she brings hope to everybody who has a vision of an American future that's inclusive and tolerant, and reflective of the diversity of the United States.”

Dr. Melissa Haussman, a political science professor at Carleton University, told Yahoo Canada that there was a beginning of a shift in the “structural diversity” of the U.S. political system when Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, followed by a record number of women of colour in the House following the 2018 election.

‘I don't hold out a lot of hope for Mitch McConnell turning progressive anytime soon’

Although this might be the best conditions to push forward more progressive legislation in the U.S., Haussman identified that much of that will depend on who’s running the Senate.

“I know that Joe Biden's worked with McConnell in the Senate for a number of years,” she explained. “There might be some wiggle room there but I don't hold out a lot of hope for Mitch McConnell turning progressive anytime soon.”

“I think the conditions are right in terms of a diverse Congress and of course, Kamala Harris and Biden, who both know diversity firsthand. I think we could create the political will.”

Dr. Andy Hira, political science professor at Simon Fraser University, told Yahoo Canada the “linchpin” in terms of Biden being able to pass legislation is going to be the two runoff seats in Georgia, with the election set for January.

“If they are able to win those two Senate races in Georgia, then they have a majority and they can actually pass legislation,” he said. “If they can't, we might see Mitch McConnell reverting to what he did during the Obama years, which was just be completely intransigent, hope that Biden looks like a failure and then that opens a way for Trump to run again in the next election, which he's also hinted at, or some other Republican to claim that the Democrats are ineffective.”

Trump ‘trying to turn this into the 2000s’

One of the major outstanding, short-term questions is how Trump will respond to his defeat (aside from his tweets) and what will happen with the lawsuits he plans to pursue in a number of states.

“I just hope that people will...not get distracted by Trump's shenanigans,” Hira said. “I think in the long run, what we’ve seen is a very healthy democracy, one that is resilient, even against a force of nature like Trump.”

“He has this long track record of being very litigious, that's why people are afraid of going against him, and then on top of that what we've seen is he's been able to peel off a couple Senators, particularly Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.”

Haussman said Trump is “trying to turn this into the 2000s.” James Baker, who led the political and legal team during the Florida recount that led to George W. Bush’s election victory over Al Gore, told the The New York Times that there are “huge differences” between the two situations, with the Republicans argument in 2000 being that the votes had been counted and the process should end.

“The high usage of mail-in ballots is actually because of COVID...and a number of states had to have emergency applications,” Haussman said. “They're allowed to keep counting after election day, [it] doesn't indicate fraud at all.”

Hira indicated the “good news” is that the mainstream of the Republican Party, including governors, haven’t taken Trump’s side.

“There's been a silence and Fox News itself has said it hasn't found any irregularities,” he said. “So if he had been able to peel off the mainstream Republicans, we would have really had a problem on our hands.”

‘Very hard to win over Trump voters’

Cleves also identified that she is “not concerned” about the “groundless” legal challenges from Trump but identified that it is going to be “very hard to win over Trump voters.”

“I think that Trump voters exists in a different media universe that describes an alternate reality, and they don't have a shared upon set of facts with Joe Biden and the Democrats, and the people who voted for Joe Biden,” she said. “The penetration, for example, of the QAnon conspiracy within the GOP, I think is evidence of a different alternative reality.”

“It's really hard to make peace with people who believe that Joe Biden is a pedophile cannibal.”

Dr. Megan Boler, professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said the spread of misinformation and disinformation online is consistently an “extreme concern.”

“Once disinformation or misinformation goes out, the opportunity to correct it is extremely difficult,” Boler told Yahoo Canada. “Even if people do see that correction, a very small percentage tend to change their opinion and some studies have shown that it even just reinforces the original misinformation.”

“We've known from the beginning that the Republicans have had a systematic strategy around voter disinformation that is probably the primary disinformation of this election, whereas in 2016 it was Russian interference.”

Another interesting component of this election has been the discourse around “fake news,” which wasn’t as much of a significant factor in the 2016 election.

“It's very hard to know where to turn and what to trust,” Boler said. “This has been part of the systematic propaganda work of Trump to create this whole discourse on fake news.”

“That really didn't exist prior to 2016,...not this really quick, knee-jerk presumption that all of the trusted news sources that arguably are part of what constitutes United States democracy, are now distrusted by huge swathes of the population.”

Should the Electoral College be abolished?

Although the Electoral College and popular vote count are aligned this time around, Cleves believes the electoral college should be abolished.

“President Andrew Jackson called to abolish the Electoral College in his 1829 State of the Union Address,” she said. “One of the first things that President Trump did [when he occupied the Oval Office] was hang a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the White House, but apparently he didn't take that part of Jacksonian democracy to heart.”

“I would say...the founders who wrote the Constitution were scared of democracy and they created measures within the constitution to mediate the popular voice. They only made one half of one branch of the three branches of the U.S. federal government elected directly by popular vote, and of course by popular I mean it was restricted to free, white, land holding men, for the most part.”

Cleves went on to explain that abolishing the Electoral College almost took place in 1969 but was filibustered.

“The Electoral College has repeatedly resulted in the election of minority candidates, who received a minority of the popular vote,” she said. “It unfairly favoured rural voters over urban voters and I think a legacy of racism and anti-democratic sentiment.”

Professor Hira also believes that the future of the electoral college will continue to be a concern in the U.S.

“This disparity between the popular vote and the electoral college vote, I think it's going to become a nagging problem and it's really going to be a huge debate going into the future,” he said.