Despite the horror of the scenes in Washington, there is reason to celebrate events arguably more significant, writes Hayden Thorne 

While attention has been firmly focused on the chaos on Capitol Hill – where Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, delaying the official count of electoral college votes – events with arguably much more significant long-term ramifications were playing out in the Senate runoff elections in Georgia.

Because of a quirk in Georgia’s electoral law, both Senate seats there went to runoff elections after no candidate managed a 50 percent majority in the November election. With Republicans holding a narrow 50-48 majority in the Senate, those two elections would decide the balance of power for the next two years.

If the Democrats could win both runoffs, at the time a relatively long-shot prospect, they would control the Senate thanks to the casting vote resting with the Vice-President in the event of any tied vote.

So, in short, heading into the January runoff, wins in both seats would give the Democratic Party control of both Houses, as well as Presidency, and therefore a chance to enact a legislative programme without significant impediment. A Republican win in either seat would give the GOP control of the Senate, and therefore control of a major handbrake on the Biden administration.

For Jonathan Milne’s summer briefing on the sectors that don’t stop, sign up here for the 3 Things newsletter.

How should we best reinforce New Zealand’s democratic political culture against falsehoods and conspiracy theories? Click here to comment.

What started as something of a long shot quickly turned into a close contest – with comfortably the most expensive Senate campaigns in history placing Georgia voters under a national microscope. The elections became a single-state referendum on how the American government would function for at least the first two years of Biden’s presidency.

And, thanks to superb organisation and high turnout among previously repressed African-American voters, Georgia voters delivered a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud and delivered the Democratic Party control of the Senate. In doing so, they broke a long Republican hold on elected offices in Georgia and elected Georgia’s first black Senator, Raphael Warnock.

And make no mistake, Trump’s actions in questioning the legitimacy of the election results, claiming widespread fraud in Georgia, and his urging of the Georgia secretary of state to “find” more votes for him contributed to the Democratic win.

Trump’s actions alienated votes in moderate areas of Georgia, while providing energy and impetus to the Democratic campaigns. What comes around, goes around … and for observers around the world, it is hard to shake the feeling that this was anything but a case of Trump, and the Republican Party who has long backed him, getting exactly what they deserved.

While the Georgia result should be the leading headline, it would be remiss to not also touch upon the chaos that has descended on Washington during the joint session to officially count and certify the electoral college vote. While some Republicans have promised to politically disrupt this sitting (which is little more than a ceremonial proceeding), little could have prepared onlookers for the images of protesters storming the Capitol Rotunda, invading the offices of Democratic politicians, and otherwise causing utter chaos in the heart of American Democracy.

The protests again demonstrate how divided America has become and emphasise just how difficult Joe Biden’s task of reunifying the country will be. However, while the disruption was something more akin to a third-world authoritarian regime, there were some important events that American voters, and the wider global community, should take heart from.

Firstly, the Republican Party leadership was, almost for the first time since Trump’s elevation to the presidency, more active in opposing Trump’s supporters in what may be the party’s first significant (if small) step away from the defeated President. Senate leader and long-time Trump supporter Mitch McConnell condemned the election conspiracies that Trump has fomented and urged that overruling the election result would see a “death spiral” of American democracy.

Vice-President Mike Pence refused to follow Trump’s wish that he lead efforts to refuse to certify results while condemning the violent protests at the Capitol. Small steps, yes, but maybe, just maybe, the start of a return to some form of sanity in American politics.

Secondly, events leading up to, and since the November election have shown that, despite the best efforts of some (looking at you, Donald…) the institutions of American democracy have stood up to one of the toughest tests in their history. The election went off almost without a hitch, the Courts gave short shrift to the completely unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud, and both state and federal legislative bodies have by and large acted to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. For all the bluster and posturing of the President, Joe Biden will be inaugurated on the 20th of January.

And finally, returning to Georgia, American voters have, eventually, and by a narrower margin than many hoped or expected, given Joe Biden a mandate to bring about change in the way America moves into the future.

After four years of division and discord, the country will have the chance to chart a more positive course. And despite the horror of the scenes in Washington, that alone should be reason to celebrate.

Leave a comment