US President-elect Joe Biden. (Image: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

I’d like to write that it’s now clear that sanity has prevailed, dignity will be restored to the Oval Office, and Donald Trump will have even more time for golf and less time to damage democracy.

Not so fast. This election has turned out to be closer than most good polling and pundits predicted.

Regardless of the outcome, this is some kind of vindication for the concept of the “shy Trump voter”. Fashioned on some vague notion of “shy Tories” in the UK, the idea is that people who fear social disapproval by admitting they are willing to vote for Trump end up skewing polls with no obvious way for pollsters to correct the phenomenon.

There is — as people like analyst Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight have said repeatedly and with compelling evidence — zero evidence for the shy Trump-voter effect. But that’s a technical discussion about the value of polling in general that we’ll have plenty of time for over the coming months and years.

But let’s just note that people who attend openly racist political rallies probably don’t have a huge problem admitting to pollsters that they support a candidate with racist policies.

The best guess at the time I write is that Biden will win the presidency, but only just. And Democrats will likely not regain control of the Senate. The political and economic implications of this outcome would be significant.

But that outcome alone will be good for the United States economy in the medium run.

It would reduce the risk of trade wars with China or shooting wars with North Korea, both of which are bad for the economy (among other things). In addition, president Biden would do what he can to help transition the US economy to a greener one, without going all Green New Deal, and he would try to complete the Obamacare plan and make universal healthcare a right, not a privilege.

Even without control of the Senate he might be able to pull those things off. And perhaps he can even reverse the worst excesses of the fiscally irresponsible Trump tax cuts, though that might be the hardest lift.

If Trump wins, then the converse of all those things will be true. A second-term President Trump will presumably feel empowered to pursue an even more radical agenda. Since I can barely stomach the thought of that, and given that a Trump presidency entails so much uncertainty, let’s set that aside for now.

Imagine, if you will, a narrowish Biden win.

That will lead to some of the things mentioned above, but it will also cause a reckoning in the Democratic Party. Some will say that it vindicates the notion that only a centrist Democrat could beat a populist Republican. Biden was the perfectly imperfect encapsulation of that candidate.

An alternative narrative — one that would be favoured by left-wing Democrats — is that Biden, having come dangerously close to losing, and having failed to help retake the Senate, is a badly-damaged president-elect.

How much traction it gets will depend on the success of a Biden presidency. Should Biden manage to cut deals in the Senate, and bring back not only dignity to the presidency but economic and public-health security to the United States, then perhaps a relatively centrist candidate like Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg has a shot to be the next Democratic nominee in four or eight years.

But if Biden ekes out a win and has difficulty governing, then Democrats might well want to nominate a radical democratic socialist the next time they get a chance. Come on down Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Regardless of the particular identity of that nominee, it would involve someone who advocates a wealth tax so large — greater than what economists call the “equity premium” — that it would risk destroying capital accumulation, and maybe capitalism, in the United States.

So, ironically, the fate of the republic might depend as much on how a President Biden might govern than whether President Trump is re-elected.

The latter would be a calamity. But a “Biden fail” in government would likely lead to a dangerous and decisive leftward shift in the Democratic party that would render them either unelectable, or so damaging to the US economy that they become unelectable after a brief, dangerous, experiment with democratic socialism.

All people of good will and good sense have to hope for two Biden wins. One in the electoral college, and one in government.

What would a Biden presidency do for the world? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

Peter Fray

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